Friends of the Earth is running a series of little debates over what we should all be doing to make the world a better place. Obviously this is not a bad idea: how to make the world a better place is an entirely suitable subject for discussion even if we'd not expect all that many useful suggestions from that quarter. Imagine our surprise then, the quite gobsmacking surprise, that they're actually recommending voluntary cooperation and free markets absent government regulation:
Isn’t Wikipedia a paradise for practical jokers?
If we run our global commons like that, we’ll be saving forests that don’t exist and hailing the creation of a super-sucking CO2 machine called Bee Jay.
Not true. It isn’t perfect – don’t use it to diagnose any health problems – but it’s perhaps more accurate than you think. A study favourably compared the reliability of Wikipedia to that of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
In any case, Wikipedia is a permeable mega-site. Anyone can edit it. So it’s pretty darn impressive that millions of people confidently use it every month.
And don’t forget, compared to the waves of anonymous Wikipedians, the group of people negotiating our global commons are visible and relatively minute. Indeed, their UN talks should be a doddle to manage in comparison.
Well, yes, your humble author was one of those who had a published conversation with the former Editor in Chief of Britannica at the time that research came out. And I was able to point out exactly why Wikipedia did work. In a different manner to a centrally edited encyclopedia, yes, but the end result was as good or better. Less checking and verification at the outset but that voluntary interaction led to a result, over time, as good or better.
Wi-Fi, air traffic control radars, mobile phone networks… They all have their own frequency highways. But these highways need to be managed to stop multiple-wave pile-ups.
Did I mention that they run across national borders? Tricky. Yet a network of technical bods across Europe have been managing these frequencies without political interference – even throughout the Cold War.
Like Wikipedia, they huddled around shared interests – not wanting to live in a world resembling a detuned radio. Their interactions fostered a sense of community and a common cause. As did flexibility eg countries could use frequencies formally allocated to other countries, as long as they didn’t interfere with existing radio services. Cooperation gave birth to standards and regulatory powers.
Quite, the use of those common resources were managed, as the mentioned Elinor Ostrom pointed out, by people voluntarily cooperating for their own enlightened self interest.
We know that markets work, that world around us shows that markets work but as with Dr. Johnson, the surprise is not to hear such things said so well but to see them from this source.
So, we can expect FoE to be signing up to the neoliberal globalisation plan then can we? You know, the only one of the various plans on offer that is based upon this acknowledgment of the inclination to voluntary cooperation among human beings, the only one that allows that inclination to flourish?