Below is a collection of technical terms used by the Universal Commons Project. This glossary is a work in progress and we welcome feedback or suggestions.




Behaviours or actions that involve a private cost but which benefits others. Altruism is an important feature of human nature, but it can be exploited by those who receive the benefit but do not reciprocate. This makes altruism an unreliable and unsustainable strategy in the long term.



By-products of business activities that have either a positive or negative impact on others. Positive externalities, like improving public health, tend to be under-produced by the economy, while negative externalities, like pollution, tend to be over-produced. If externalities are internalised, then products reflect their true cost, and market forces will direct investment more efficiently.


The alignment of individual or group benefit. The individual and group are defined depending on context. In biology the individual might be a cell and the group an organism, or the individual might be a single organism and the group a social group. In economics, the individual is a private individual or business, and the group is society or even all of humanity.

Mutualistic Capitalism

Mutualistic Capitalism is a form of capitalism where individual benefit (i.e. “profit”) and group benefit (i.e. “value”) are closely aligned. This is close to Adam Smith’s original vision for capitalism, where businesses generate a private profit by creating products and services that people want and need. Under Mutualistic Capitalism, profit and value are aligned by holding businesses responsible for the impact they have on the Universal Commons.



An action that generates an individual benefit and imposes a cost on others. It could be a biological parasite like malaria that reduces the health of the host, or a business that makes a profit while degrading human welfare or damaging the environment.

Parasitic Capitalism

Parasitic Capitalism is a form of capitalism where individual benefit (i.e. “profit”) and group benefit (i.e. “value”) are poorly aligned. Under Parasitic Capitalism, profit and value are out of alignment because it largely ignores the impact of economic activity on the Universal Commons. This means a business can make a private profit while eroding the Universal Commons, making them a “parasite” on society.



Profit is a surplus in financial value that is generated as a byproduct of business activity. Financial profit corresponds to private benefit.

Social and Natural Assets

Features of the natural and social world that have a positive impact on human welfare. Examples of Natural Assets include clean air and water, a stable climate and biodiversity. Examples of Social Assets include safe communities, public health and literacy. Social and Natural Assets correspond to public benefit.



The things that humans tend to value, including private goods and services, Social Assets like public health and literacy, and Natural Assets like clean air and a stable climate.

Universal Commons

The sum total of all Social and Natural Assets that impact human welfare. All people have a stake in the condition of the Universal Commons, and all individuals or businesses should be held responsible for the impact they have upon it, whether positive or negative.