This is part three in my interview with David de Ugarte. Today, I ask: Should participation in the commons be understood as a sacrifice, or rather, does it bring advantages?
I don’t know how it is in the US, but in most countries in the Catholic tradition of the Americas and Europe, and obviously in Portugal and in all of Spain (except Catalonia), marriage is, practically and legally, a community of goods. That is, all family assets form a single commons.
That meant that after the Carnation Revolution in Portugal (1974) and the constitution of 1978 in Spain, when women reached full legal equal rights, a couple, a nuclear family, became legally defined as an egalitarian community… at least as an objective, which, in the case of Spain, is quite detailed: the law recently added the obligation of balanced division of domestic work.
What do I mean by this?
In the first place that, in general, all the assets of a couple form a commons. Is it a sacrifice have to share everything with your partner? Perhaps in some cultures, it may tend to be seen this way, but I’ve always experienced it and felt it as liberation, as the basis of a common project. It must not be a very original idea, because most people that get divorced and then get married to another person opt for this communal property regime, rather than the option called “division of goods,” in which each member of the couple is owner of what he/she contributes.
Secondly, that the existence of “small commons” in the organization of families has an effect over time on society as a whole, which is deeper than it might seem at first glance. I think the definition of the family as a commons—which is often extended to relatives and friends to different degrees—has not only served to make society more cohesive, but also more egalitarian at all levels.
In Spain today, with a record level of unemployment for the EU, there are more than two million families who have no income. However, there are only about 9000 people who are homeless. The family commons has been expanded to cover grandchildren, nephews, friends… that is the only way to explain the resistance of societies in Portugal and Spain to conditions that, in other countries, would have led to large-scale misery. At the same time, since the democratic change in Portugal and Spain at the end of the ’70s, when the equality of the legal rights of women was recognized, we have never been so close to real social equality between men and women. And I think that the logic of the commons as the economic foundation of the couple also has a lot to do with that.
Summarizing: when we say that the commons isn’t a sacrifice, but a liberation, we’re not doing an exercise in volunteerism or talking about something outside of people’s everyday life. The vast majority of people base what matters to them, their relationship in a stable couple and their family, on a commons.
Also, the introduction of a commons as the basis of certain everyday institutions—couples, businesses, the organization of small projects with friends, whether vacations or homebrewed beer—have an effect over time that promote a society that is more egalitarian, more capable of responding to changes without fracturing or excluding anyone.