Shared Rights In Public Space: A Transpartisan Key

Transpartisan Note #103

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Free market champion and our friend Milton Friedman often said that he thought the apparently socialist, communal, and utopian Israeli Kibbutzim are a triumph of capitalism. Why? Because they are freely chosen. That many socialists also regard them as a triumph of socialism highlights an important principle of our Four Quadrant Transpartisan Matrix and of transpartisan politics.

Besides being freely chosen, the kibbutzim also feature—internally—systems of shared ownership of public spacesSharing ownership means everyone having a stake: everyone serving the private interests people have by working for the larger good.

In 2010, there were 270 kibbutzim in Israel.  Their factories and farms account for 9% of Israel’s industrial output worth US $8 billion and 40% of its agricultural output, worth over $1.7 billion.

The debate between capitalism and socialism has always been conducted between diametrically opposed visions—the freedom-right versus the order-left.  This diametric opposition positions one vision (freedom-right) with limited appeals to the common good against the other (order-left) with limited appeals to freedom.

A. Lawrence Chickering & James Turner’s Transpartisan Matrix

Neither side can imagine situations in which people will choose the good, despite evidence everywhere of people doing just that.  In private life that is the overriding value in families, communities, and love.  In the contentious free-right, order-left conflict, both speak as if it represents the entire right and the entire left.

Property rights in private property are a cornerstone institution in market economies, as studied by economists.   Economists seem to have little or no interest in shared rights in public spaces such as schools.  While insisting their only interest is to observe the real world, economists seem to believe only in self-interest, narrowly understood (in private space) as a motivator of behavior.

Economist’s seem to overlook shared interests, which can be among peoples’ most cherished values (the only values, we would say, that people live and die for).  Shared interests are part of ‘self-interest’—all studies of happiness, for example, focus on associations and relationships, which involve shared interests.  It takes much more than money to live a happy life.  

Many examples exist of shared property rights promoting powerful examples of social triumphs, with benefits widely shared, including the economically very poor.  Working in two states of India, Educate Girls Globally (EGG), the education group Lawry founded on the four-quadrant model, has been conducting a fifteen-year experiment.

EGG shows how shared rights, using the same incentives as private rights, can empower traditional communities, including girls, into powerful, active leaders and entrepreneurs.  Working only in government schools, EGG’s model is changing the cultures of both traditional communities and even government bureaucracies.

The first question in the first EGG community meeting is who owns the school? At first people answer The Government, and the next hour is taken up with complaints about what the government is not doing.  The first meeting aims for people to understand that the school will never be any better than they themselves make it, and that theythe people, not the government, are the real owners of the school (not legally, but informally, in spirit)

EGG has worked in more than 7,000 schools in two states, and in every one people get it.  This leads them to mobilize in a variety of different ways for action.  An important example iscommunity projects without any subsidy from EGG—Lawry likes to say that EGG’s only currency is empowerment.

In EGG’s Girls’ Parliaments, empowerment mobilizes girls as leaders and role models.  The crucial empowerment moment comes when they say they want boys to join them.  When asked ‘How many?’, the answer is: ’50-50.’ They don’t want any advantage in numbers.

The magic in EGG’s use of the four-quadrant model comes from integrating the empowering feature of OWNERSHIP (having a STAKE, which is the key to CARING) with the powerful PROCESS of active participation. This crucial integration drives all democratic systems.

When all four quadrants—freedom and order on both left and right—actively empower people, striving is internalized.  Everyone’s contribution to the larger good is valued.  SHARED OWNERSHIP—for schools students, parents, families, and communities—drives a PROCESS of working together to promote the common good.

When a community chooses to work together for the good, it does more than merely follow rules.  Our current political debate focuses almost entirely on rules —what are they, who makes them (how can I be the one?). What punishment follows violating them? We are now even discussing why should the rules apply to me.

In this age of claimed populism, the principal champions of populist rage—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—always seem to frown in anger, threatening to punish evil-doing elites.  Shared ownership empowers people to look inward and feel their power positively.  Co-owners are not ‘victims’.  Nobody is oppressing them.

Friedman often said he thought that the greatest threat to freedom in the world was the decline of both personal and social responsibility. Many experiences show that introducing shared rights in public space—a ‘capitalist’ (market-based) instrument—would largely solve that problem. The Israeli Kibbutzim show how a capitalist/socialist vision can produce 40% of the agricultural output of one major country when policy and culture allows shared ownership to create and allocate resources that are part of the common good.

Freedom and Order, left and right—people working together for the common good—builds strong democracies.  Strong democracies build strong communities and strong countries.

(Photo from the excellent article Kibbutz: Prospects of a Utopian Community Project, taken by the author Michal Palgi and presented as CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 on the Futures We Want website.)

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