Mainstreaming Common Heritage, the Mother of all Entitlements Print E-mail

An outline of some strategies to bring the concept home

By W. David Kubiak



One of the few heartening political epiphanies in these last dark decades was Alfred Andersen's creative rediscovery of Thomas Paine's 1797 pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, in which he fortuitously found a key to a host of modern ills and crimes.

As Andersen saw Paine see it, all our natural capital (water, minerals, land, air, etc.) should be equitably held for the benefit of all as common heritage in some kind of public trust. To permit private use, land would be leased to individuals (who would retain full property rights to any improvements they made). Lease revenue would be equally and directly distributed to all residents as their fair share the country's patrimony. Andersen noticed both the undeniable remedial justice of this arrangement and the need to update natural capital to embrace cyberspace, broadcast spectra, lapsed patents, etc. He also noted curtly, "Paine's solution was ignored."

Undiscouraged, Andersen and his colleagues at the Tom Paine Institute went on to build a solid theoretical and moral foundation for "Natural Capital--Common Heritage" thinking as well as developing ingenious environmental benefit analyses and transition scenarios.

In a 2000 posting to a World Bank discussion group on poverty, Andersen laid out seven rational steps for transiting to a common heritage world, which he aptly called Deep Security. The following brief synopsis of his ideas and supportive work suggests both CH's marvelous promise and why it's still so aggressively ignored.

1. Educate people about the innate injustice of the near-monopoly ownership of our common-heritage wealth and the eco-socially destructive concentrations of power that it breeds.

2. Increase "welfare payments" as temporary, rightful compensation to those presently being denied their fair share of common-heritage proceeds using wealth levies and far more progressive taxation.

3. Channel land taxes to Common-Heritage Trusts rather than to government budgets; and direct levies for other benign sustainable uses of CH wealth, e.g., air, water and public domain IP to CH Trusts as well.

4. Shift the costs of government to the players that require most "governing," particularly the vast corporate bodies that are now the prime drivers of conflicts, inequality and unsustainable consumerism.

5. Gradually raise land taxes to full market income value to offset the current excessive benefits of privatized possession, and thus build support for shifts of ownership to CH Trusts.

6. Induce universities to direct their research toward the common good rather than just feeding intellectual property to the already wealthy to strengthen their political and economic dominance.

7. Stay focused on long-range visions of grassroots & global "security-building" based on economic justice that will require fundamental structural change in our financial and political spheres.

Contemporaneous work by Klaassen, Opschoor and Davidson also focused on the necessity for new economic models that simultaneously serve the needs of social justice and ecosystem integrity. They have consequently championed the equitable allotment of environmental utilization space, which they define as the total space provided by the earth for our use without diminishing future generations' possibilities. As with Andersen's Agrarian Justice update, space here is broadly and holistically envisioned to include not only land, but also every naturally occurring resource from forests, minerals, sea life and frequency spectrums to the capacity of the environment to safely endure pollution, misuse and even excess CO2.

This awareness of our essential birthrights as the planet's heirs and stewards and/or of the economy as a wholly owned subsidiary of the natural world is now spreading and helping prepare the way for Common Heritage concepts as well. Actually Andersen proposes an even more inclusive vision, which embraces the intellectual infrastructure we have inherited from our ancestors that underpins all our industrial, medical and scientific progress today.

He also observed the fact that certain private interests increasingly monopolize these precious legacies to the detriment of most of humanity, their future and the planet as a whole is both undeniable and indefensible, as are the wars, misery and eco-havoc their domination continues to cause.

Although equably reapportioning proceeds from our Common Heritage may present a few accounting challenges, they are trivial compared to the anticipated ferocious resistance of the corporate elites. As the cliché goes, politics are perception and when enough citizens perceive the social, moral and ecological virtues of Common Heritage, it could change our political landscape quite quickly and a lot.

Once the Common Heritage concept is successfully brought to public notice, it could swiftly evolve in countless minds to the status of "common sense" and thus birth the needed constituency and "political will" to achieve its radical goals.

Impregnating a global community with CH awareness is inherently quite feasible now given our total saturation in networking gear and sexy communication toys. The problem lies in gestation time. Do we really have enough time to spread the word, provoke reforms, and reverse our suicidal course? The many doom-drenched tipping points we now face in our economies, seas, climate and energy supplies do not inspire confidence that we have much time left.

With such deadlines in mind, I would like to offer a few suggestions for a low-cost, high-impact strategy to embed CH wisdom so deeply in the zeitgeist it can finally reach its true audience and never be ignored again.

Grow Alliances - CH advocates should first mate with natural allies. Greens, climate campaigners, labor activists, poverty workers and the ubiquitous indigenous - all could quickly recognize the redemptive implications of CH and furnish an invaluable support network for outreach to and education in other constituencies they conjoin.

In particular, developing global initiatives like fouryears.go and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth share the CH vision's urgency and a host of common values. Given their rapid growth, wide appeal and convergent concerns, such movements can prove priceless CH allies in the critical days ahead.

Shrink the Gospel - resuscitate the fiery pamphlet. Tom Paine fans might well recall the prophet's media of choice and boil the CH vision down to its most compelling essence and take it to the streets. This is all pretty metaphorical now given the ubiquitous Internet, but the net's magic can also transmute a digital pamphlet's spirit back to physical reality on a million shiny printers on the web.

Publicize the Numbers - convene a low-rent cyber-think tank of ecological economists, grassroots leaders and policy mavens to calculate and publicize CH implications for our societies, the biosphere and each of our own lives. Just as the real-time digital scoreboards for our war spending and national debt pack a visceral wallop, real-time projections of the CH annuities each family could/should now be collecting would be worth a thousand words. 

Act Up Politically - catapult the CH meme into the 2012 debate from every available electoral platform based on human rights, sustainability, and environmental health. Common Heritage justice is not just another good idea in search of an audience. It offers an 11th hour reprieve from a dire array of plutocratic harms. The shrinkage of government it envisions will attract libertarians and the contraction of corporate power it implies will draw Greens and the progressive Left. Its promise of enhanced economic justice and personal security in an ever more unjust and impoverished world will also surely appeal to millions of independent-minded citizens.

Target the Giants - never has Big Business been more in command of our world nor more feared, loathed and vulnerable. The chief obstacle to CH reforms is the consolidated power of the world's mega-corporations, which continue to exacerbate inequities, fuel wars, rape the wild and suborn democracy. The good news is that our enemy's enemies are legion and now awaiting new prescriptions to downsize, decentralize and democratize malignantly large corporations back to humane scale and human control.

Bridge Barricades - translate the CH gospel into local political terms that transcend the competitive divisions that cripple single issue groups today. Thanks to Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest we now know there are literally millions of grassroots activists on the planet and tens of thousands of single issue groups. Nearly every one would be empowered by the CH agenda, which thus offers an unprecedented path and impetus for populist collaboration worldwide.

Outflank the Corporate Media - Although the big business fraternity has methodically dimmed mass media journalism as an accurate lens or evolutionary force, the explosive growth of independent media offers the human body politic a brave new nervous system of its own. This resource may also be time-limited though as nations' devote more surveillance and censorship skills to keeping inconvenient truths obscured and heretics in line. For now, however, unauthorized prophets, rebels and muckrakers do enjoy a borderless new arena for seditious thoughts and blacklisted news. Our endgame as a free people may soon be played out here and it is time for Collective Heritage champions to take the field.

In sum, there are a wide variety of other tactics imaginable, but the general thrust should be clear. Realizing a Common Heritage world is largely a matter of introducing the concept clearly to the imagination of the people and letting our survival instinct, conscience and the pleasure principle pick up the work from there.

Given the self-evident truths, ethical charms and opportune timing of Andersen's Collective Heritage concept, this approach could generate an effective and contagious advocacy movement with a relatively small team in a short time at modest expense. This is how evolution re-begins. We have not come this far to fail.




 W. David Kubiak is a Project Censored Award-winning journalist, Kyoto Journal contributing editor, coordinator, and director of Big Medicine, a think tank researching the corporate takeover of our countries, cultures and consciousness. He can be reached at wdk(at)





Design and development courtesy of Big Medicine, and the astonishing Joomla community.