Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Loanership vs. Ownership - towards sustainable economics through commons "ownership"

Author Peter Barnes is a proponent of the world's commons [plural]. To make his point that there is much (in fact arguably all) of our world that is just given and so not any individual's or group's property he entitled one of his books "Who Owns the Sky?" Obviously to ask the question this way is to answer it: nobody. Barnes concludes that it is for this reason (non-ownership) that we have been so profligate with nature since the industrial revolution. What was once seemingly infinite is now becoming scarce and finite, with species disappearing and glaciers melting.

As a businessperson Barnes' solution to this problem is to charge for the "use"/ misuse of the sky, something akin to a carbon tax on atmospheric use/pollution. Whatever the logistical difficulties this is an appealing suggestion. But it is inadequate to its ambition because it essentially risks reducing essentials like the sky to tradeable commodities and thus fails what we may call the philosophical test. The sky is not a commodity; if we think it is we can trade it away. A better answer and one that imposes a barrier on misuse is that the sky, indeed the whole universe is a common trust. As such exchange is an inappropriate way of regulating its use. Neither the use-, nor the exchange-, value of the sky or rivers or forests can, or should be, quantified. A better model for their economic role is that of the commons. Once intentionally  allocated to the garage-bin of history by "non-commoners" the commons is back in popular discourse for a good reason: the fragility of our eco-system. A better economic concept for our "use" of the common earth than that of the commodity the loan. The world and all therein must be seen as a temporary loan which, as in a library it is. It is our responsibility to return it as un-reduced as possible.

In fact the largely informal social contract of the loan/trust is the key concept that has historically restrained us from destroying what we cannot live without. Inscribed in indigenous beliefs it was rejected by western economics. Time to re-learn it, if indeed there still is time. We have to learn to loan more and restrain the habit of ownership that was normalized when the agricultural commons were enclosed in the 18th century. If what is in the world is becoming scarce then, as Barnes and Nobel prize-winner Elinor Ostrom understood, the commons model of universal group ownership must be championed if we are to survive as a species. And to achieve this we must loan more and own less, in that ownership is a form of separation of something that is integral - the earth.

Extending commons of various forms is the challenge of the 21st century. Unless we do this we are doomed, socially and existentially. We must loan or, in the term used by libraries we must circulate what we have instead of consuming it. In so doing we will be closer to nature as circulation is what nature does. And before the predictable response of "get real" to this principle is heard the reality is that in fact the new economics is already happening in several places, including Mondragon and Chiappas, and with the library model being extended in recent years to knowledge (influenced by the success of the Internet) and material items like seeds, cars, bikes and tools. Will it be long before we are impressing our neighbours by how much we loan rather than how much we own. For survival's sake it must be sooner rather than later.

As for Barnes' book you can buy it from our worker co-op (much better than corporate predator Amazon) . But much better than owning of course is borrowing it from your local branch of the Toronto Public Library.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

With NAFTA to be re-negotiated remember Canadian farmer hero Percy Schmeiser

Back at the beginning of the new millennium Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser had the guts to take on corporate giant Monsanto about their allegation of patent infringement; his crops grew with Monsanto fertlizer accidentally blown onto his farm, for which Monsanto took him to court. Schmeiser fought the case and lost in Canada's Supreme Court but stood out as a model for all who value political independence and GMO-free agriculture.Worth remembering as Canada is set to embark on another bout of the sovereignty forfeiture called NAFTA. For details see:

Friday, 26 May 2017

Congrats to Studio89 for May 24 better economy (minimal consumption) workshop

TorontotheBetter co-op members were pleased to join others at TorontotheBetter directory participant Studio 89's panel discussion, moderated by Jazzmine Lawton, on living "stuff-emancipated" (minimalist) lives. With 24/7 consumer advertising beamed at young and old alike everywhere in this still new-ish century, independent voices of resistance to consumer-mania are more important than ever as pathways to a better way of living and a more social economy. TorontotheBetter plans future events in partnership with the Studio and others of our many hundred strong progressive business sector.  
 For more information about Studio89 see the TorontotheBetter directory at
TorontotheBetter - building Toronto's social economy since 2004.
Our Toronto includes the GTA 

Monday, 22 May 2017

On gift boxes, little libraries and anti austerity movements - a new economy is coming?

Change takes a long time and lasting change rarely comes all at once, never without struggle. The appearance in recent years, particularly after the financial collapse of 2008, of alternative to mainstream economic forms, be they "sharing" or giving, or swapping, are signs of a groundswell of change in some attitudes, ideas and behaviours arising from the now pretty universally acknowledged inequality of our times. Gift boxes and little free libraries arise from the awareness of those who recognize more or less consciously the existence of a polar degree of inequality in today's society - Occupy's 1%-99% divide. That such initiatives are tiny gestures, rather than serious endeavours to prevent poverty does not diminish their significance as a symptom of unease in the population, specifically that portion of the population that are culturally prepared and experienced enough to make change if they wished to. Some portions of the middle class are barometers of the stresses felt much more savagely and regularly by the poor. It was the case in the previous millennium of world wars and revolutions and the pattern's consequences could repeat in the absence of hindsight.

Symptom recognition is a necessary preliminary for remedial action but symptom recognition is not solution. As a recent article in the Journal of Radical Librarianship pointed out, most free libraries appear in relatively affluent neighbourhoods. The same is likely true for "Gift Boxes" too. They represent a liberal response to the fact of radical inequality that lacks the muscle to turn back the force of right-wing populism fuelling further class-based economic warfare of the kind the US president has been engaged in. The only serious response that will produce change must be political and structural. So far the necessary political movement for economic equality has not emerged but the ground is shifting and while insufficient in themselves enough logs can make an economic fire that will, in the words of the poet, change things utterly.

Little free libraries and give boxes will solve little in themselves but they are clues to a future world, that other, better world that is possible and actual sometimes, somewheres.        

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Closing Words

Thank you readers and friends for tuning in and reading my blog posts this year. I learned a lot these past few terms about self motivation and finding the necessary assets to complete tasks. These tasks include making flyers, sending out emails to respective clients, and writing about hot topics in our community. My supervisor, Tim McGraw was very helpful in meeting with me to discuss assignments and how I could improve the quality of my work with a disciplined work ethic. I notably observed the importance of utilizing the assets already available to you like the library, FedEx Stores and home supplies when starting your own campaign or project in Toronto. Cruyff Court Toronto is expanding rapidly so make sure to check out our website at

Thank you. More pics on the way!


Monday, 15 May 2017

Canada is Back??? Climate Change Wishing and Climate Change Acting

Well, from climate change-denying to "sunny" statements about the inseparability of economic and environmental well-being is progress of a kind. But a detached observer might wonder about the practical difference between climate deniers and wishful thinkers. With an economy, like Canada's, that is largely built on fossil fuel extraction the leap to carbon neutrality will not be pain-free or quick. Better to face up.

To buoy up any flagging spirits it's important to recognize important measures where they do exist.
A recent article from For A Better World magazine
called "Sustainable Public Procurement: An Understated and Effective Way to Grow Fair Trade" identifies several Canadian public institutions committed to sourcing fair trade supplies. Read it and encourage similar action in your region. We all have  a role to play in creating a fairer economy, individuals, organizations and industry. To find the TorontotheBetter enterprise where you can get your own free copy of the magazine/article mentioned above email with Procurement in the subject line.

TorontotheBetter [] - supporting Toronto's social economy since 2004.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Public or private? - a real storm in tough economic times

 Western governments, led by neo-liberal leaders of all stripes since at least the 1980's have reduced expenditures in real  terms by cutting taxes, while axing some services and charging for others. As a result supporters of the public good, which no political party can be guaranteed to serve, are faced with a dilemma: agitate for public action to address human need, or act independently. This is a dilemma as old as modern government and did not exist in medieval times, when peasants' revolts against high handed aritocrats were the only option.

A recent and revealing example in this 21st century age of the "Great Recession"  is the storm over an apparently teacup sized issue is the hot debate in some media about "little free libraries," as raised by a Toronto native, Jane Schmidt. Should those with the resources to do so create such book oases in areas already, even if inadequately, served by public libraries, or should they agitate for more of them in under-served areas that need them? The debate, framed as such is answered by posing it. Of course we should do both;how could one stop them? In the dirty 1930's should the soup  kitchen providers have argued against the New Deal? Of course not, and they didn't. The long run is not the short run and as far as we know Keynes was right: in the long run we'll all be dead.

The strategic question metaphorically buried in these little book boxes is a serious one that must be part of any progressive action. what  to do for the best for the most. Best to pull the drowning out of the water, yes, whether it's food  for the mid or the body, but make sure you have a plan to prevent further drownings. In history well meaning governments have been changed or have been corrupted. We can't ignore the need to do something when they're not available. Like now.         

Monday, 1 May 2017

Copyright and the economy - from the Creative Commons summit - Day 3

There was much food for thought (and action) in the session on copyright and trade agreements on the summit's last day. Ostensibly, trade agreements like NAFTA and CETA and the many others that have been  signed by Canada and other nations in recent years are designed to remove tariff and other barriers to exchange in the interests of cheaper products and so more efficient trade..A na├»ve observer might wonder then why one  key barrier to exchange, copyright law, continues to exist in most "developed" countries.

So-called free trade agreements, the Creative Commons workshop was told, generally ignore the issue of intellectual property. While Creative Commons groups in several of the countries represented at the conference work for the abolition of copyright protections on the grounds that it is not just or fair to remove important knowledge from the many in the world who, for reasons of poverty, location and skill (often all three) are unable to benefit from what in many cases can be life and death determining. There have been several instances in recent years of lifesaving drugs that are held hostage, through high pricing, by pharmaceutical companies, much of whose research and many of whose researchers, have been supported by public funds. 

The obvious concluding opinion of the audience, if not yet of their national governments, was, in the interests of the many, to abolish copyright protection as a whole and institute a default creative commons. Fair use extensions and exceptions to copyright are not enough. The health and wellbeing of too many around the world are at stake. Is copyright not an enemy of a truly social economy?  

For those looking for altrenatives to Copyright an increasing number of alternative content licenses are now available at including CopyLeft and Sharealike. There is life in commons, beyond private property, both for real estate and for knowledge.                             

Creative Commons conference in Toronto-DAY 2: Co-ops and the Creative Commons: can the movements work together?

Like Torontothbetter many of those attending the Creative Commons Summit, and seeking copyright free access to knowledge, had their feet, and hearts, in both co-op and commons movements and want both to  succeed. In some ways, the Creative Commons movement is a generational and virtual translation of the co-op impulse to achieve an independent presence for the the hitherto voiceless, whether it be through economic action, as did/do the consumer and worker co-operatives of the 19th century and beyond, or through open communications as does the creative commons of our times.

For all  the overlapping historical ground  of the two movements, however, those at the co-ops and commons workshop at the 2017 Summit in Toronto on April 29, including representatives from Argentina, Japan, England, China, Poland, Australia, Chile, Canada, Tanzania, and the Netherlands, among other countries, the historical  and cultural differences of the two  movemennts were posed as challenges by TorontotheBetter. Co-operative priorities are democractic participation and solidarity, the commons' are opennesss and inclusion. These differences are not necessarily barriers to collaboration but can only enable deep solidarity if they are understood as distinct. On a positive note, and as a basis for concrete progress toward fuller collaboration, the audience at the workshop agreed that equality is a unifying principle that underlies both movements and offers a solid basis for collaborative action in the future.          

Please contribute your thoughts in response to this post and/or write your own post (request author rights to this blog by return email with Request in the Subject line).
TorontotheBetter                                                                                         - Building Toronto's Social Economy since 2004.