Can corporations really ever own resources?

I am never certain exactly why resources are allowed to be squandered for the fleeting enrichment of a few and to the ultimate detriment of all. I know there is job creation, tax revenue, short-term political cycles reinforcing the two, but I am not sure why there is not more social opposition – especially given when we consider the concept of ownership. While I understand the business world should be rewarded for their work and for the risks undertaken, I feel their reward infringes heavily upon other people and biodiversity – both now and into the future. The people at the top of the food chain receive disturbing rewards of money, hundreds and thousands of times more than is needed to comfortably sustain them. I believe there are other ways to structure economic systems, to create opportunities for livelihoods as well as incentive to work, that could be implemented fairly with a comprehensive review of the concepts of ownership, reward and responsibility.

Call me a socialist because I dare mess with the construct of ownership, but I do feel as though we should question to whom a resource can belong. In our system, a corporation buys the land and the resource it contains, and essentially owns the resource, until it sells a processed product for a profit. So, essentially it benefits from owning the resource and then selling it on. But it did not create the product in the first instance, it was created by the earth and natural processes over aeons. So, this means that all this labour, done by the earth, over essentially millions of years, is reaped by a corporation (and to a notably smaller degree the public) and the product often squandered. Does that then mean the corporation owns the labour of the earth?

I am not even sure that the economic benefit of that which is withdrawn should be shared amongst everyone, because ‘everyone’ only represents everyone in a country alive today, and discounts other species, future generations of humans as well as future generations of non-human species.

So perhaps, as it was the labour of earth that created it, we should view resources as belonging to earth. As such, we need to articulate who and what earth is, alive and not alive. Definitions would vary, but I would say it includes all life forms, rocks, mountains, plains, rivers – basically intact ecosystems, their members and the ability they have to evolve uninterrupted (as far as is possible).

We replace the welfare of the handful of individuals belonging to  the bracket of corporate shareholders and management, with the bracket that extends to include all humans, biosphere and biodiversity, now and into the future. When we do this, we place limits on the amount of resources allowed to be extracted annually, ensure methods of extraction, processing and distribution do not do undue harm, and ensure rewards are more appropriately distributed. This could be a kind of earth-based economics.

I, for one, refuse to accept the myth that this is the best way to create livelihoods – I believe we could create more jobs without consuming nearly as much. I do not believe corporations as they are currently run are the be-all and end-all of job creation.

People should profit only from hard work, good ideas and ingenuity – these are phenomena it can be argued that we in fact own. But under the current regime, natural wealth is included in this formula of ownership. One of the great sadnesses is that it need not be this way: our modern system is so inefficient at using resources in the first place, because it has left out social and ecological dimensions. We need not consume natural resources as speedily and as extensively as we do, in order to be as comfortable as we are.

A case in point is the transport system – we all drive our own cars when we could have comfortable, safe, frequent public transport. Or we could re-use packaging instead of buying groceries in disposable packaging. Or we could eat less meat and be healthier in the process, or grow all our food and cotton without masses of pesticides and fertilisers. There are dozens more examples I could think of – what we see around us is certainly not modernity, to me it represents selfishness and waste and a sharp dearth of communality and humanity. And all of this seems to rest on the ageing, flawed neoclassical economics tenet that enlightened self-interested will serve humanity the best. Then we woke up and found ourselves on a finite planet with finite resources, where my quest for wealth denies your ability to feed family.

Those that stand to benefit the most from this system of unnecessary resource consumption are also those with the most power to convince us that this is the only way we can run our economies, that business can be sustainable without change to the paradigm. They realise that there are resources out there and they can make a killing until it is all squandered, despite the fact that we need far less to be healthy, lead long lives and find fulfilment. All it requires is a restructuring of our policy, a re-orientation of our economic system, and our unified will.

I find the idea strange and odd that anyone can own resources outright, I’d prefer a stewardship approach, which carries with it responsibilities and conservative use, based on consideration to all that comprises ‘Earth’. Is it really human nature that we only represent our own short-term perceived well-being, without thinking of from whom we are taking (including ourselves)?

I believe the time is ripe for an overhaul of the current socio-economic system, to be informed by principles of sustainability, intergenerational equity, social and environmental justice and pure and simple humanity.


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