The Power of Collective Ownership
Collective ownership (without the aim of profitmaking) is a construction by which you arrange ownership in such a way that it is no longer possible to monetise it individually. This means that you neutralise ownership and separate it from motives based on speculation. So collective ownership is actually no longer about owning, but about using. It’s about the joint use of something, without the incentive to see that something as an object with a certain tradable financial value, something to speculate on. Collective ownership is a long-term construct based on non-commercial objectives, very different from the profit-driven short-term thinking we currently live in, which causes so many problems.
Old model, new opportunities
We believe in collective ownership (also called social or joint ownership) and in breaking with the neoliberal way of thinking and acting. We believe the current course of our society is leading to a dead end. Our focus on earning and owning is completely out of control. This obsession is causing ever-increasing problems such as inequality and the destruction of nature. We grow up thinking that we need to accumulate as much property as possible to become a good, successful person. In doing so, we completely ignore the fact that there is so much more to life than working and making money.
Collective ownership is an alternative that can help break the pursuit of as much individual ownership and financial returns as possible. It is not a new construct, absolutely not. Collective ownership has been around for a very long time, much longer than capitalism. Unfortunately, collective ownership has been increasingly pushed into the background – it disappeared through the appropriation and demarcation of land, the privatisation of collective services, and the increasingly coercive political focus on private and corporate ownership.
Collective ownership is about our own initiative, about a long-term vision, diversity and opportunities for all.
Through this web docu, we, as Amsterdam Alternative, want to bring collective ownership back into the spotlight and show, through a number of inspiring examples, the ways it could be used. The examples of collective ownership in housing, free spaces, nature conservation, agriculture and energy transition show that alternatives to capitalism are indeed possible. Things can be arranged differently from the usual extractive way that does not consider anything else than making profits for the shareholders. Collective ownership opens up new possibilities and generates a collective force that allows you to achieve things you could not get done on your own.
Collective ownership does not exclude individual ownership, state ownership and/or corporate ownership, and it is certainly not the same as socialism or communism. Indeed, it is not imposed on us from the top, but rather arises from the bottom up. Collective ownership is about our own initiative, about a long-term vision, diversity and opportunities for all. In combination with other forms of ownership it is a way of organising society so that it provides equal, fair opportunities for all. It is a way to find new insights, collaborations, opportunities and solutions to deal with current issues.
Collective ownership is not about overthrowing governments or municipalities, rather the opposite. Collective ownership – and the thinking behind it – is about the need to remind those elected by the people of the function of a government or municipality. They seem to have forgotten that looking after the interests, welfare and health of their citizens is their primary function. That is what we have a government and a municipality for, not to facilitate extensive tax-dodging, polluting industries because they are supposedly good for employment and the economy. Our economy should be secondary to the well-being of man and all other life on earth, so that we leave it in good health to future generations.
It is sometimes said that it is easier for man to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This is a cowardly, lazy notion that has very clearly sprung from the minds of those who are comfortable with it. Another way of living together is indeed possible. There are plenty of ideas, but politicians and the rich part of humanity lack the guts and the will to change. Rather racing in luxury towards the end of time than trying to change things for the better, seems to be the thinking of a small but very wealthy and powerful section of the population.
In this chapter on ownership, we will show that things can definitely be done differently and that there exists already a lot of good ideas and constructions to redesign our society.
Origin and decomposition of ownership
We begin the chapter with an article on the origins of ownership, the various ownership constructions used, the colonial past and whether the constructions we have devised are fair and future-proof. Using some statements from the book What is Property by the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, we compare the situation then (1840) with that of today and conclude that what he wrote is still relevant today. It is high time to put things in order if we still wish for anything like a future for humanity.
We see that the human habit of appropriation ignores nature and all non-human life.
Rights for nature
In the Rights for Nature article, we focus on non-human life and its importance for the survival of humanity. Rights for Nature is not just about collective ownership, but rather about how we can give non-human life on earth a place in our structures and decisions. We see that the human habit of appropriation ignores nature and all non-human life. The result is the alarming situation of climate change, destruction of ecosystems, species extinction, and so on. Through some inspiring examples we see that collective ownership, steward ownership, non-ownership and other constructs can help solve these problems. It is high time that we somehow include nature and non-human life in decisions, and recognise that we humans cannot possibly live without all that other life.
Ownership in non-Western cultures
We are used to approach issues like ownership through the lens of our own Western culture. This makes sense if we live here and grew up here, but it is completely unjustified. We seem to have forgotten that before we Europeans colonised and subjugated large parts of the world to our systems, there were other societies based on different ideas, wisdoms and core values. Much valuable knowledge and experience of indigenous cultures and ancient peoples has been lost. Fortunately, there are still wisdom keepers and indigenous peoples who carry on valuable ‘old’ traditions and pass on knowledge.
In the article on ownership in non-Western cultures we try to point out by way of some examples that our way of thinking is not the only way, and certainly not always the best. It is a topic to which you could devote a whole book or a whole documentary, so please see this article mainly as pointing out some ways to tackle it, and not as a complete overview of indigenous wisdoms, traditions and customs.
While researching ownership and ways to break with our current systems, we came across degrowth. As this movement and its ideas fitted well with our idea that collective ownership can help reshape our society, we decided to devote an article and an interview to it.
In our conversation with Federico Savini he explains that degrowth is not just – as many people seem to think – about reducing our production and consumption. Degrowth, as the name suggests, is about less growth or degrowth, but that does not apply to everyone and everywhere. In some places, growth is actually desirable or necessary, in others it is definitely not. Degrowth is mainly about better and fairer distribution. It is not about shrinking, but rather about fostering the general well-being by paying more attention and money to things like education, care, healthy food and housing, and less to excessive luxury and wealth.
In our research into ownership and alternative ways of shaping our society, besides degrowth we came across regenerative thinkers as well.
Regeneration, as the name suggests, is about generating something anew. Or as Vincent Deinum of the Regeneration Cooperative says in the interview: something actually has to be broken or dead first in order to regenerate it.
As we currently live in a time in which a lot is broken or in danger of being broken, the focus on regeneration is growing. More and more people are recognising that our destructive systems need to give way to alternatives in which we leave things better than we found them.
Regeneration is a school of thought that fits well with ideas about giving rights to nature, redesigning ownership and the way we humans connect with ourselves and the world around us on an individual and collective level.
Regeneration is about relationships, about looking at what doesn’t work (anymore) and how that can be repaired or changed, so that it results in more life (not just of people). It is looking for a way of thinking and being that should come not only from the head, but also from the heart. There are already examples of applying regeneration in, for example, agriculture, education, architecture and tourism.
We are going to talk further in this chapter about steward ownership where, for example, a company is no longer owned by anyone but by itself. A fantastic idea that is now being used worldwide by companies such as Bosch, Patagonia, Odin and New Optimist. There is also a focus on triple ownership, where it is argued that ownership of, say, land or a business should lie simultaneously with the creative entrepreneur, the community and the property itself. From there you can develop the contours of a free and equal society.
Collective ownership, we believe, is a good way to break away from the view that you need to accumulate as much individual wealth as possible to be a successful and/or good person.
Hopefully all the articles and interviews will help you let go of your existing thoughts on ownership, and open up to new or ‘old’ ways of looking at and considering ownership and its consequences.
Collective ownership, we believe, is a good way to break away from the view that you need to accumulate as much individual wealth as possible to be a successful and/or good person. It is a way to break free from the profit-driven system and therefore an option to be considered in sectors such as education, housing, food production, healthcare, communications and public transport. These are things that matter to everyone, and things that should be decoupled from profit-driven market thinking and shareholder profit maximisation. That does not mean that everything should be centrally regulated by the government, nor that there should be no profit at all. It only means that it would be good if it is organised in a democratic way, in a way that is good for humans and all non-human life, independent of the mechanisms that encourage profit at the expense of others or nature.
Collective ownership is about shared responsibility and the pusuit of stated goals in a way that is good for everyone and everything living right now, as well as for future generations. It is not a replacement for all other ownership structures, but a valuable addition to them. It seems like a huge operation, but as far as we are concerned, it is of great importance to create new commons and reverse or complement privatisation of various sectors through collective ownership. It’s about common grounds and things that make ownership change from having something to being responsible for something. As far as we are concerned, collective ownership is a collective force that enables us to protect important things (such as nature) and change existing unfair, destructive structures.
The beauty of a modular web docu like this one is that we can always keep adding new chapters, videos, articles and other info. It is a never-ending process. Despite all the beautiful and inspiring stories in this web docu, this is not the absolute truth that will hold true forever and ever. People change, times change, the earth changes. Change is inseparable from life. Therefore, do not see this web docu as a final document, but as an open-ended project. This is it for now, but not forever.