Hundreds of billions of dollars of the nation's wealth-the people's
resources-are being openly confiscated by corporate interests.
Government, the presumed protector of the public's property, has become,
instead, the enabler of the plunder and theft. The media, the nation's
self-professed watchdog, is apathetic, at best, in sounding the alarm
about the people's loss of control over resources they have paid for or
inherited from previous generations. These are the resources that
citizens legally hold in common-their common wealth.
As a result, corporations have found it easy to lay claim to a wide
range of public resources-from publically-funded medical advances to
national forests, public spaces in cities, the Internet, software
innovations, the airwaves, the public domain of creative works, the DNA
of animals, plants and humans. The appetite of Big Business for the
appropriation of public resources is limitless. Even public education
has not escaped the ambition of corporate control and takeover.
Surprisingly, corporate appropriation-the privatization--of public
resources has proceeded quietly with only sporadic public outcries
against the most blatant thefts. One public interest activist and
author-David Bollier-is making a valiant effort to change that. As
Bollier argues, the abuses go unnoticed because the thefts are generally
seen "only in glimpses, not in panorama, when it is visible at all."
Bollier's new book "Silent Theft-The Private Plunder of Our Common
Wealth" (Routledge, New York and London) is a loud wake-up call for
citizens interested in halting the steady exploitation and erosion of
the nation's resources and values for short-term gains by the few. And
the book does, indeed, provide the reader a wide, vivid and scary
panoramic view of what is happening to the public's resources-"the
commons" as Bollier calls them.
"We have become a nation of eager consumers-and disengaged citizens-and
so are ill-equipped to perceive how our common resources are being
abused," Bollier says. Bollier moves quickly to specifics- breakthrough
cancer drugs that our tax dollars helped develop, and the rights to
which pharmaceutical companies acquired for a song for which they now
charge exorbitant prices. The archaic 1872 law which gives mining
companies the lucrative right to mine valuable mineral resources on our
public lands for $5 an acre-a right that the mining industry preserves
through what Bollier describes as "well-deployed campaign
Bollier is especially critical of the federal government's role in
giving away its most promising drug research and development to the drug
companies for a fraction of its actual value with the companies then
charging whatever prices they can make the desperately ill bear.
"It is a sweet deal for drugmakers but an outrage for millions of
American taxpayers and consumers," Bollier says. "It is a scandalous
fact that the fruits of risky and expensive scientific work typically do
not accrue to the sponsors/investors-the American people-until drug
companies have extracted huge markups of their own. The American people
pay twice, first as taxpayers, reaping a lower (or nonexistent) return
on their investments, and second as consumers paying higher drug prices
charged by pharmaceutical companies."
Bollier reminds the reader that Americans own collectively one third of
the surface area of the country and billions of acres of the outer
continental shelf. The resources are extensive and valuable: huge
supplies of oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, copper, gold, silver,
timber grasslands, water and geothermal energy. The nation's public land
also consists of vast tracts of wilderness forests, unspoiled coastline,
sweeping prairies, the Rocky Mountains, and dozens of beautiful rivers,
"As the steward of these public resources, the government's job is to
manage these lands responsibly for the long-term," Bollier argues. "The
sad truth is that the government stewardship of this natural wealth
represents one of the great scandals of the 20th Century. While the
details vary from one resource to another, the general history is one of
antiquated laws, poor enforcement, slipshod administration,
environmental indifference and capitulation to industry's most
The increasing exploitation of the commons, Bollier argues, needlessly
siphons hundreds of billions of dollars away from the public purse each
year that could be used for countless varieties of social investment,
environmental protection and other public initiatives. The public's
assets and revenue streams are privatized with only fractional benefits
accruing to the public in
return, he says.
Bollier also contends that the enclosure of the "commons" by market
forces (usually the bigger companies) tends to foster market
concentration, reduce competition and raise consumer prices. He says it
also threatens the environment by favoring short-term exploitation over
long-term stewardship-"the flagrant abuses of public lands by timber,
mining and agribusiness companies are prime examples."
Despite his vigorous criticism of the exploitation and neglect of the
public's resources-"the commons"-Bollier remains optimistic that people
can be galvanized to reverse the current trend.
"Americans have a long tradition of creating innovative vehicles for
ensuring fair return to the American people on resources they
collectively own," he writes. "It is time to revive this tradition of
innovation in the stewardship of public resources and give it
imaginative new incarnations in the twenty-first century."
For anyone interested in joining the effort to reverse the
corporate exploitation of our public resources-David Bollier's "Silent
Theft" is a first-class starting point.
For More Information on "Silent Theft"-http://www.silenttheft.com/