Common Good

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The Common Good consists of our shared values about what we owe one another as citizen who are bound together in the same society, the norms we voluntarily abide by and the ideals that we seek to achieve. If there is no Common Good there is no society.[1]


While the general feeling in the US after WWII was that all members of society had pulled together to make the world a safer place, that feeling only lasted about 20 years till the Vietnam war left many in society feeling something quite different.

In November 1956, Time magazine explored a phenomenon that went by various names: “capitalism with a conscience,” “enlightened conservatism,” “people’s capitalism,” and, most popularly, “The New Conservatism.” No matter which label one preferred, the basic concept was clear: Business leaders were demonstrating an ever increasing willingness, in the words of the story, to “shoulder a host of new responsibilities” and “judge their actions, not only from the standpoint of profit and loss” in their financial results “but of profit and loss to the community.”[2]

Then in the 1980's corporate raiders and hedge funds, like that run by Mitt Romney, applied a new metric, shareholder value. If a corporate CEO did not maximize "shareholder value" they were raided and sacked. As you might imagine, by the time of Jack Welch at GE, the CEOs had fully internalized this mantra and now abandoned the ideas expressed above from the 1950s.

Comparing the common wealth of 1975 with that of 2000 we learn that these changes were not so good for most of the population.

Type of measure Source of data all time best 1970 2000
Trust in US Government Pew Center 77% in 1964 58% 34%
Price of a gallon of gas the state still rising $0.53 $1.56
Average wage Social Security still rising 8,630.92 32,154.82
US Minimum wage Global Banking largely static $2.10 $5.15
Minimum wage in US X52 x40 largely static 4368 10,712
Federal Poverty Level family of 4 Social Security continues to rise 5,050 17,050
Status Boolean here 1% 0%
Status Boolean here 1% 0%


Humans have evolved to support the Common Good for the tribes that sustained them. Ayn Rand described "The tribal notion of “the common good” has served as the moral justification of most social systems—and of all tyrannies—in history. The degree of a society’s enslavement or freedom corresponded to the degree to which that tribal slogan was invoked or ignored."[3] It is clear that we humans now need to find a social contract that accepts "Moral Man and Immoral Society"[4] and find a way to let Trust work again for our commonwealth.

The internet was created as a simple, reliable virtual pipe from one computer to another. There was no transaction fee charged, not identifiers of anything other and computers (the DNS systems) and no particular need for trust. As the internet was opened to commercial uses in the 1990's, the lack of any identifiers for users was overcome with email, the lack of any trust by HTTPS and this evolving Ecosystem managed to provide amazing value in a short time. Now the Decentralized Identifiers effort is trying to build up a web of trust based on nothing but the work of amoral computers. It is hard to imagine that any better result will come from their efforts than came from the hedge fund raiders of the 1980s.

The primary challenge to the Common Good today seems to be the prevailing ethos on the internet that "Information want to be free". This idea flies in the face of all history but sounds like a good thing. The trouble was that someone must pay for the internet, a fact that seems to have been conveniently overlooked by the freedom lovers of this current age. Noam Chomsky is a good spokesman for this view in this book "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media" which shows that, "contrary to the usual image of the news media as cantankerous, obstinate, and ubiquitous in their search for truth and defense of justice, in their actual practice they defend the economic, social, and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate domestic society, the state, and the global order." While this may be true, it is also true that the United States founders, especially Hamilton, believed that the voice of the people is inimical to free government as the people always can be swayed by demagogues. Recent history has proven that even if Chomsky was correct, the alternate, a free exchange of ideas by ideologues, is certainly not better than the privileged groups seeking to maintain global order. Empirically it seems true that some moderating medium is required for the maintenance of freedom.

John Perry Barlow was one of the early spokesman for the anarchy of the internet created a A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace[5]

  • We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
  • We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
  • Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
  • Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge. Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

where does the did go? here or in solutions? One think that modern medicine has taught us is that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease


Lots of people have proposed solutions to the lack of civility on the internet. Perhaps the most poignant is multiple continuing efforts of Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the world wide web

A good, workable solution is still not clear. Perhaps such a solution cannot be imagined, but only lived as the ecosystem Evolves.


  1. Robert Reich, The Common Good. (2018-02-02) Chap 2 ISBN 978-0525520498
  2. Rick Wartzman, Whatever Happened to Corporate Stewardship? (2014-08) Harvard business review
  3. Ayn Rand, Common Good. —Ayn Rand Lexicon
  4. Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society. Scribner’s, (1933)
  5. John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. (1996-02-08) Davos CH

External References