Book review:

Common Wealth: For a Free, Equal, Mutual and Sustainable Society

by Martin Large (Stroud: Hawthorn Press 2010)

Martin Large is a student and teacher of the ways and means of land ownership, as well as being a community development facilitator. There is a lot going on in his book Common Wealth which not only explains how we came to be exiled from our own land, but also explores tools and methods for reclaiming this basic source of economic value, together with a wealth of inspiring examples from Large's home community of Stroud in Gloucestershire. The book explores the way that the state, our culture and the majority of the earth's resources have been captured by a hostile economic system. The author argues that we need to liberate land, money, and education if we are to ensure a safe future for humanity on earth in what James Robertson has called a 'masterly new book'.

Part I of the book challenge us to think through what sort of society we want to build together. Here the author clears the ground by establishing the importance of keeping clarity between the different sectors that make up a complex society, quoting from Robert Frost's poem the famous adage that 'good fences make good neighbours'. As an example of the current weakness of these boundaries Large cites the post office, which 'New Labour sees . . . as profit-making business. So it has closed 4,500 post offices, undermined profitability by withdrawing contracts, and plans to close 2,500 of the remaining 14,000.' His conclusion is that 'We are all poorer for the government seeing the Post Office as a profit-making business rather than as a social service and social business' (p. 34).

Part II moves on to consider in more detail how each sector of society has been captured by capitalism. Writing the epitaph for Labour and Conservative governments as 'In Goldman Sachs and the City we trust', Large extends the critique whose foundations were laid by George Monbiot but which has soared in extent as the financial crisis has unravelled. The short-sightedness of a policy that privatises everything of value while socialising costs and risks is anatomised in some detail. The artistic heritage of Stroud informs Large's next area of concern: the privatisation of our cultural resources. He quotes Joseph Beuys's view that 'culture is really capital, intelligence or the creative human spirit. . . A creative exciting school . . . will inspire students to make the most of their talents, widen horizons, attract lively families, spark the development of small businesses, start regenerating local neighbourhoods and raise the community spirit. (p. 93).

Large builds his social prescription on a 'three-legged stool' model of society: business, government and civil society need to work together to support and enhance each other rather than frequently conflicting over resources as at present. He extends this thinking by identifying the business sector with an economic orientation whose principle should be mutuality; the government sector with a political orientation whose principle should be equity; and the civil society sector with a culture orientation whose principle should be liberty. By throwing the 21st-century sine qua non of sustainability into the mix we arrive at an extended version of the liberty—equality—fraternity motif that has inspired social radicals since the French Revolution.

Unlike many radical books, Common Wealth is also strong on prescriptions, proposing the creation of a range of mutual and co-operative organisations to take charge of sources of common wealth for the benefit of the community. Large also argues in favour of those twin pillars of a just green society: Land Value Tax and Citizens' Income. And of course there is a strong emphasis on local community empowerment and the ownership of assets by local communities.

The book includes a wealth of 'seed questions', action points, practical examples, explanatory diagrams and photographs. It is a lively and appealing account of economics for people rather than profit.

Molly Scott Cato