Not capitalism, not communism: George Monbiot on why we need the commons

hi everyone I'm here with George Mong Bo he's an author columnist and environmental activist I'm sure many of you will be very familiar with his work and George was a household name in our family so I'm starstruck to be here George's latest book out of the wreckage is incredibly exciting and I want to talk to George today about how it fits in with public ownership and your views on what public ownership can do for society and so thanks George for joining us thanks Kay so I'd like to start off by asking how do you feel about Labor's latest manifesto and its proposals to bring rail Royal Mail energy and water into public ownership I think it's very exciting and I think it's a great step towards a sort of world that we want the sort of nation that we want but I think it can go further and what I want to see is the idea of public ownership being expanded from state ownership to Commons ownership as well that's not saying I don't want to see state ownership I do I also feel that for certain resources particularly natural wealth public spaces land in general the the nature which occurs on that land we should tend towards much more of a Commons model than a state model and a Commons has really three elements its first of all a community which is the group that manages a particular resource and the resources a second element and it is the rules and negotiations that the community creates in order to manage it and the Commons is inalienable you can't sell it you can't give it away and it's managed in perpetuity on the basis that any product from it is shared equally among its members so what's amazing about the Commons is that it's inherently quite sustainable because you're not trying to extract from it any more than the natural product which occurs which doesn't deplete the the actual wealth from which that product arises it's not capitalism and it's not communism it's a different system altogether and it's one of the great neglected pillars of our economy so where do you see it fitting in so we talk generally about public services so we'll talk about rail and buses water and energy NHS care work council services prisons and probation and we talk about these as public services which of those do you think should be run not by any kind of stay even a very democratic engaging state but somehow by the Commons or by the people directly I could see waters being a very good candidate for common ownership if you managed water at the catchment level and we always tend to forget where the water that we drink and wash in comes from which it comes from the hills well it comes from the sky and then it lands on the hills and then it flows down into the rivers and fields the reservoirs and fills the aquifers and we've tended only to think about water is what you get at the bottom of the catchment and when we think about floods we think about the management of the floodplain but we don't think about the whole catchment now that catchment could easily be seen as a political unit and in ecological terms it makes sense to manage it as a political unit so you know instead of having County lines which cut across the catchment or instead of even having national lines cutting across the catchment you say here is the ecological unit we should be managing and we should be doing so in such a way that what happens at the top of the catchment fits in with our objectives at the bottom of the catchment and very often that means if you're gonna have clean water if you're not going to have flood Peaks you want to have trees growing at the top of the catchment you want your rivers to meander and braid to hold back the flood water to filter the water out you want a sense that everyone in that catchment has a role in deciding how the water is going to be used for the benefit of the community and for the benefit of the rest of the living world and to me that makes water much more of a live issue you get much more of a sense of belonging to the issue and the issue belonging to you than if it's in the more remote hands of state ownership so we're developing a people's plan for water which is about saying okay here's your water company right now and they are in in sort of water basins so they geographically make sense where they are right now they're regional structures we're saying what would you do if you had more ownership over this company and it was working for you we're still imagining that it would be a democratically accountable regional structure do you see public ownership or common ownership of water not involving any democratic sort of element but involving something more direct how does it work in terms of components well the commons is democratic it's participatory democracy and another element of the commons is that everyone has an equal share an equal stake and an equal voice in the management of the common resource and so in a way it's more democratic than the representative democratic structures which we often use to manage state resources or resources and other forms of public ownership now this is not to say in any way that I'm dissing state ownership because I think we need that too but we need an economy balance between the four pillars and the one the only ones we talked about a market and state and if you're on the left you say you want less market and more state and if you're on the right you say you want more market and less state but there's two other pillars which are the household the core economy sits at the center of the economy and the Commons and actually I feel what we need is a balance between those four pillars which recognizes the importance of all so what's the actual institution that manages it you talk about community land Trust's would you have a community water trust and would there be any election to that well yes I mean a Community Land Trust is a classic form of Commons management and depending sighs you might have a situation where everybody comes together in meetings to decide how that land is used or you might have a situation where there are certain occasions on which everyone comes together but a lot of the time you're delegating the decision-making to a committee and I don't see any reason why the same approach can't be applied to catchment scale water management I suppose so something that we often talk about is the Parisien model where they brought water into public ownership in 2011 and they've created a structure where they've got citizens and workers as part of the governance structure and they also have an observer toire so they have lots of different community groups who are holding the company to account and making sure that they deliver for the wider community and making sure that it really works well so I suppose I'm wondering in in practice if it does get delegated what's the difference between a really democratic participatory engaged structure that is nevertheless official in some sense and has an official mandate to deliver versus some kind of community water trust I would say they're both valid models for doing it and and they could both lead to very similar outcomes which is democratization which is public control which is probably much lower prices and higher quality than we're getting from the purely market approach at the moment but there's something important about the principle of the Commons in its own right william Cobbett called them the fortifying Commons and it wasn't just that you could run around outside on the common land and get strong they fortified your sense of citizenship they fortified your sense of belonging they fortified the notion that you actually have a stake rather than just a say because a Commons belongs to the community the if you put it in market terms but it's not a market the community members would all be shareholders in it but it's a much deeper sense of belonging than shareholding and I would argue it's a deeper sense of belonging than state ownership however democratically arranged it is that's not to say that I'm dissing the parousia model I think it is perfectly valid I think it could be even better and I think it's really exciting to read in your book about that sense of belonging and the politics of belonging and it feels very grounded and it feels like it has a huge amount of potential to engage people one thing I'm wondering is what about the national level because you talked about how in terms of regulating the Commons traditionally people have regulated it themselves on a local level and that's how it works and it has it feels as though it has to be very local but we have public services and a national government partly to make sure that we have equity and when we have unequally distributed resources you know those are fairly distributed and people get equal outcomes where where that's needed I mean water obviously is a bit different but you know say in the case of energy you know some some areas will have will be able to generate lots of energy others won't so is it just well postcode lottery overall deal if you can't and we also haven't at the national level for you know standards and a framework and planning and integrated system so how does how does that come together with the local comments to my mind it's not either/or it's about seeking a balance and so for instance if you were to look at land and if we had much more progressive land taxes and we have at the moment you could say well each community should tax its own land and keep the taxes and distribute that money within the community but then that means that the places with the very valuable land where often people are more prosperous than the places with the less valuable land have a lot of money to distribute and the other places have much less so we need distribute distribution between communities as well as within communities and that's where the role of national government comes in which should be distributive and should be using tax for all its varied purposes to have at the same time wherever possible the local link the sense of local ownership the sense of belonging the sense of a participatory democracy at scale where it's meaningful and generally the smaller the scale the more meaningful democracy is I think is valuable in its own right so wherever possible we tend to that model local as far as possible but when we need to distribute more widely and when we need to manage a resource which is more than local and can't only be governed at the local level like the NHS for example then we move to state ownership and it may be tempered by forms of participate real democracy as well so it's a question of having a hybrid politics and a hybrid economy it's not just state and market it's state market household and Commons yeah we're often thinking about you know national regional local how do they how do they interrelate but maybe we can bring the Commons into the analysis of the local I think this is I think this is crucial I mean all too often local government is like just a microcosmic version of national government but actually you can do things at the local level that you can't do at the national level because the scope for participate real democracy is so much greater locally and if all you're doing is replicating Westminster politics within your local county hall then you are losing a huge opportunity to do something really exciting definitely George do you agree with us that we already own many of these common resources like water and so we don't need to be compensating shareholders when we take them back it's a really interesting question because justice says we've paid for this many times over first of all they took it away from us there are two forms of enclosure there's the state taking it from communities but then there's the private sector taking it from the state at knockdown prices we know that it was effectively stolen and so justice says we should just take it back in practicality practical terms it can be really really difficult to do that without facing massive lawsuits and huge political headache which can turn out to be a lot more expensive than paying the bastards now I revoked against the idea of paying the bastards because they don't deserve to be paid you know it's like compensating the slave owners for the slaves when emancipation happened you know it's just wrong but it could be the real politic thing that we have to do just to make it happen you know I've followed land reform in quite a lot of countries and basically where people try to do it without compensation it almost always falls apart simply because the kickback it's so massive and the the owners invest such huge resources into fighting it it brings governments down it just creates huge political conflict and my own feeling much as I sympathize with the case is just swallow hard look the other way give them the money and get the job done and bring it back into public ownership I hate the principle of it but I think that might be the practical politics of it although Parliament can't decide how much so it's always going to be a question of yes how much yes that's right so I think I think what you can do is to say ok yeah let's look at the fact that basically they got this vote next to nothing we're not going to pay them what they think they can get it as a market rate but we're going to pay them enough to make them go away without a humongous battle I think that's the principle I would probably apply and will when I rule the world fantastic so we want to make sure that public ownership when it happens if it happens when it happens is much more successful than anything we've seen before and as well as democracy we also want to see it being more innovative and greener and more caring and just just better on all fronts so that we have something really resilient that can survive not just you know the next Labour government but beyond if we end up with the Tory government beyond that what are your other thoughts on how we how we make some to finish it really amazing my over objective is what I call private sufficiency public luxury if we try to all enjoy private luxury and all have our own swimming pool and tennis court and play barn and art collection and the rest of it very quickly we literally fill the whole world up and you suddenly discover that actually only a few people can have that because there's simply not enough physical space or ecological space for everyone to do it if you all try to live like the ultra-rich today we burn the planet up and we use all its resources and we turn it into a dystopia but there is enough space for everyone to enjoy public luxury yeah fantastic quality public amenities where everybody gets to play tennis if they want to play tennis and everybody gets to swim if they want to swim and there are amazing playgrounds and wonderful parks and beautiful nature reserves and and everything that you would look for in your own life to enhance your luxury is found in the public or the common sphere and and that way you genuinely make this a land of luxury for all rather than luxury for some the other thing about public luxury is it's far more efficient than private luxury so for example you can say oh I'm sick of being stuck in traffic in my old banger I'm gonna get a really fancy car I'm gonna spend twenty thousand quid on a fancy car you're still stuck in traffic and you're twenty thousand quid down now imagine if one thousand pounds of your taxis and everybody's taxes we're invested in a really great mass transit electrified system which was super efficient you're gonna get there at ten times the speed and it's cost you one twentieth of what that fancy car costs you to get stuck in traffic so so you can you can actually use resources far more efficiently when you're seeking public luxury than when you're seeking private luxury I love that I love that concept of public luxury it's just brilliant and what are your favorite three public services by the way well having had my life saved recently by the NHS has to come in at number one i loving my children's engagement with state education which gets a very bad press but both of them are having a great experience with it at the moment so I think I would put that in a number two it's a bit boring hospitals and schools but then who doesn't love them or who shouldn't love them and then I think number three would be parks yeah great parks absolutely essential I think for a sense of local community a sense of place a sense of belonging I think place is very important in our lives and is often greatly underestimated and apart which is really nicely looked after which has some wild areas ideally as well as the manicured areas has great playgrounds for the kids place where people can come together ideally there might be a cafe where you can have tea as well I think that is a really important part of the public sphere and find a question when we have public ownership do you see all of our interests aligning so the public workers the environment the earth that we live in are there going to be conflicts it's very important to recognize that the public is not just workers and and I think it was a mistake going all the way back to build socialism to basically vest political power in workers and to see the workers as being the only really valid political force because straightaway that means that anyone who doesn't have work or anyone who's retired or children for that matter they don't have a legitimate political voice but it's become even more problematic in an age where hardly anyone has a proper job anymore where it's very hard to know are you actually a worker in this because you're having to come in and out of it a zero hour contracts and the gig economy and and I think we need to broaden out the scope of of where political validity lies it lies with everyone of course but the hub of it I feel this community this is why I think the politics of belonging is is where the big change will come building it up from the bottom up in community and of course work is a very important element of that but they don't have to be attached permanently to one industry to be an important element to that their voice must be heard but alongside the many other community voices that have to be heard so the rail users as well as the rail workers and the people whose backyard the new railway might go through – fantastic George thank you so much I'm so excited to be talking to you today and everyone should read this book thanks George thanks very much care brilliant lovely

  1. "Not capitalism, not communism", huh?
    So, the corporate overlords aren't the only ones that believe in rebranding.
    I guess when there are people living who still remember the collapse of the Soviets and the Marxist states, it makes sense to call your failed policies and bankrupt philosophy something new.
    Georgie here must think enough time has passed and that millennial memories are so short that he can sell this nightmarish social model to the young and ignorant.
    Paging the post French revolutionary Terror, or the Communist Chinese Cultural Revolution.
    The older generations may have to take up arms in self defense against the young and easily led astray.

  2. Frankly fuck "paying enough for them to go away" for private owned stolen land, offer them a little compensation or at best the price they stole it for, either that or just put them in jail or offer them the choice to opt out through opting for the guiliotines.
    Fuck letting them get away with it with pockets filled.

  3. How does one go about convincing the populace that this is in their best interest. With such a vast chasm of ideologies, the thought of anything going against their brainwashed belief systems that the market is working for them.

  4. Loving that.Turn every golf course into a public park..i see it as a form of moral rescue – chasing little balls all over 100 acres ? – get a life !
    I`m feeling something i haven`t felt in years about the left..Real hope.

  5. 67 million different people are going to somehow come together as 'the commons' and all agree on how to manage water resources? Wow!

  6. thanks George. .why can you be listened to by those in power? . i guess you are a threat to those with land and loot.

  7. Wow…people working together for the common good, such simple lifesaving and enhancing concept yet the greed and individualism society has aspired to seems to find this a threat. Why aspire to something that causes harm to the planet and people when we could aspire to an equal society where nobody grows at the expense of others and we are all healthier, happier and connected?

  8. A fair idea of re-socializing the expropriated commons, but deconstructing neoliberal asset-value inflation is structurally impossible by a simple fee transfer mechanisms paid out to the asset-hoarding classes. Presumedly, the middle class was enticed into the moral hazard of wealth accumulation through asset-value inflation specifically so that they would have a vested interest in the monetized corruption tactics of the ruling classes. The realignment of social values across all market institutions is not viable through regulatory means alone, (without the violence of global civil wars).

    One of the core-causalities of institutional moral corruption is the systemic fungibility of our commodified economy, which premisses conflation of human values, labor prices, resource value, and asset price. The reevaluation of the efficacy of fungible money has brought rise to blockchain accountability of cryptocurrencies, but this doesn't address the price-to-value disparity of markets that are subjected to the time-value of rentier extortion mechanisms like interest, unearned income, and unearned wealth (at the expense of the commons). It's an interesting problem to solve, which is compulsory if we seek to avoid the worst attributes of the collapse of civil society. A non-violent solution is needed, which may necessitate a radically different accountability methodology for the inequities enabled by monetary systems designed to support the plunder of our global commons. … I would suggest that a socially accountable non-commodified monetary system is a prerequisite for any transitional economy; this design would also need to be reversible, which adds complexity only because of its voluntary nature.

  9. It has been horrid travelling on Southern Region with many trains cancelled owing to "Congestion" and "Engineering Works" so I would hang, draw and quarter Govia-Thameslink. When I was much younger I travelled on British Rail and it ran on time and perfectly well. Very occasionally, there were strikes but not these interminable delays, cancellations and high fares. Old Isambard Kingdom Brunel would be turning in his grave because he used to repair the tracks and signalling at dead of night by oil lamp so as not to interrupt the income from passenger's fares during the day. His 1859 Royal Albert Bridge over Plymouth Sound remains standing and carrying the trains to and from Cornwall. A proper engineer.

  10. It's great to hear a reasoned argument for a restoration of the commons. Thomas Spence was one of the first to promote this idea two centuries ago. My only worry is that most people seem content to leave the running of things to others. Anyone who wants to run something should arouse our suspicions, so how do local communities actually select the right people to act in their best interests? I suppose I'm concerned that public apathy could scupper this great idea.

  11. I love this idea. Liked and followed thanks and will order the book through my library today once I've finished a community gardening workshop.

    Agree with the problem of taking services back in to public or common ownership though mismanagement is also an aspect as is a sense of community justice and the denial of a voice and participation.

    The book 'The Last Drop: the politics of water' by Marianella Yanes and Mike Gonzales has a very important point made by the people of Cochabamba: 'Neither public, nor private but self determination'. Where Cochabamba has a stretegic union and over community 100 'unions' that tap into the municipal water system to build their own water supply we do things in a slightly different way.

    Our waterways are much more than just water, they are various ecological habitats, recreation areas, local history, food and much more. We have a lot that needs sorting out in terms of our catchment areas and the 'ownership' model. Custodianship maybe. Particpatory politics and the commons seems the most logical way of valuing our public or community luxuries.

    We have community groups that get involved in litter picking, dealing with invasive species, managing forestry, planting trees, maintaining paths, conservation volunteering in terms of AONB and SSSI's etc, we already do this in some ways just not in a joined up way that considers the whole catchment area.

    What I've not heard of is community events that connect these different strands and with the idea of public luxury.

    So do we tackle this from the bottom up or the tributaries down? Anyway got my gloves and secateurs for the community gardening.

  12. Great interview! This is what we need – participatory democracy and communities having a real say in how our resources and lives are managed.

  13. It was the Tory government who stole those assets from us in the 80s Thatcher era. THAT government should pay back the 'shareholders' and their homes and all assets should be taken from them to compensate those shareholders. They had no right to sell off our goods without giving us a referendum on whether or not we wanted it selling off. The reason why they didn't do that is because they knew that no matter how many lies they told us about how it was losing money, we wouldn't have let it be sold off without US being compensated from the money made on the sale. WE owned those assets, we paid for them with our taxes.

  14. We Own It. Thank you for the upload, and thank you Cat for this important public video. Public ownership of all services supporting the citizenry of the country is obviously the most important aspect for future development of societies and governments worldwide. It will be the only way for eventual peace on this beautiful planet we call Earth. We have seen thousands of years of outright subjugation and exploitation of peoples, the land and environment by robber-baron thugs and psychopaths throughout history. At the top of the pyramid were/are the kings and emperors, down through all levels of society to the family level – the subjugation of women. This has been the way of humanity across the whole planet for all of known history of the world – including religions. The reasons for this are beyond the functions of this short comment, requiring a book to outline.
    Only one high ranking military officer in the whole of history has ever openly expressed his public regret that he fought in every war for the sole benefit of private corporations. That was an American, Major General Smedley Butler (30th July 1881 to 21st June 1940).
    The system that George Monbiot may be alluding to is communitarianism, which is not Communism. (Please refer to Britannica for the definition – ) To come to the level of communitarianism will require a totally new philosophy and ideology for all societies. It would need to be formulated throughout the world. A nigh-on impossible task, you may think? But not impossible! To reiterate, it would not be the dreaded collapsed Communism.
    Communitarianism can be accomplished over generations, starting with a new system of school education. The brilliance of human potential can be nurtured and accomplished for public good in all spheres. People would be honoured for their public achievements, instead of the situation we have today where they become moronic plutocrats, millionaires and billionaires to the detriment of the rest of society.

  15. i just wanted to say that "global warming is pseudo science" was force loaded next after i'd watched this great vid. why was that do you reckon ?
    also "the real gary glitter story" was rather oddly in my suggestions tabs as i was watching this. most peculiar.

  16. And absolutely no compensation to the robbers who grabbed our resources at fire sale prices, NO COMPENSATION!

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