This essay traces the transfer of private ownership of economic resources from sovereign rulers to the modern nation-state, starting with mercantilism and ending with exclusive economic zones. Nation-states were initially envisaged as bodies that acted on behalf of their citizens, but over time they have become distant from democratic processes as they have sought to claim property rights over more and more of the planet, and now of outer space. Consequently, what remains of the global commons is on the verge of extinction. This essay examines whose interests such activities serve and the resulting implications.

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