The idea of the commons and the future of capitalism


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The idea of the commons and the future of capitalism


Keynote Lecture by Professor Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School) at the IASC 2nd Thematic Conference on Knowledge Commons - Engelberg Center, New York University School of Law, September, 2014

According to Professor Yochai Benkler, the past three decades have seen the emergence and growth of rich literature on the commons, which challenged some of the intellectual foundations of financial, dehumanized form of late-twentieth-century capitalism.

In his keynote lecture, Professor Benkler discusses how work on the commons pushed back against five core elements of such ideology. First, work of the Ostrom school beat back Olson-inspired skepticism about the possibility of self-organization, and has been extended to new areas by work of culturally reconstructed commons. Second, the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework pushed back on the plausibility of abstract modeling as the most useful foundation for designing institutional and organizational models, insisting on diversity, complexity and context. Third, work on the information commons and open access models for infrastructure resources refuted the claimed dominance of exclusive property and price-based exchange as the precondition of growth and material well-being. Fourth, the success of commons-based production provided extensive existence proof, which combined with experimental work operated to refute the idea that universal self-interest was a usable model of human behavior to inform institutional and organizational design. Fifth, and finally, the work on global commons combined with investigations of social production to underscore the necessity of, and possible paths towards, a re-embedding of production in social relations.

Professor Benkler concludes that, together, these combine to provide an image of a possible path of humane, socially-embedded
production system for the twenty-first century.

Credit of this conference to the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy, Ney York University School of Law


Yochai Benkler


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Yochai Benkler, “The idea of the commons and the future of capitalism,” I/Oterror, accessed November 18, 2018,

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