Trusts and the Commons

The Global Climate Trust is part of a wider context described in several books including Capitalism 3.0 by Peter Barnes. This summary was prepared for a seminar conducted by Peter Barnes relating to his book Capitalism 3.0 in Dublin on 13 November 2007 and was approved by him.

Build a Commons Sector

Nature, community and culture ('common wealth') are under assault from the corporate dominated private sector ('the Corporate Sector'). Rather than attempt to improve the design of corporations or governments (established institutions strongly resist change), it may be more do-able to create a new, or mostly new, Commons Sector as a third leg to the stool, with the necessary power to preserve and enhance common wealth. The job of government should be to preserve the balance between the Corporate Sector and the Commons Sector.

The Commons Sector would include
- a series of ecosystem trusts that protect air, water forests and habitat
- a mutual fund that pays dividends to all citizens, one person, one share
- a trust fund that provides start-up capital to every child
- a risk-sharing pool for health care that covers everyone
- a national fund based on copyright fees that supports local arts
- a limit on the amount of advertising

Trusts can help create a new Commons Sector.

- The concept of the trust is already well established. "Trusts are centuries old institutions devised to hold and manage property for beneficiaries". Both private trusts and public purpose trusts (charities) are familiar and highly developed components of our (anglo-) legal system, along with concepts such as property rights and trust institutions.
- This concept is quite distinct from the concept of government. Unlike governments, trustees must act with undivided loyalty to the beneficiaries or purposes of the trust, they must preserve the trust property, and they must act transparently.
- This trust concept can be readily applied to creating trusts to protect the interests of nature, future generations and the poor.
- Trusts involve property held by some individuals or institution (the trustee) for some purpose or for the benefit of a class of beneficiaries. Three things: one, the property held in trust, two, the purpose or class of beneficiaries and, three, the trustee.
- All within a framework of general law within which the trust interacts with to other players in the system. Creating and maintaining that framework is the function of government.
- We already have the property to be held in trust. Natural assets (natural ecosystems) and social assets (markets, communications, the internet, cultural assets etc) already exist. The property is there: the trouble is these sorts of property don't at the moment have property rights.
- We also have the beneficiaries - future generations, other species, the poor etc.
- We even already have a basic framework of law within which trusts operate - national legal systems and various systems of international law
- What is missing are the particular institutional arrangements to protect natural and social assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries - other species, future generations, the poor etc.

Some examples of the Commons Sector already exist

- Common property trusts. In the UK the National Trust, founded in 1895, owns 600,000 acres of countryside. In the USA over 15,000 trusts protect 9 million acres.
- Marin Agricultural Land Trust (p 85) does not buy land but enters into agreements with landowners whereby they give up some of the rights to use the land, eg to build on it or to clear-cut trees to sell: in effect landowners are paid to be land stewards and to forgo future capital gains.

Some examples of commons trusts that could be created

- The Sky Trust. Permits are required to bring fossil fuels into the economy. The permits are issued by a trust and sold to companies by way of auction. The beneficiaries are citizens and future generations. The trustees control the number of permits issued and the way in which the proceeds of sale are distributed to citizens or used for the benefit of future generations. Both in deciding how many permits to issue and in deciding how to apply the proceeds of sale, the trustees must act in the best interests of their beneficiaries.
- As an alternative to the trustees having a discretion as to how the whole of the proceeds are distributed or applied, the trust instrument might require them to distribute (say) 50% to citizens equally and 50% for public goods such as education and ecological restoration
- Pollution Trusts. Similar principles are applied to the discharge of other pollutants.
- Trusts could be created to receive fees for use of public assets such as stock exchanges, perpetual life, limited liability, copyrights, patents which corporations currently enjoy the benefit of for free
- A Children's Opportunity Trust could be funded from contributions from estates worth more than a certain figure and distributed to all children equally.

Closely allied to the trust concept are social insurance and citizens income. These are all part of the Commons Sector.

Bringing about these changes

- Designing a better system is a first step towards having one.
- Local initiatives
- land trusts. The concept can be applied in cities as well as country
- surface water trusts. Riparian owners contract too allow their use of the water to be limited by the trust.
- groundwater trusts. The trust limits groundwater withdrawal by requiring permits.
- community gardens.
- farmers' markets.
- time banks
- municipal we-fi
- Regional initiatives
- air trusts
- watershed trusts
- buffalo commons (?an Irish equivalent?)
- National initiatives
- an Irish Permanent Fund
- a Children's Opportunity Trust
- a Spectrum Trust
- Commons Tax Credits
- Global Initiatives
- a sky trust and/or Cap and Share