Silent Theft: the Private Plunder of our Common Wealth

Summary of: Silent Theft: the Private Plunder of our Common Wealth

Author(s) / Editor(s)

Without a concerted effort against it, the trend of privatization and enclosure threatens to sacrifice the environmental, political, cultural, and information commons that communities rely on for their long-term health and prosperity.

Publication Reference

Published in/by
New York: Routledge


  • Excessive corporate control over information restricts the potential rewards of collaborative research ventures. New laws concerning the copyrights of digital files that favor privatization and corporate control defy the open decentralized paradigm from which the Internet emerged.
  • The dangers of total enclosure can be avoided if we no longer blame government intervention in all cases. Markets structured through government regulations and nursed with public-sector investment often end up being the most vigorous markets of all in the long-term.

Enclosure limits social investment and environmental protection, encouraging short-term profits for the largest companies. Privatization only delivers a fraction of the benefit that commons provide for the public. The resources at stake include public lands, natural systems, government research, cultural traditions, historical knowledge, and the gift economies that can be found in academia, open-source movements, Internet groups or local communities. Enclosure supports monopolistic control of resources by large firms, working against consumer rights. Economic evaluations of the situation often ignore the sacrifices of enclosure because the time scale is too short or there is a moral impact that defies quantification. The imposition of market values in all spheres of public life threatens the public-minded ethic of gift economies by directing the attention of all parties towards money and property rights. Moves towards enclosure, like allowing firms to buy exclusive rights to portions of genetic codes or a water supply, undermine the intrinsic value of these resources to communities and stifles the competitive diversity that would ensure more efficient use.