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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

The Commons and New Era Economics with James Quilligan

In this seminar organised by IPPR in conjunction with Synthesis, James Quilligan will outline the challenges humanity faces in appreciating, valuing and nurturing the global commons. Since the Earth itself is developing without growing, its subsystem -- the human economy -- must also conform to the same mode of development without growth.

Wednesday 16th May 2012, 17.30 - 19.00

IPPR, 4th Floor, 14 Buckingham Street, London WC2N 6DF


  • James Quilligan, co-founder Global Commons Trust
  • Rhett Gayle, Senior Associate of Synthesis
  • Greg Fisher, Managing Director of Synthesis (Chair)

As part of our New Era Economics programme, IPPR is hosting an event in conjunction with the Synthesis, a think tank oriented around complex networks, to discuss the 'global commons'. This talk will be one of a series of twelve James will be giving during his visit to the UK in May. More information about the other eleven talks can be found via this link

The 'commons' are much more prevalent in human systems than most people appreciate. Like natural ecosystems, human economies are complex networks that involve stocks and flows: some commons are stocks (soil, water, technology, atmosphere, air, minerals, DNA) and some are flows (electromagnetic spectrum, knowledge, ideas, arts, culture, social networks).

Over the past forty years, human demand for resources (both finite and renewable) has overwhelmed the Earth's capacity to produce them. At the same time, conventional Western approaches to economics, which focus on individualism and competition, tend to underemphasise common value and assets. Are these approaches equal to the challenges humanity now faces?

The organizing patterns that exist in human systems, which are made up of autonomous behaviour and various types of commons, are complex, adaptive living systems similar to natural systems. Our conventional approach to economics needs to be radically re-constructed so that the relationships between individuals, institutions and the commons are much better understood.

James will focus on how the co-production and co-governance of a commons are shaped by the human brain, the mind and culture, and social relations. He will also comment on how new approaches to understanding human systems (systems theory, complexity theory, and information theory) ought to be able to help.

To book a place at this event, please contact Amna Silim at or on 020 7470 6118 as soon as possible. Places are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

James Bernard Quilligan has been an analyst and administrator in the field of international development since 1975. He has served as policy advisor and writer for many international politicians and leaders, including Pierre Trudeau, Fran?ois Mitterand, Edward Heath, Julius Nyerere, Olof Palme, Willy Brandt, Jimmy Carter and His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan. James was a policy advisor and press secretary for the Brandt Commission (1978-1984). He has also been an economic consultant for government agencies in more than 30 countries.

James is also a co-founder of Global Commons Trust ( where he is working with colleagues to develop a Secretariat to provide research, support and publicity for a new international commission on the global commons. He has also launched a lobbying effort, Commons Action for the United Nations (CAUN), which has been successful in introducing the concepts of the commons into UN discussions and documents. Over the past several years, James has published a series of articles on the global commons in Kosmos Journal.