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Icelanders Vote to Include Commons in Their Constitution

81 percent want resources not privately owned to be declared national property

Photo of Reykjavik, Iceland from Shutterstock.com.

The current Icelandic Constitution contains no provisions on use, treatment, or ownership of natural resources. But that could soon change.

In late October, Icelanders voted in an advisory referendum on whether their country should adopt a draft Constitution that would replace principles established in 1944. The ballot included six yes-or-no questions on a range of policy changes, but one question in particular caught our attention:

In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?

Iceland’s answer was an overwhelming “yes.” 81% voted in favor of declaring the commons precisely what they are: the commons, or valuable assets that belong to everyone.

As Iceland continues to recover from its economic collapse in 2008—a result of the country’s banks, which were all but unregulated at the time, borrowing more than their country’s gross domestic product from international wholesale money markets—it is clear that citizens are beginning to recognize the value of what they share together over the perceived wealth created by the market economy.

But that’s not all. The best news is that if the Icelandic Parliament accepts the non-binding referendum, conditions will be ripe for building a strong commons-based society: Icelanders will not only have a whole new way of measuring wealth, but also a Constitutional provision for protecting what belongs to them all for today and future generations.

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