Rajshree Chandra ~ ‘The “Moral Economy” of Cosmopolitan Commons’

(2020) 1 TWAIL Review 51-73
ISSN 2563-6693
Published under a Creative Commons licence

Moral economy is an analytic category that refers to a ‘moral’ arrangement of resources and institutions that privilege the ethic of subsistence – a minimalist bottom line – over that of the market economy. It is, in a sense, a proto theory of systems of existence that lie outside the fold of the market economy and its rationalist cost-benefit postulates. This article proposes that enclosure of the biotic commons into enclaves of proprietorial entitlements has been made possible through the reconstruction of the category of moral economy in order to invest such enclosures with an ethic of ‘progress’ and ‘sustainable’ development. Law has projected the enclosure of the biotic commons as a normative strategy in the larger context of the disenfranchisement of local and Indigenous communities under regimes of national and international law. This article explores how the discourses of innovationism and environmentalism reconstitute the idea of what is good for societies globally, toppling the idea that conventionally formed the global ethic for a moral economy.