Lorax Hall of Shame #1
I now begin a Lorax Hall of Shame series. The Lorax is hero of a classic Dr. Seuss book. He is a benevolent spirit who "speaks for the trees."
The Lorax gets railroaded by the greedy Once-ler who, with his roughshod Cosa Nostra, cuts down truffula trees to knit "Thneeds" (see pink object at right). "You need a Thneed" is the factory slogan. When all the trees are gone and the land is ruined, the Once-ler and his gang disappear, leaving their dead factory, grey air, brown water, gasping Humming-Fish and choking Swomee-Swans behind.
Chuck Olsen parsed "The Lorax" for the California Libertarian Party in 1993.
Aristotle, in his Politics, said: "that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest."Jared Diamond has, in essence, handed out a few Lorax awards in his recent book Collapse. By the way, at Guns, Germed and Steeled you can find an excerpt from Diamond's New York Times article on New Year's Day.
This, by itself, does not bode well for the treatment that commonly owned resources will receive. But there is another more serious problem, which is called: the "Tragedy of the Commons." Let me paraphrase Dr. Garrett Hardin's classic paper of 1968 (Ref. 2), which uses the example of commonly-owned grazing land:
Picture a pasture open to all. Each herdsman will seek to maximize his gain. He asks: "What are the costs and benefits of adding one more animal to my herd?" The profit from the additional animal goes exclusively to the particular herdsman, while a major cost -the additional overgrazing which that animal causes -- is shared by all the herdsman.
The commonly-owned grazing land is inevitably destroyed by overgrazing. It is not rational to destroy a resource, and yet, due to the tragedy of the commons, the rational herdsmen together destroy their land. To quote Dr. Hardin again:
Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit -- in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush.
An obvious choice for the Lorax Hall of Shame is the multi-national fishing industry which devastated the Georges Bank fishery, virtually exterminating a cod population which had seemed limitless just a few years earlier. See Greed is Killing the Oceans from Earth Portals. I saw an interview with one of the last cod-fisherman on Georges Bank before the fishery was closed. He said he know there weren't many cod left, but this was his livelihood, and if somebody was going to catch the last fish, it was going to be him.
You may have heard the feature recently on NPR about Newfoundland trying, now, to re-tool its economy in the absence of fish. They're trying to bring in tourist dollars by building nice replicas of their old fishing villages. The tourists like them quite a bit.
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