Tragedy of the Commons

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Socialism was tried by by the Pilgrams in Plymouth. In case you do not know history, it did not work.

Apr. 9, 2012 4:04 am



Thankfully, I have saved my standard explanation of this concept in a word document so I can cut and paste it every time one of you morons posts something about because you ALWAYS get it wrong. Read it.... Learn.... or STFU...


Okay, first, "the tragedy of the commons" was a term coined by a 20th century economist, Garrett Hardin. This concept applies specifically to "common goods" which is different than "the commons," although there is generally some overlap. The point is the tragedy is created by the nature of the good itself not whether it is something in the commons of the government. Maybe you should read it:

"The tragedy of the commons" is usually brought up by Libertarians who don't actually know what the hell it means. They think it sounds catchy but they don't understand that Hardin's article was NOT about reducing "the commons" in government as we understand it but promoting governmental intervention in the regulation of the use of "common goods."

So let's talk about what the pasture represents. It is a COMMON GOOD, which is defined as any good that has the properties of begin both NONEXCLUDABLE but it is also RIVALROUS. This means that it is very difficult to get people to not use the particular good but that it is finite - no two people can benefit from its usage at the same time. This latter part must be understood in relation to congestion. As Hardin notes, killing Bison in the frontier was ethical and reasonable, killing one now when they are all but gone would be unthinkable. So, yes of course two farmers can graze on a field at the same time, but once a cow eats some of the grass, another cow can't eat it, too. Congestion occurs when you have enough cows grazing that they are competing for goods that are scarce in supply. Those three concepts are central to Hardin's argument - you have to know what excludability, rivalry, and congestion mean in relation to economics. Most libertarians I know either don't know what they are or refuse to acknowledge that they are even legitimate concepts in describing goods.

So this is the tragedy and Hardin uses game theory concepts to explain what he means (which Libertarians also typically write off as bunk science but they still steal Hardin's title to mean whatever they want anyway). When you have an UNREGULATED common good....... I am going to stop there and point out that while Hardin's article is titled "The tragedy of the commons," the place where he explains this in the text is actually called "The Tragedy of FREEDOM in a Commons"........ Anyway, When you have an UNREGULATED common good like the pasture, all farmers have an equal chance to use the good. However, they all know that it is rivalrous and in limited supply BUT that the losses of their use of the pasture are socialized to the whole. This creates a situation where farmers will relentlessly pursue the use of the good UNLESS YOU PROVIDE THEM WITH DISINCENTIVES TO DO SO.

So, before I talk about Hardin's actual proposed solution, let's talk about his reverse notion of the commons - pollution. Pollution represents a similar problem to the field in that a company can pollute and gain all the benefits from doing so (in production) but socialize the expense to the surrounding area. This was the other example he used that Libertarians will never talk about because it leads Hardin to suggest environmental regulations. Hardin even explicitly states that it is COMPLETELY UNREASONABLE to use Quis custodiet, what Libertarians lovingly call "power of the gun" and fear above all else, for not engaging in environmental regulations. Noting that this should be constantly in our minds but that it should not inhibit us from doing what is necessary to protect society.

So what is Hardin's final suggestion? Mutual Coersion Mutually Agreed Upon NOT to convert everything to private ownership. And one of his specifically proposed solutions was to take away peoples' unalieanbale right to breed... lol. I am going to go out on a limb and say most libertarians probably wouldn't want to go along with that one.

Again "common goods" are determined by their physical properties while "the commons" are typically debatable. In fact, one of the reasons one would want to bring a good into the commons is precisely to alleviate the tragedy of common goods. By placing a good in the commons, one can regulate its use by limiting congestion of the good.


If this guy's claims about why they were starving is true which I believe it is not, Hardin would argue that the reason they failed was NOT because they shared but because they did not regulate the usage of resources correctly. He would have most likely suggested a strict rationing of goods. In any case, I believe the historical claims in the article are intellectually weak if not completely false. I would like to see documentation, in particular, for his claim that people were faking illness so that they did not have to work.

Dec. 13, 2010 10:00 pm

There's a 1 in 20 Chance of the Apocalypse. Shouldn't We Act Now?

A new study published in Science argues that we as a civilization need to move "rapidly" -- as in almost immediately -- towards a carbon emissions free future if we are to have any chance of holding off runaway global warming:

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