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Rifkin on Private Property, Part 2 of 2

March 5, 2012

Excerpted from The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, by Jeremy Rifkin:

The changing nature of how we think about our relationship to property is forcing a reappraisal of the human condition, just as it did in the early modern era. The “great transformation” from proprietary obligations on the feudal commons to property exchange in a market economy marked a watershed in thinking about the nature and purpose of human intercourse. Likewise, today the transition from property exchange in markets to access relationships in networks is again changing the assumptions about human nature.

Unfortunately, there’s been scant discussion, either in academia or in public policy circles, about how to reconstruct our theories of property relations to bring them in line with the reality of network commerce operating in a distributed globalized economy.

We are so used to thinking of property as the right to exclude others from the use or benefit of something that we’ve lost sight of the fact that in previous times property was also defined as the right not to be excluded from the use or enjoyment of something…

While this dual notion of property still exists, the right of public access and inclusion became increasingly marginalized and diminished by the right of private ownership and exclusion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the market economy came to dominate more and more of the social domain.

In a collaborative economy, the right of inclusion becomes more important in establishing economic and social relationships than the right of exclusion. As we’ve seen, traditional property rights, in the form of intellectual and real property, can act as a damper on the commercial and social possibilities opened up by the new distributed communications technologies and energies that make up the operating infrastructure of a Third Industrial Revolution economy.

In a collaborative society, immaterial values assume greater importance, especially the pursuit of self-fulfillment and personal transformation. The right not to be excluded from “a full life” – the right to access – becomes the most important property value people hold…

The individual and collective struggle to secure “access rights” in the twenty-first century will likely be as significant as was the struggle to secure property rights in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the distributed capitalist economy, where collaboration trumps competition, access rights become as important as property rights, and quality of life figures as prominently as the desire for personal financial success, empathic sensibility has room to breathe and thrive. It is no longer so constrained by hierarchies, boundaries of exclusion, and a concept of human nature that places acquisitiveness, self-interest, and utility at the center of the human experience.

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