[W]hat you possess individually accounts for only part of your true net worth. Each of us also owns a stake in some extremely valuable assets: clean air, fresh water, national forests, the Internet, public universities, blood banks, rich cultural traditions and more.
All these things are part of what is now being called “the commons,” and they are more important than ever.
The things we share enhance our lives in countless ways – the roads we travel, parks where we gather, publicly funded medical and scientific breakthroughs we take advantage of, the accumulated human knowledge we use for free many times each day. In fact, without these commonly held resources, our modern society and market economy would never have gotten off the ground.
When the economy appeared to be booming, many of us didn’t care about the commons; it hardly seemed to matter that the local recreation center was in disrepair and Social Security on the ropes. Private health clubs and IRAs would meet those needs. But in today’s downturn, Americans are increasingly grateful for services and opportunities provided for us outside the for-profit economy.
But the news about our common wealth is not all good. While it has not declined 30 to 40 percent in value over the past year like many people’s personal savings, it still faces major threats.
Jay Walljasper, author of “The Great Neighborhood Book” (New Society, 2007), is an editor of OnTheCommons.org.