SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth

Professor Guy Standing & Dr Subir Sinha (SOAS University of London)

Date: 29 October 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 29 October 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Djam Lecture Theatre (DLT)

Type of Event: Seminar

Society is based on three types of property – private, state and commons – and several forms of work, including commoning. Society withers without a vibrant commons and opportunities for commoning. Throughout history, the commons have provided social protection, access to shared resources and the means to lessen inequalities. Yet in the past four decades, the commons in Britain (and elsewhere) have been plundered, by encroachment, enclosure, neglect, privatisation and colonisation. There has been erosion of five types of commons – natural, social, civil, cultural and the knowledge or ‘intellectual’ commons. More have passed into the hands of elites or have been commercialised or reduced by neglect. Some, such as the common resources of land, water and air, have been lost through privatisation. Some, such as the civil commons, have been eroded by budgetary cuts, in the name of austerity. Some, notably the intellectual and information commons, have been eroded by technological change and by the intellectual property rights regime. This book argues that it is vital to reverse the plunder and to revive commoning. This means rolling back privatisation and commercialisation of natural resources, including deforestation, the commercialisation of parks and the spread of POPS (privately-owned public spaces) that are eroding the commons in towns and cities. It means finding ways of enabling all commoners to share in the use and preservation of public resources and wealth. It means curbing intellectual property rights. It means reviving the civil commons, making justice open to all and respecting principles of due process. It means rescuing the cultural commons, defending the social commons – amenities handed down to society, the institutions that serve ordinary living, including the humble library. Above all, it should mean the establishment of a Commons Fund, from which Common Dividends could be paid to everybody, equally, as commoners. The book outlines a Charter of the Commons, a manifesto with an ecological base guided by an ethos of common sharing, defending values compatible with a market economy without the ugly inequalities and insecurity experienced today. A strong commons is vital for a good society.


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Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth


Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London. An economist with a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, he is a Fellow of the British Academy of Social Sciences and of the Royal Society of Arts, co-founder and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and Council member of the Progressive Economy Forum. He is an economic adviser to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell. He was previously a professor in SOAS, the University of Bath, and Monash University, and Director of the ILO’s Socio-Economic Security Programme. He has been a consultant for many international bodies, including UNICEF, UNCTAD, UNDP, the European Commission and World Bank, has worked with SEWA in India, and was Director of Research for President Mandela’s Labour Market Policy Commission. His books include The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, published in 23 languages; Basic Income: And how we can make it happen (Pelican, 2017), and Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth (Pelican, 2019).

Subir Sinha studied History at the University of Delhi (BA) and Political Science at Northwestern University (MS, PhD), and has taught International Politics and World History at Northwestern University, and Global Environmental History and Politics at the University of Vermont prior to coming to SOAS. His research interests are institutional change, sustainable development, social movements, state-society relations in development, and South Asian politics, with a current focus on decentralised development in India, early postcolonial planning, and the global fishworkers' movement. More recently, he has written on the commons and the politics of commoners, on populism and on the tense relations between Marxism and Postcolonial Theory.

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Organiser: Feyzi Ismail (