FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Reclaiming Our Commons in an Age of Corporate Crime

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/

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail