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Participatory Economics and the Commons

By Robin Hahnel

2015 - publsihed in Capitalism Nature Socialism


Abstract: What is the commons? What should the commons include? What responsibilities do we—the present generation—have as stewards to protect the commons for future generations? Whom should the commons benefit? Who should decide how the commons is used? How should they go about making those decisions? After reviewing a few insightful perspectives on the commons, this article explains how these questions would be answered in an alternative to capitalism known as a “participatory economy.”


Part 1 reviews different perspectives on the commons from Garrett Hardin and Elinor Ostrom, through indigenous societies, to traditional socialists, pointing toward what we might call a “modern” view of the commons. Part 2 briefly explains how a participatory economy would function. Part 3 outlines what this implies about how a participatory economy would answer the above questions about the commons, and part 4 highlights a critical question concerning “human capital.”