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Thursday, September 29, 2005

More on the commons

I'm too tired to pull this into a real post, but...

Zed read this advice to freshmen on a kid-created Wesleyan LiveJournal: "Don't bother bringing a chair from home - just steal one from the lounge, they're so comfortable."

These kids seem to see themselves as crafty hunter-gatherers, living off the land. Hmm, they sneak downstairs and steal chairs which were put there for their use. Shooting fish in a barrel, more like. Will they feel guilty as they go by and see their fellow students standing around because the chairs are gone?

In college I had a job at the law library and one of my tasks was to make sure students didn't cut articles out of books. (Motive: it was cheaper than copying them and also ensured that the NEXT kid couldn't read them.)

So many dorms are decorated by stolen road signs - meanwhile, somewhere, people are getting lost...

There's a modest mom-and-pop-owned homemade ice cream store near here which had a wonderful hand-made cow sculpture out front until somebody stole it.

Don't you hate it when people dig up ferns and dogwoods and redbuds growing by the side of the road and take them off to their own gardens?

At an outdoor wedding we played recently, I watched as throughout the ceremony a little red-headed kid methodically pulled the heads off every flower in the garden while his parents did nothing to stop him. Every one.

"If the fish population is crashing, somebody is going to get the last fish, and it might as well be me."

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" ...

The rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another.... But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons.

Therein is the tragedy. 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, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

From The Tragedy of the Commons, Garrett Hardin, 1968.

"Hardin illustrates the critical flaw of freedom in the commons: all participants must agree to conserve the commons, but any one can force the destruction of the commons."

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At 10:19 AM, Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

But the problem with this argument is it assumes there is no community or social control to regulate the use of the common. I post a little on this, and Sharon added a reference to the whole book on the subject here.

In fact the examples you give you noted because they are unusual. Most of the time, most of the people, do the right thing.


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