About a decade ago, I wrote a short piece about “labour power as a common-pool resource” that got picked up by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and led to me being invited to a conference on the commons in Berlin put on by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. I would now like to amend that to regard disposable time as the common-pool resource in question. Much of my original rationale applies as well or better to the new formulation. I am assuming that all of this will be new to most readers.
Common-pool resource is a category of goods introduced by Elinor Ostrom in work for which she was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009. For Ostrom, common-pool resources are goods that don’t fit tidily into the categories of either private or public goods. They are like private goods in that their use by one consumer subtracts from how much is available for others. But they are like public goods in that it is difficult to exclude people from access to them. Some obvious examples are forests, fisheries, aquifers and the atmosphere. Ostrom distinguished between common-pool resources that are unregulated and “the commons,” which is collectively self-managed. From this distinction came her criticism of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons,” which assumed an unmanaged common-pool resource rather than a collectively self-managed commons.
Disposable time is a much older and more ambivalent concept. Usually people assume it refers to leisure, which they conceive of as recreation or idleness. Traditionally, though, leisure was associated with education, culture and self-improvement and was mostly an exclusive privilege of the upper classes. In part, disposable time embraces that older conception of leisure but universalizes it. But in his Grundrisse, Karl Marx added another dimension to disposable time by also associating it with labour time that was in excess of what was necessary for subsistence. Thus, labour time that is superfluous to what is necessary for the workers’ subsistence could be at the disposal of capital for the production of surplus value