A new collection of 73 essays that describe the enormous potential of the commons in conceptualizing and building a better future, edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich.

We are poised between an old world that no longer works and a new one struggling to be born. Surrounded by centralized hierarchies on the one hand and predatory markets on the other, people around the world are searching for alternatives. The Wealth of the Commons explains how millions of commoners have organized to defend their forests and fisheries, reinvent local food systems, organize productive online communities, reclaim public spaces, improve environmental stewardship and re-imagine the very meaning of “progress” and governance. In short: how they’ve built their commons.

In 73 timely essays by a remarkable international roster of activists, academics and project leaders, this book chronicles ongoing struggles against the private commoditization of shared resources – often known as “market enclosures” – while documenting the immense generative power of the commons.  The Wealth of the Commons is about history, political change, public policy and cultural transformation on a global scale – but most of all, it’s about commoners taking charge of their lives and their endangered resources. It’s about common people doing uncommon things.

“This fine collection makes clear that the idea of the Commons is fully international, and increasingly fully worked-out–if you find yourself wondering what Occupy wants, or if some other world is possible, this pragmatic, down-to-earth, and unsentimental book will provide many of the answers.”

— Bill McKibben, author, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

“Solidly researched and clearly written, these essays lay the kind of foundation needed if we are to realize a paradigm shift toward the commons.  Kudos to Bollier and Helfrich for assembling this astonishing tool kit!”

— Lewis Hyde, author, Common As Air and The Gift

“These thoughtful and beautiful essays go beyond celebrating the commons to insist that we must learn how ‘to common.’ We will all be impoverished unless we more actively make, defend, expand, and govern resources that cannot be privately owned.”

-– Nancy Folbre, professor of economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Over the past few years an explosion of innovative activism, scholarship and projects focused on the commons has been gaining momentum around the world. This growing movement consists of activists fighting international land grabs and the privatization of water; commoners collectively managing forests, fisheries and farmlands; Internet users generating software and Web content that can be shared and improved; and urban dwellers reclaiming public spaces.The Wealth of the Commons brings together the most vibrant strands of this burgeoning international work into a single volume, revealing the significant potential of the commons as a new force in politics, economics and culture.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany has been an indispensable partner in the conception and development of the book. Barbara Unmüssig, President of the Foundation, provided unflagging support for an anthology that would probe more deeply into the world that exists beyond market and state. Silke Helfrich and the Böll Foundation were co-editors of a German edition of this book, Commons –Für eine neue Politik jenseits von Markt und Staat, which was published by transcript verlag in April 2012.

Our goal in assembling the essays in The Wealth of the Commons has been to showcase the great diversity of voices, types of resources and geographic circumstances related to the commons – and the great political relevance of the commons for our time. The book also seeks to show the range of enclosures of the commons now underway, theoretical approaches to understanding the commons, and specific projects that use commons principles to generate, protect and share resources.

All works in The Wealth of the Commons except for those previously published and copyrighted (as noted at the end of such chapters) are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. See





  • My Rocky Road to the Commons, by Jacques Paysan
  • The Economy of Wastefulness: The Biology of the Commonsby Andreas Weber
  • We Are Not Born as Egoists, by Friederike Habermann
  • Resilience Thinking, by Rob Hopkins
  • Institutions and Trust in Commons: Dealing with Social Dilemmas, by Martin Beckenkamp
  • The Structural Communality of the Commons, by Stefan Meretz
  • The Logic of the Commons and the Market: A Shorthand Comparison of Their Core Beliefs, by Silke Helfrich
  • First Thoughts for a Phenomenology of the Commons, by Ugo Mattei
  • Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, by Silvia Federici
  • Rethinking the Social Welfare State in Light of the Commons, by Brigitte Kratzwald
  • Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created, by Silke Helfrich
  • The Tragedy of the Anticommons, by Michael Heller
  • Why Distinguish Common Goods from Public Goods?, by James B. Quilligan
  • Subsistence: Perspective for a Society Based on Commons, by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen
  • Technology and the Commons, by Josh Tenenberg
  • The Commoning of Patterns and the Patterns of Commoningby Franz Nahrada
  • The Abundance of the Commons, A Conversation with Brian Davey, Roberto Verzola and Wolfgang Hoeschele


  • Enclosures from the Bottom Up, by Peter Linebaugh
  • The Commons: A Historical Concept of Property Rights, by Hartmut Zückert
  • The Global Land Grab: The New Enclosuresby Liz Alden Wily
  • Genetically Engineered Promises & Farming Realities, by P.V. Satheesh
  • The Coming Financial Enclosure of the Common, by Antonio Tricarico
  • Mining as a Threat to the Commons: The Case of South America, by César Padilla
  • Water as a Commons: Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us, by Maude Barlow
  • Dam Building: Who’s “Backward” – Subsistence Cultures or Modern “Development”?, by Vinod Raina
  • Belo Monte, or the Destruction of the Commons, by Gerhard Dilger
  • Subtle But Effective: Modern Forms of Enclosure, by Hervé Le Crosnier
  • Good Bye Night Sky, by Jonathan Rowe
  • Crises, Capitalism and Cooperation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo De Angelis
  • Hope from the Marginsby Gustavo Esteva
  • A New German Raw Materials Strategy: A Modern Enclosure of the Commons?, by Lili Fuhr
  • Using “Protected Natural Areas” to Appropriate the Commons, by Ana de Ita
  • Intellectual Property Rights and Free Trade Agreements: A Never-Ending Story, by Beatriz Busaniche
  • Global Enclosures in the Service of Empire, by David Bollier


  • School of Commoning, by George Pór
  • Practicing Commons in Community Gardens: Urban Gardening as a Corrective for Homo Economicus, by Christa Müller
  • Sharing Our Common Fruit, by Katharina Frosch
  • Living in “The Garden of Life”, by Margrit Kennedy and Declan Kennedy
  • Reclaiming the Credit Commons: Towards a Butterfly Society, by Thomas H. Greco, Jr.
  • Shared Space: A Space Shared is a Space Doubled, by Sabine Lutz
  • Transition Towns: Initiatives of Transformationby Gerd Wessling
  • Learning from Minamata: Creating High-Level Well-Being in Local Communities in Japan, by Takayoshi Kusago
  • Share or Die – A Challenge for Our Timesby Neal Gorenflo
  • The Faxinal: A Brazilian Experience of the Commons and Its Relationship with the State,by Mayra Lafoz Bertussi
  • Capable Leadership, Institutional Skills and Resource Abundance Behind Flourishing Coastal Marine Commons in Chile, by Gloria L. Gallardo Fernández & Eva Friman
  • Community Based Forest and Livelihood Management in Nepal, by Shrikrishna Upadhyay
  • Salt and Trade at the Pink Lake: Community Subsistence in Senegal, by Papa Sow & Elina Marmer
  • El Buen Vivir and the Commons, A Conversation between Gustavo Soto Santiesteban and Silke Helfrich


  • The Code is the Seed of the Software, An Interview with Adriana Sánchez
  • The Boom of Commons-Based Peer Productionby Christian Siefkes
  • Copyright and Fairy Tales, by Carolina Botero and Julio César Gaitán
  • Creative Commons: Governing the Intellectual Commons from Belowby Mike Linksvayer
  • Freedom for Users, Not for Software, by Benjamin Mako Hill
  • Public Administration Needs Free Software, by Federico Heinz
  • From Blue Collar to Open Commons Region: How Linz, Austria, Has Benefited from Committing to the Commons, by Thomas Gegenhuber, Naumi Haque and Stefan Pawel
  • Emancipating Innovation Enclosures: The Global Innovation Commons, by David E. Martin
  • Move Commons: Labeling, Opening and Connecting Social Initiatives, by Javier de la Cueva, Bastien Guerry, Samer Hassan, Vicente J. Ruiz Jurado
  • Peer-to-Peer Economy and New Civilization Centered Around the Sustenance of the Commons, by Michel Bauwens and Franco Iacomella
  • Knowledge is the Water of the Mind: How to Structure Rights in “Immaterial Commons”,by Rainer Kuhlen


  • Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Commons, by David Bollier and Burns H. Weston
  • The Common Heritage of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundariesby Prue Taylor
  • Ideas for Change: Making Meaning Out of Economic and Institutional Diversity, by Ryan T. Conway
  • Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, by Michael J. Madison, Brett M. Frischmann and Katherine J. Strandburg
  • The Triune Peer Governance of the Digital Commonsby Michel Bauwens
  • Multilevel Governance and Cross-Scale Coordination for Natural Resource Management: Lessons from Current Research, by Helen Markelova and Esther Mwangi
  • The Atmosphere as a Global Commons, by Ottmar Edenhofer, Christian Flachsland and Bernhard Lorentz
  • Transforming Global Resources into Commons, by Gerhard Scherhorn
  • Electricity Commons – Toward a New Industrial Society, by Julio Lambing
  • The Failure of Land Privatization: On the Need for New Development Policies, by Dirk Löhr
  • The Yasuní-ITT Initiative, or The Complex Construction of Utopia, by Alberto Acosta
  • Equitable Licensing – Ensuring Access to Innovation, by Christina Godt, Christian Wagner-Ahlfs and Peter Tinnemann
  • P2P-Urbanism: Backed by Evidence, by Nikos A. Salingaros and Federico Mena-Quintero



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