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Home arrow Political science arrow Sustainability of Agro-Food and Natural Resource Systems in the Mediterranean Basin

Macro-principles and policies—laws, institutions, and procedures— that the state and market can embrace as ways to facilitate the development of a quasi-autonomous sector of commons and “peer governance.”

For larger-scale common-pool resources—national, regional, global—

the government must play a more active role in establishing and overseeing commons. It may have an indispensable role to play in instances where a resource cannot easily be divided into parcels (the atmosphere, oceanic fisheries) or where the resource generates large economic benefits relative to the surrounding economy, e.g., petroleum. In such cases, it makes sense for the government to intervene and devise appropriate management systems. State trustee commons typically manage hard and soft minerals, timber, and other natural resources on public lands, national parks, and wilderness areas, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water; government-sponsored research; and civil infrastructure, among other things.

In such circumstances, however, a structural tension exists between commoners and the state-market alliance because governments have strong economic incentives to forge deep political alliances with the market and thus promote an agenda of privatization, commoditization, and globalization despite the adverse consequences for ecosystems and commoners. Any successful regime of commons law must recognize this reality and take aggressive action to ensure that the government does not betray its trust obligations, particularly by colluding with market players in acts of enclosure. This would require that commons-based entities have legal rights of action and access to the courts, which would be empowered to defend the rights of commoners as they have done over the centuries when upholding the rights of commoners enumerated in the Magna Carta.

The overall goal must be to reconceptualize the neoliberal state and market as a “triarchy” with the commons—the state/market/commons—to realign authority and provisioning in new, more beneficial ways. The state would maintain its commitments to representative governance and management of public property just as private enterprise would continue to own capital to produce saleable goods and services in the market sector. But governments must shift their focus to become “Partner States,” as Michel Bauwens puts it, so that they are not just catering to the interests of capital and markets, but also to the diverse constellations of commons that can and do serve public needs.

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