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Natural Resource Governance around the World

Sharing Power: A few policy suggestions for the construction of alternative societies that promote more sustainable and fairer natural resources management

Documents of reference

Borrini-Feyerabend Grazia, Pimbert Michel, Farvar M.Taghi, Kothari Ashish, Renard Yves et al, Sharing Power - Learning by Doing in Co-management of Natural Resources throughout the World, IIED, IUCN, CMWG, CEESP, 2004.

The challenge for civil society organisations and social movements is to take the lead in making other worlds possible1. In recent years, civil society as a whole has supported not only alternative thinking, practices and innovations for widespread transformation that promote democratic participation, but also economic and information democracy, alternative education systems and gender equity. Examples of proposals for structural reforms aimed at “re-embedding the economy in society”2 and more are shown in Box 11.15. These are far from being a North-based affair. Both southern and northern actors are now discussing such reforms and proposals throughout the world. These newly emerging views are relevant in the context of our policy analysis because they speak directly to the wider social conditions in which co-management and adaptive governance of natural resources can (or cannot) thrive. And yet, more civil society dialogue and initiatives are clearly needed to further elaborate, test and implement such proposals in the coming years. Indeed, throughout the world, civil society is challenged to give new meaning and content to the “good life”, “development” and society‘s relationship with nature.

Box 11.15. Civil society imagining other possible worlds

(adapted from a variety of sources, including Chomsky and Herman, 1988; Gorz, 1994; Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen, 1999; McChesney, 1999; Passet, 2000; Pimbert, 2001; Méda, 2001; ATTAC, 2004; Gollain, 2004; Pimbert, 2004)

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In practice, levelling the economic playing field for democratic participation calls for radical and mutually reinforcing structural reforms. Among these, the following merit closer attention because of the broad directions they suggest for societies increasingly involved in the dynamics of globalisation:

  • 1. A tax on financial speculation. The proposal, first launched in 1972 by James Tobin, calls for an internationally uniform tax on all conversions of currency (in the original proposal it was set at 1%). This tax would discourage speculation and encourage exchange rate stability. At the same time, with annual estimates of the tax revenue ranging from a few tens of thousands of million to a few hundreds of thousands of million US dollars, this globally-raised revenue could create a global fund to meet global challenges of human and social development and conservation. Responding to a number of technical criticisms, this initial proposal was transformed into a two-tier tax, levied as a national tax but introduced through an international agreement, with a minimal-rate levied on all transactions (the “basic tax”), and a high rate (an anti-speculation device) triggered during periods of exchange rate turbulence and on the basis of well-established quantitative criteria. Other variations on the theme have also been proposed.

  • 2. The full application of the “polluter pays” principle. The principle allocates costs of pollution prevention and control measures to encourage rational use of scarce and environmental resources and to avoid distortions in international trade and investment. The principle requires, therefore, that the polluters bear the expense to achieve this. Where adopted, the principle helps to prevent or minimise polluting processes and internalise the costs of doing so as part of the cost of production and the cost for the consumer. A carbon tax can be included as part of a global package of the measure and could be one of its most momentous applications.

  • 3. A guaranteed and unconditional minimum income for all. The Citizen Income proposal is based on the notion that the productive capacity of a society is the result of all the scientific and technical knowledge accumulated by previous generations. This is a common heritage of humankind and all individuals regardless of origin, age or gender have a right to benefit from it, in the form of an unconditional basic income. An equitable distribution of the existing world product would allow each person on earth to benefit from such a basic income. Apart from offering a measure of security, a Citizen Income would allow people men and women to find more time to engage in caring activities, civic affairs and democratic decision-making over the means and ends of social life.

  • 4. A gender redistribution of roles and responsibilities. This proposal would allow women to work for a decent wage outside the home and men and women to share more evenly in domestic, parenting and caring activities within their households and neighbourhood. This implies gender equitable property rights over resources as well as redesigning practical arrangements and the use of space and time within the work place the meet the diverse needs of women, men, dependant children and elderly people (time tables, career paths, working hours, provision of paternity and maternity leave, childcare provisions…). It may also imply a cultural shift affirming the importance and values of the non-monetary reproductive sphere as much as the monetary productive economic sphere with men and women deriving their identities through a plural anchoring in both spheres of social life.

  • 5. A generalised reduction of time spent in wage-work and more equitable sharing of jobs. This proposal is about finding ways to a) change the sexual division of labour so that men do as much unpaid work as women and engage in caring activities within the domestic/reproductive sphere, b) ensure that wage-work is more evenly distributed so that everyone can invest in other activities, outside the wage economy, c) defend the rights associated with wage-work and d) move towards a post-wage society and introduce new rights de-linked from wage-work. An important goal here is to free up peoples’ time for self-chosen and autonomous activities, whilst ensuring freedom from economic necessity.

  • 6. The re-localisation of pluralist economies that combine both subsistence and market oriented activities. The environments where people will need to offer more individual and collective opportunities of engaging in many different activities outside and unmediated by the market, wage-work and commodity production. These environments could provide the structural means by which citizens could manage their own affairs through face-to-face processes of deliberation and decision-making.3

  • 7. The active pursuit of information democracy. If, as in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “information is the currency of democracy”, democracy is indeed still in its infancy. Enormous work still needs to be done before the majority of people engage in critical thinking and well-informed decision-making. Such work should start from profound reforms in formal education curricula, where pluralist perspectives should be substituted in place of monolithic interpretations of history and uncritical perspectives on “science”. And it could continue with appropriate regulation of the media business, safeguarding against power agglomerations, enforcing strict codes of conduct with regard to the implicit or explicit diffusion of false information, establishing appropriate procedures to subtract electoral politics from the grip of economic power and encouraging investigative journalism.

1 Amin and Houtard, 2002.

2 On the concept of embedded economy in society see Polanyi (1944).

3 Bookchin, 1971 ; Gorz, 1997 ; Biel and Bookchin, 1998.