Our Common Wealth

A huge part of our economy is invisible, invaluable, and under siege. This is “the commons,” a term that denotes everything we share. Some parts of the commons are gifts of nature: the air and oceans, the web of species, wilderness, and watersheds. Others are the product of human creativity and endeavor: sidewalks and public spaces, the Internet, our languages, cultures, and technologies. Jonathan Rowe illuminates the scale and value of the commons, its symbiotic relationship with the rest of our economy, its importance to our personal and planetary well-being, and how it is threatened by privatization and neglect. He unifies many seemingly disparate struggles—against pollution, excessive development, corporate marketing to children, and more—with the force of this powerful idea. And he calls for new institutions that create a durable balance between the commons and the profit-seeking side of our economy.

Jonathan Rowe was a Nader’s “Raider,” a US Senate aide, an editor at the Washington Monthly, and cofounder of OntheCommons.org. Peter Barnes (editor) is a cofounder of Working Assets/Credo and the author of Capitalism 3.0.


“If you desire to look at our society in a very different and thought-provoking way, check out Our Common Wealth.“

“Its power is, again, to give voice and form to a concept many people sense but that doesn’t clearly make its way into political, journalistic, or academic discussion.“

Praise for Our Common Wealth

“This elegant book is a wonderful introduction to the originality of thought, clarity of expression, and humanity of vision that made Jonathan Rowe so respected by those who knew him.  It will change the way you think about economic, environmental and social problems and how to solve them. “
James Fallows, national correspondent, The Atlantic

“Jonathan Rowe describes the emerging movement to protect the vast commonwealth owned by the people.  Gird yourself to see nature and human ingenuity in a very different light.  Then open these pages and a whole new world will come into focus.”
Ralph Nader

“There is an economics of common wealth. Common wealth can and must be managed. That is Jon Rowe’s gift to us.”
George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, University of California at Berkeley and author of Don’t Think of an Elephant

“Jonathan Rowe’s work offers a stunningly original vision that brings new depths of common sense and moral vision to the economic and social crises of our world. Who knew that there could be such a marriage of hope and hard-hitting clarity!”
Jacob Needleman, author of An Unknown World

“Read this book as though you were opening a treasure chest.  It transcends our stale left-right debates and reveals the wealth available to all of us if we just recognize and protect it.”
Sarah van Gelder, executive editor, YES! Magazine

“I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but none quite like my friend Jonathan Rowe.  He was a unique and original thinker who constantly challenged our prevailing ideas of progress.”
Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan

“This brilliant book by a wonderful man we lost too soon illuminates the essential question of our politics going forward: are we all in this together? Jonathan Rowe’s answer is a resounding and convincing YES!”
Jonathan Alter, NBC news analyst and author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One

“Most journalists leave behind nothing more than ephemeral news clips about forgotten but over-hyped crises.  Jonathan Rowe bequeathed us a provocative concept that could unite left and right—the fostering of places and institutions outside the realms of business and government that can protect us from twenty-first century avarice.”
Walter Shapiro, veteran political columnist

“Jonathan Rowe maps out a vast swath of our economy that few of us have considered and conventional economists have persistently failed to account for — the cooperative realms of family, neighborhoods and civic society.  The relentless colonization of these realms by the market explains much that has gone wrong with modern society.”
Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief, The Washington Monthly

“If there is any way out of the squeeze that afflicts today’s economy, it will partly be through the ideas held in this book. And Rowe delineates them with both a philosopher’s eye and a poet’s touch. Yes, the commons has been around for a long time, but rarely has its potential been explained so clearly.”
Todd Oppenheimer, author of The Flickering Mind

“Jonathan Rowe was a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, happily planting practical ideas that others missed or dismissed. In Our Common Wealth, he shows how we can share, rather than destroy, the varied bounties of our earth and our own communities.”
Russ Baker, Editor, whowhatwhy.com

“Jonathan Rowe creates a whole new entry in the tired national debate between state and market: the commons.  His thinking is neither liberal nor conservative—the commons needs to be protected from the state as well as from corporations.  You can see echoes of Charles Murray here as well as Philip Slater.  This is a beautiful little book.”
Mickey Kaus, author of The End of Equality

Our Common Wealth is a vitally important book that lights the way to putting economics in the service of human needs.
Gregg Easterbrook, author of The Leading Indicators

Our Common Wealth delivers a jolt of common sense. This book is Jonathan Rowe’s legacy as Small Is Beautiful is E. F. Schumacher’s.”
Jay Walljasper, author of All That We Share

“Many modern readers still appreciate Montaigne’s timeless essays on subjects both profound and personal. I fully expect citizens of future centuries to discover—and similarly appreciate—Jonathan’s remarkable insights and wisdom, too.”
Phil Keisling, Director, Center for Public Service, Portland State University

 “Jon Rowe’s genius lay in understanding the nature of shared wealth and the taking of that wealth.  Pure air is wealth we share; air pollution is a taking of that wealth.  Contemplative quiet is shared wealth; noise pollution is a taking of it.  What makes life worth living is common wealth — public health, community, nature, privacy, access to knowledge, the joys of child­hood, thousands of things we hardly notice.  There is an economics of common wealth. Common wealth can and must be managed. That is Jon Rowe’s gift to us.”
George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science and linguistics, University of California at Berkeley and author of Don’t Think of an Elephant

“No one understands the depth and beauty of the commons better than Jonathan Rowe did, and none have expressed it as clearly. The best of his writing on the subject is in your hands. It will change your take on just about everything.”
Mark Dowie, investigative journalist

“Jonathan Rowe had an enviable gift for stripping complex ideas down to their essence. No idea mattered more to him than preserving the things we all share free of charge against the encroachments of capitalism. This jewel of a book describes how the commons sustains and enriches our lives and what we can do to save it.”
Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence

“Jonathan Rowe has bequeathed a book to us that does nothing less than make the invisible visible. After reading its crystal-clear pages, you will redouble your efforts to protect the things that matter most.”
Alan AtKisson, author of The Sustainability Transformation

“This profoundly sensible and humane book is the perfect antidote to selfishness, greed and the mindless pursuit of profit that endangers even the air we breathe.”
Charles Peters, founding editor, The Washington Monthly

“In both his writing and his life, Jonathan Rowe was the explorer, cartographer, and defender of the commons. This book illuminates the ways in which the commons provides a framework for all of economics.”
Edgar Cahn, founder, TimeBanks USA

“Jonathan Rowe never shied away from an idea because it was too big, too new, or too unlikely to be taken seriously. He believed the world could be changed for the better if we look beyond clichéd notions.”
Sam Smith, Editor, The Progressive Review

“Jonathan Rowe was perhaps the most original and provocative thinker I ever met. He was also an artist with words, a craftsman who wrote with the kind of care he saw disappearing from our hurried, consumer-centered society. While no book can do full justice to his life and thought, this one gives us a wonderful glimpse into them.”
John de Graaf, coauthor of What’s the Economy For, Anyway? and Affluenza