Reclaiming Our Commons in an Age of Corporate Crime

by Ralph Nader

Hundreds of billions of dollars of the nation’s wealth-the people’s resources-are being openly confiscated by corporate interests.

Government, the presumed protector of the public’s property, has become, instead, the enabler of the plunder and theft. The media, the nation’s self-professed watchdog, is apathetic, at best, in sounding the alarm about the people’s loss of control over resources they have paid for or inherited from previous generations. These are the resources that citizens legally hold in common-their common wealth.

As a result, corporations have found it easy to lay claim to a wide range of public resources-from publically-funded medical advances to national forests, public spaces in cities, the Internet, software innovations, the airwaves, the public domain of creative works, the DNA of animals, plants and humans. The appetite of Big Business for the appropriation of public resources is limitless. Even public education has not escaped the ambition of corporate control and takeover.

Surprisingly, corporate appropriation-the privatization–of public resources has proceeded quietly with only sporadic public outcries against the most blatant thefts. One public interest activist and author-David Bollier-is making a valiant effort to change that. As Bollier argues, the abuses go unnoticed because the thefts are generally seen “only in glimpses, not in panorama, when it is visible at all.”

Bollier’s new book “Silent Theft-The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth” (Routledge, New York and London) is a loud wake-up call for citizens interested in halting the steady exploitation and erosion of the nation’s resources and values for short-term gains by the few. And the book does, indeed, provide the reader a wide, vivid and scary panoramic view of what is happening to the public’s resources-“the commons” as Bollier calls them.

“We have become a nation of eager consumers-and disengaged citizens-and so are ill-equipped to perceive how our common resources are being abused,” Bollier says. Bollier moves quickly to specifics- breakthrough cancer drugs that our tax dollars helped develop, and the rights to which pharmaceutical companies acquired for a song for which they now charge exorbitant prices. The archaic 1872 law which gives mining companies the lucrative right to mine valuable mineral resources on our public lands for $5 an acre-a right that the mining industry preserves through what Bollier describes as “well-deployed campaign contributions.”

Bollier is especially critical of the federal government’s role in giving away its most promising drug research and development to the drug companies for a fraction of its actual value with the companies then charging whatever prices they can make the desperately ill bear.

“It is a sweet deal for drugmakers but an outrage for millions of American taxpayers and consumers,” Bollier says. “It is a scandalous fact that the fruits of risky and expensive scientific work typically do not accrue to the sponsors/investors-the American people-until drug companies have extracted huge markups of their own. The American people pay twice, first as taxpayers, reaping a lower (or nonexistent) return on their investments, and second as consumers paying higher drug prices charged by pharmaceutical companies.”

Bollier reminds the reader that Americans own collectively one third of the surface area of the country and billions of acres of the outer continental shelf. The resources are extensive and valuable: huge supplies of oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, copper, gold, silver, timber grasslands, water and geothermal energy. The nation’s public land also consists of vast tracts of wilderness forests, unspoiled coastline, sweeping prairies, the Rocky Mountains, and dozens of beautiful rivers, and lakes.

“As the steward of these public resources, the government’s job is to manage these lands responsibly for the long-term,” Bollier argues. “The sad truth is that the government stewardship of this natural wealth represents one of the great scandals of the 20th Century. While the details vary from one resource to another, the general history is one of antiquated laws, poor enforcement, slipshod administration, environmental indifference and capitulation to industry’s most aggressive demands.”

The increasing exploitation of the commons, Bollier argues, needlessly siphons hundreds of billions of dollars away from the public purse each year that could be used for countless varieties of social investment, environmental protection and other public initiatives. The public’s assets and revenue streams are privatized with only fractional benefits accruing to the public in return, he says.

Bollier also contends that the enclosure of the “commons” by market forces (usually the bigger companies) tends to foster market concentration, reduce competition and raise consumer prices. He says it also threatens the environment by favoring short-term exploitation over long-term stewardship-“the flagrant abuses of public lands by timber, mining and agribusiness companies are prime examples.”

Despite his vigorous criticism of the exploitation and neglect of the public’s resources-“the commons”-Bollier remains optimistic that people can be galvanized to reverse the current trend.

“Americans have a long tradition of creating innovative vehicles for ensuring fair return to the American people on resources they collectively own,” he writes. “It is time to revive this tradition of innovation in the stewardship of public resources and give it imaginative new incarnations in the twenty-first century.”

For anyone interested in joining the effort to reverse the corporate exploitation of our public resources-David Bollier’s “Silent Theft” is a first-class starting point.

For More Information on “Silent Theft” see: http://www.silenttheft.com/


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce