Back in Europe

16 March 2014 – Although I came to understand the Commons concept fully while living in the United States, being back in Europe I feel the idea resonates so much more widely here. Living in Berlin, one encounters the idea of the Gemeinschaft (community, collective) everywhere. It's not only that there are plenty of civic initiatives explicitly embracing the commons, 'Allmende' in German, but many local and national government policies have the idea somehow built in as well. ''The Gemeinschaft pays for children’s medicines” I was told by the pharmacy lady while reaching for my wallet to pay for antibiotics. The Gemeinschaft is very generous generally when it comes to health care and child related costs such as daycare.

Of course it is not a surprise the idea of the commons resonates more in Europe. The idea of a society based on equity and inclusiveness is somehow grounded in political consciousness here, while in the US freedom and liberty are more dominant ideals. Yet in the US, especially in Northern California where I used to live, the commons are definitely alive; the many hacker-spaces in the Bay area embrace it, the local food markets and the sharing initiatives do. A vocal group of thinkers and writers promoting the perspective is US based and Elinor Ostrom, awarded the Nobel prize for her work on the Commons in 2009, was American. Unfortunately though, the commons discourse and initiatives are many miles away from mainstream American society. For now.

It is heartening to realize though that here there is so much to build on here, where green energy is widely embraced and redistribution is not a dirty word. Unfortunately the last decades have led us away from the ideals of equity and inclusiveness, towards more harsh and unequal societies. The crisis has at least these silver linings: it has made undeniably clear some economic dogmas have to go: markets do have their limits and privatization is not always the way to go. It has also stimulated many people to take initiative and responsibility for their communities – developments that might otherwise have taken a few more decades. It’s amazing to see that for many owning something is not necessarily status enhancing anymore, sharing something is. Whether it’s a car, a garden or a workspace. It’s timely to engage with sustainable and participatory initiatives & policies. However there is lots of work to do in giving political voice to these initiatives and in designing institutions that protect and favor the common good. Exciting times, I can't wait.

Sophie Bloemen


2014-02-11 20:27:49 – wvdbos