Jonathan Rowe Profile

Jonathan Rowe has been thinking and writing about the commons
throughout his career–indeed, long before he even realized this was
the ‘mother idea’ of his many journalistic interests. Even when
writing about baseball, like his 1985 article, ‘Bring Back the
Havana Sugar King,’ reprinted in Utne Reader, Rowe was
pondering the idea of common ground; in that case baseball fields,
which he believed could soothe tensions between the United States
and Cuba.

Rowe, 56, who worked for Ralph Nader in the early ’70s, says
that while in Washington, D.C., he became interested in the social
value of institutions other than corporations and centralized
government. Over the years, this third realm–the commons–has become
harder and harder to locate in American life. Now, Rowe says, ‘if
the commons is going to be reclaimed, it has to start in our own
lives. Not as an idea, but as an activity.’

So in 2000, Rowe–along with Peter Barnes, co-founder of the
socially responsible long distance phone company Working Assets,
and author of the new book, Who Owns the Sky? (Island 2001),
and Harriet Barlow, a respected social and environmental
activist–created the Tomales Bay Institute, a small ‘thought farm’
currently focused on promoting the idea of the commons for the 21st
century.

Rowe argues that the role of the commons today is to provide
respite and refuge from the march of so-called progress: The
commons extols quiet instead of noise, rest and stability instead
of frenzied and often dubious innovation. Given the uncertainties
of these times, Rowe says, ‘I really think there is not just an
opportunity here, but a necessity, of getting public debate and
imagination out of this free-market straitjacket it’s been in for
20 years.’

Rowe, who works out of his home in Point Reyes Station,
California, is originally from Massachusetts. A contributing editor
at Yes! and The Washington Monthly, and a former
staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor, he is
co-author, with Edgar S. Cahn., of Time Dollars: The New
Currency That Enables Americans to Turn Their Hidden
Resource–Time–Into Personal Security and Community Renewal

(Rodale, 1992). He’s currently writing a book on the disconnect
between the way economists explain the world and the way people
experience it.

–Karen Olson

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