Frequently Asked Questions
Below is a collection of frequently asked questions about the Universal Commons Project. If you have a question you’d like answered or clarified, please contact us.
What do you mean by “profit should equal value”?
In this context, “profit” refers to the private financial gains to a business from trade once all costs are fully accounted for. And “value” refers to those things that people tend to care about, such as health, security, a clean environment, etc. In many cases, profit does equal value, such as when a business produces a product that people desire. However, sometimes profit does not equal value, such as when a business makes a profit while polluting the environment, or a social enterprise struggles to capture the value it has created after running a literacy program. We believe that if profit were aligned with value across the economy, then all economic activity would be directed towards producing what people tend to care about.
Is the Universal Commons Project seeking to put a price on a tree or an individual human life?
We are not seeking to put a price on anything with intrinsic value, such as an individual human life or a tree in a pristine ecosystem. What we are seeking to measure is the condition of Social and Natural Assets, like water quality and public health, to determine if they are improving or being degraded. We are also seeking to measure the externalities that affect Social and Natural Assets, such as pollution. Once these are measured, it will be possible to gauge the impact that business activity has on these things and hold them accountable for it.
Is the Universal Commons effectively a socialist means of collective ownership over the world's resources?
The Universal Commons Project is not seeking to extend any private or collective property rights over the Social and Natural Assets that make up the Universal Commons. The things that qualify as Social and Natural Assets already exist in the commons, thus are not subject to private or collective property rights.
We also recognise the central role that private property plays in capitalism and believe that individuals and businesses should be able to own private property and use Social and Natural Assets to make a profit.
If capitalism is the cause of much that is wrong in the world today, won’t bringing Social and Natural Assets into the market just make things worse?
We believe the problem is not with capitalism itself, but with the way it is implemented in our society today. Because our current implementation of capitalism tends to ignore the impact of business activity on Social and Natural Assets, it means that businesses are able to make a private profit while degrading the Universal Commons. Thus our current implementation of capitalism enables and encourages “parasitic” behaviour.
We believe that by properly measuring the condition of Social and Natural Assets, we can hold businesses responsible for the impact they have on them. This will bring about a “Mutualistic Capitalism” that will enable businesses to make a private profit while advancing the public good.
Are all businesses “parasitic”?
Most businesses are “mutualistic,” in the sense that they generate a profit while also producing tremendous value in the world. We agree with Adam Smith that the baker who makes a profit while feeding a village is acting mutualistically and generating a great deal of value.
The only businesses that are “parasitic” are those that generate a profit while degrading the Universal Commons, which in turn harms the public good. Even these businesses are generally not acting out of greed or malice, but are simply responding to the incentives provided by our current implementation of capitalism. By properly accounting for the impact of business activity on the Universal Commons, we can change the incentive structure to encourage more “mutualistic” behaviour and dissuade “parasitic” behaviour.