PostHeaderIcon The Tragedy Of The Commons

As most of you know, “The Tragedy of the Commons” refers to a dilemma that occurs when multiple interests try to maximize individual use of a commonly owned resource. The example most often given is the grazing of animals on a commonly-owned pasture, where each animal owner attempts to graze as many animals as possible, maximizing his/her own benefit from the common, even though such use will inevitably damage or destroy the common, rendering it useless to anyone.

At one time, before our schools fell under progressive domination, many school children were taught the lesson learned by the puritans who settled parts of New England before the Founding of the United States. These puritans established what today would be called a commune, where everyone equally owned everything and everyone (supposedly) worked hard for the common benefit of all. After several years of near starvation, being saved only by the mistaken generosity of their Native American neighbors, their leaders saw the light, instituted private property and the attendant self-interested labor, and soon the colony began to thrive.

Today, we tend to view both these examples as somewhat archaic episodes in a distant history – surely not something of concern today. Yet, we Americans are surging headlong into another “Tragedy of the Commons” and few even seem to realize it – or to care.

What am I talking about? Simple – about socialism, or progressive-ism, or Marxism, or communism, or social justice, or whatever other misleading term one wishes to apply to it. By any name or term, feeding from the public trough is nothing but another failed notion of a “commons” where everyone contributes what he/she can to the common pool and each takes what he/she needs in return. The only problem with this notion (aside from the obvious stupidity) is that it NEVER works out that way. In actual practice, the prevailing rule is that each tends to contribute as little as he/she can get by with while taking all that he/she can get. If this is not a prime instance of “The Tragedy of the Commons”, it would be hard to imagine what would be. If any of you doubt my logic, I ask only that you look at any public housing project: first, when it is initially occupied, then again 3 to 5 years later; Read a few articles about the depletion of the world’s ocean life; Observe the destruction of public lands (and wildlife) that are leased out for a fraction of their true worth. Easier yet, watch the way people use our publicly owned motorways; Visit a public restroom in an airport. The simple fact of the matter is that people feel little or no responsibility for, and have little or no appreciation for, things for which they have no sense of ownership and/or that they did little or nothing to earn.

The mystery is, how can this be? How can the species that learned to split atoms, to travel in space, to double and triple life expectancy, not learn such a simple thing as to not repeat the same failed idea over and over, always to its own detriment?

We can argue about optimum tax rates, optimum levels of government power, and any number of other social-political dilemmas until we are all blue in the face, and we might well never arrive at an exact answer. Yet, it takes nothing more than common sense to see that people who practice self-determination, take responsibility for their own actions, and who act with self-restraint ALWAYS prosper much better than those who let others do the work and take the responsibility for them.

This is the season when many well-meaning people give thanks that some alleged person/persons in the distant past took full and fatal responsibility for the past and future acts of the rest of us.

Perhaps the season would be better spent looking in the mirror and asking the person there whether they have any shred of responsibility for what is happening today… for the squandering of the freedom and prosperity for which so many have sacrificed so much.

Want a Happy New Year? Then take the responsibility and do the work needed to make one!

Troy L Robinson

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