Challenge for Europe

We accuse the European Union of putting everything on the free market. This is unfortunately true. Yet, to respond the alter-globalist slogan “the world is not merchandise,” the value of things cannot be reduced to their price. There are goods that are indispensable to our well-being whose access should not depend on the financial means that permit one to acquire them. This is what member states of the union affirm with the Declaration on economic, social and environmental rights. Rare resources cannot be managed by the law of the highest bidder. Access to works of the spirit cannot be limited by scarcity that is artificially programmed by intellectual property rights. Society has the duty to assure social cohesion, organize cooperation, preserve the rights of future generations and maintain the integrity of ecosystems.

A Confusion of Criteria

If nobody seriously contests this analysis, the general responses are not satisfactory because they do not confirm to the “nature of things,” that is, to the diversity of goods and services. Too often, we limit ourselves to opposing public goods, assured by the collectivity as well as private goods that necessarily rely on the free market. Adding to this confusion, public goods are sometimes defined by their nature (they can only be produced by public power and the use by one is not exclusive of use by another) and sometimes by their destination. Following from this, we suppose that the service delivered for education or for health is public because it follows a goal of public nature whereas other personal services, like esthetic care, are not of a public nature because they are not indispensable. We are facing the public/private dichotomy based on a confusion of criteria between the nature and destination of goods.

Four Categories of Goods and Services

We propose another starting point for Europe, founded on the detailed analysis of the nature of goods and services. The nature of a good needs to be defined in line with the “sharing test.” This test asks one question: What becomes of the good or service after we acquire it and share it? Four cases appear, delimiting four categories of goods and services.

  • – First, there are goods that are destroyed upon sharing. These are like the baby cut in two to be given to each of the mothers who claimed it in Solomon’s judgment. These are the ecosystems that exist only through the relations of their parts. They are all the heritage of mankind that cannot be sold in pieces. They are also goods like large infrastructure networks. Their only reason for existing is their interconnection.
  • – Next there is the second category of goods that divide upon sharing but come in finite quantities. This is the case for all natural resources, water, energy, and soil. Man can change their quality – degrade or maintain the quality of water, maintain, improve or destroy the fertility of soil, waste or save fossil energy – but cannot change their quantity. This type of good follows two logics simultaneously: a logic of justice where each human being normally deserves his/her part of these non-finite resources and a logic of efficiency which assures that these rare goods are maintained for the benefit of future generations.
  • – Next, there are the goods that divide when you share them but are of an undetermined quantity. These are generally all goods coming from human industry, knowledge and creativity. They certainly use rare and non-renewable resources, but they are nevertheless the fruit of the genius of human work. It is in this sense that they are of an indefinite quantity. This extends to services by people where quality depends in an obvious way on skills and accumulated knowledge.
  • – Finally there is the most interesting sort of goods in terms of assuring the well-being of everyone in the current context of scarce natural resources: these are the goods that multiply when we share them. They come from a different mathematical logic, that of pooling and sharing: the more we give to another the more we receive, and the two parties to this exchange can be mutually enriched. Everything relating to the exchange of experience, knowledge, and, in a wider sense, to social life is of this nature. All the more, with modern systems of duplication and circulation of information, the cost of reproducing and stocking this type of goods and services becomes trivial. We see this with the fight, probably already lost, against the free downloading of creative works. The most common of mortals cannot understand how this constitutes theft since he/she has not taken pleasure from anyone. The theft only occurs according to illegitimate economic models that seek to maintain artificial scarcity of goods even though they are abundant by nature. The fact that economic models of research and development are founded on intellectual property and the patent changes nothing in this awareness of illegitimacy. The example of medicines that fight aids is revealing: the perpetuation of such an economic model serves to the detriment of African and Asian populations most affected by the pandemic.

Our proposal

Europe needs to break resolutely with the model of “all market.” It does not correspond to the challenges of our time. It should leave this model for the third category of goods: those of an indeterminate quantity that divide when you share them. For the other three categories, we need to endow ourselves with legislation that defines one or more regimes of governance adapted to each of them. A detailed analysis will show that inside each of these categories new and more subtle sub-categories, emphasizing the general need to conceive multi-level governance. In constructing these regimes of governance, the European Union will make itself capable of proposing a new path toward sustainable societies to the world.

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