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October 18, 2014

Fundamental Concepts: The Tragedy of the Commons [WeirdDave]

This one is not going to be very long, because it's an easy one. Tragedy of the Commons is the name given to a theory that if a group of people share a resource, it will eventually be plundered and rendered useless. Overfishing of the Grand Banks is a commonly cited example. Selfish people will overuse the resource, ruining it for everybody. This concept is the basis for a good deal of leftist political thought, it is the reason that they want to put government in charge of everything. They are right, up to a point, but as usual they miss the mark completely in an attempt to bring everything under the thumb of government.

Let's start with an example:

Suppose there is a herd of buffalo. Nobody owns it, it's just there. The people of the nearby town go out and shoot buffalo when they need or want one. Some people shoot two or three of the animals because they want to stock up, some people shoot the buffalo and just take a favorite part, leaving the rest to rot, some people just shoot them for fun. Pretty soon that herd is gone and the people have no more buffalo and they start to starve.

The statist sees this and his solution is to create a governmental agency to manage the buffalo herd. Hunting licenses are required, and the Buffalo agency issues bag limits. Pretty soon the Buffalo Agency takes some land to keep it's buffalo on. One year a PETA drone is elected head of the agency and no permits are issued, so the herd grows uncontrolled. That won't do, so a biologist is brought in to manage buffalo breeding. Wolves show up to feed on the weak and young of the herd, so now the Buffalo Agency hires some of the hunters that it won't let shoot the buffalo to shoot the wolves. The people are starting to starve again, so the Buffalo Agency starts a program to humanely butcher selected older buffalo and sells the meat. They then start a Buffalo Cultural Festival to celebrate all things buffalo related (and to toot their own horn), and so on. The Buffalo Agency, which was established simply to keep the buffalo from being hunted to extinction, now employs half the town. The buffalo? Well, they're still there, but now they're almost an afterthought.

A conservative looks at this situation and immediately spots the flaw in the statist's logic. He knows that a basic tendency of any governmental agency is to first protect it's authority, and then to expand it. Contrary to the simple logic of the left, the Buffalo Agency's fundamental focus isn't the efficient use of the buffalo (although that's the excuse), it is the efficient use of it's own POWER. The buffalo are being managed, but not efficiently, and the Buffalo Agency is now spending more of it's time and money on things that have nothing to do with the herd at all. (Let's be topical. Change "Buffalo Agency" to "CDC", "buffalo" to "control disease" and all the rest to "rabbit massage", "gun control" and "studying fat lesbians". Hmmmmm.)

No, a conservative looks at the problem of unhindered buffalo slaughter and knows that the correct solution is to privatize the buffalo herd. If ownership of the herd is given to the hunters themselves, they now have two opposing incentives which balance each other out. Their first incentive is to hunt the buffalo and sell the meat. They do this to keep the town fed, and to make a living themselves. Countering that incentive, they also must manage the herd efficiently so that it remains viable so that they can keep on feeding the town and supporting themselves. They may do some, or even all, of the things that the Buffalo Agency did in the first example, but they will only be able to do them through voluntary transactions, and they won't have the ability to enter into any of these transactions unless they are effectively and efficiently performing their two primary duties-maintaining the herd and harvesting it in a smart manner. The Buffalo Agency uses it's authority to take land, the Hunters Co-Op has to turn enough profit to buy land. The Co-OP won't have to hire hunters to kill wolves, paying them with tax revenue, they'll do it themselves. They may establish a Buffalo Festival, but again, only if they can afford to pay for it. And so on.

The Tragedy of the Commons is the basis for a good bit of Marxist economic theory, but as we have seen, it is utterly flawed when applied to human beings (as is the rest of Marxist economic theory). The Tragedy of the Commons is just another fallacy.

Here endeth the lesson.

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posted by Open Blogger at 01:10 PM

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