Steve Herrick

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Grupo de Cooperativas de las Indias

The relationship between the physical and digital commons

What’s most important today? To join the physical and digital commons, cooperativism and commons, and do it from the very beginning.

This is the final installment of my week-long interview with David de Ugarte. Today’s question is, what is the relationship between the physical commons and the digital commons?

As I mentioned to you earlier, I think they have different natures. The digital commons is already part of a world of abundance: there is enough for everyone, everybody can freely use however much they need without causing anyone else to lose out on any resource or any opportunity. In that sense, it is something profoundly new, historical, truly wonderful. We will never be able to celebrate it enough.

The digital commons also has a special virtue: in good measure, it’s directly applicable to production, and allows us to be more productive. To be more productive, to have greater productivity, means that it helps us to produce more with fewer resources. That’s an important point, because it means that society moves in the right direction, by using ever fewer resources, ultimately, to freely satisfy everyone’s needs.

But, meanwhile, even though we’re moving in the right direction, the social panorama around us is more and more alarming: inequality, unemployment, exclusion, lives that are more and more fragmented and lonely, with less meaning… largely because the economic system that has sustained us for the last two hundred years no longer offers a credible future for the majority, or even for the human race as a whole.

In this context, worker cooperativism, egalitarian communities, the little commons formed between friends or affinity groups to cover risks or produce everyday objects, provide more than just hope. If we can build capacities in them—and the obvious way is the use of the digital and knowledge commons—we will build an inclusive and equal economy that is oriented to abundance. We will give our communities a solid economic base. This base will not be predatory, but democratic, open, and capable of creating futures for everyone, everywhere.

What’s most important today? To join the physical and digital commons, cooperativism and commons, and do it from the very beginning with the aim of infecting small businesses and traditional family businesses, and even the remaining big businesses not dependent on Big Financial Capital that want ethical and communal development. The world isn’t going to suddenly change because of regulatory and political reforms if there aren’t broad sectors of society behind them that have already made the change in productivity and demonstrated, here and now, that they can provide for the needs of more and more people. That’s the task we have ahead: to productively and socially empower our communities. And both commons are essential for that.

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