Families as Commons

01Oct06

Can families be considered as commons? There is some plausibility to the idea, since the resource being made available, which is the open-ended support of other people, is not charged for. Also, within the community being served, which is the family itself, the support of the family is regarded as being equally available to all members.

But I can’t, finally, go with the idea because a great deal of family support is means-tested. That is, if the turn of events has left me homeless and destitute, then I can expect that my family will take me in and, at least temporarily, give me shelter and food and medical care. But if I am doing fine financially, my family will probably refuse to pay for my food and medical care. This conflicts with my criteria for a commons that access to it not be based on need. This is one of the differences between a common resource and a welfare program.

Also, I consider that commons are resources that are capable of being turned to private profit, as sunlight can be used to generate electricity and roads are vital to virtually all private businesses. But the spare bedroom that my family will make available to me if I’m destitute is not available to me for renting out to third parties at a profit.

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