I Thought It Was a Common Possession: Exploring the Concept of Common Ownership


When it comes to the concept of ownership, we often think of possessions that are exclusively owned by individuals or organizations. However, there is another type of ownership that is often overlooked – common ownership. Common ownership refers to resources or assets that are collectively owned and managed by a group of individuals or a community. In this article, we will delve into the concept of common ownership, its benefits, and its implications in various contexts.

Understanding Common Ownership

Common ownership, also known as collective ownership or communal ownership, is a system where resources or assets are held collectively by a group of people rather than being privately owned. This form of ownership can be found in various domains, including land, natural resources, intellectual property, and even digital assets.

Common ownership is often associated with the idea of the commons, which refers to resources that are accessible to all members of a community. The concept of the commons dates back centuries and has been a fundamental aspect of many indigenous cultures and traditional societies.

Examples of Common Ownership

Common ownership can be observed in different forms across the globe. Here are a few examples:

  • Community Land Trusts: Community land trusts are organizations that acquire and hold land for the benefit of a community. The land is owned collectively, and the trust ensures that it is used for affordable housing, agriculture, or other community needs.
  • Open-Source Software: Open-source software projects, such as Linux or WordPress, are developed and maintained by a community of contributors who share their work freely. The software is collectively owned and can be modified and distributed by anyone.
  • Cooperatives: Cooperatives are businesses owned and operated by a group of individuals who share the profits and decision-making. Examples include worker cooperatives, where employees collectively own and manage the business, and consumer cooperatives, where customers become members and have a say in the organization’s operations.

The Benefits of Common Ownership

Common ownership offers several advantages that can contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities. Let’s explore some of these benefits:

1. Shared Responsibility and Decision-Making

In common ownership systems, decision-making is often shared among the members of the community or group. This participatory approach allows for a more inclusive and democratic decision-making process, ensuring that the interests and needs of all stakeholders are considered.

For example, in a cooperative, each member has an equal say in the organization’s decisions, regardless of their financial contribution. This shared responsibility fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment among the members, leading to a more engaged and committed community.

2. Sustainable Resource Management

Common ownership can promote sustainable resource management by preventing overexploitation and ensuring the long-term viability of resources. When resources are owned collectively, there is a shared interest in preserving and managing them in a sustainable manner.

For instance, community-managed forests have shown to be more resilient to deforestation compared to privately owned forests. The collective ownership model encourages sustainable practices, such as selective logging and reforestation, as the community has a vested interest in maintaining the health and productivity of the forest.

3. Equitable Distribution of Benefits

Common ownership can help address issues of inequality by ensuring a more equitable distribution of benefits. In systems where resources are privately owned, wealth and power tend to concentrate in the hands of a few individuals or organizations. Common ownership provides an alternative model that promotes a fairer distribution of resources and opportunities.

For example, community land trusts enable affordable housing by keeping the land prices low and ensuring long-term affordability for residents. This approach helps to combat gentrification and provides access to housing for low-income individuals and families.

The Challenges and Criticisms of Common Ownership

While common ownership has its advantages, it is not without its challenges and criticisms. Let’s explore some of the common concerns associated with this form of ownership:

1. Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is a concept that suggests that when resources are held in common, individuals may act in their self-interest and deplete or degrade the resource. This phenomenon occurs when there is a lack of effective governance or regulation to prevent overuse or misuse of the resource.

However, it is important to note that the tragedy of the commons is not an inherent flaw of common ownership itself but rather a result of inadequate management systems. With proper governance mechanisms in place, common ownership can effectively address the tragedy of the commons and ensure sustainable resource management.

2. Free-Rider Problem

The free-rider problem refers to the issue of individuals benefiting from a shared resource without contributing to its maintenance or upkeep. In common ownership systems, there is a risk that some individuals may take advantage of the collective efforts of others without contributing their fair share.

To mitigate the free-rider problem, common ownership systems often implement mechanisms such as membership fees, labor contributions, or shared responsibilities. These measures help ensure that everyone involved has a stake in the resource and actively contributes to its well-being.

Common Ownership in Practice

Common ownership has been implemented in various contexts, each with its unique challenges and successes. Let’s explore a few case studies that highlight the practical applications of common ownership:

1. The Mondragon Corporation

The Mondragon Corporation, based in the Basque region of Spain, is one of the most well-known examples of a successful cooperative model. Founded in 1956, the corporation is composed of a network of worker cooperatives operating in diverse sectors, including manufacturing, finance, and education.

The Mondragon Corporation has demonstrated the viability of a cooperative business model, with its member-owned enterprises consistently outperforming their competitors in terms of job creation, profitability, and employee satisfaction. The success of Mondragon highlights the potential of common ownership as an alternative to traditional hierarchical business structures.

2. The Digital Commons

The digital commons refers to the collective resources and knowledge that are freely available online. Open-source software, creative commons licenses, and collaborative platforms like Wikipedia are examples of the digital commons.

These digital resources are collectively owned and maintained by a global community of contributors. The digital commons has revolutionized the way we create and share knowledge, enabling collaboration on a scale never seen before. It has also challenged traditional notions of intellectual property and copyright, fostering a culture of openness and collaboration.


1. Is common ownership the same as socialism?

No, common ownership and socialism are not the same. While both concepts involve collective ownership, socialism typically refers to a broader socio-economic system where the



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