13 Responses

  1. grampa December 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |

    The problem with Hardin is well outlined by Ian but also, Hardin doesn’t really understand the varieties of commons. Even in Mister Capitalism himself, John Locke, he discusses two different kinds of community that have different effects on the commons, and each has to do with property relations. Positive community is based on survival – people take from the commons materials necessary for survival. In this form, the king can own everything, and people use it as a commons. Furthermore the membership to community can be limited and their participation modulated by necessity. In a negative community, no one owns anything and people take what they will. Property simply means the right of exclusive possession to the objects which people take from the commons. There is no right to be included in the commons, merely a right to control over what one takes from the commons.

    This is the kind of commons Hardin harps on. He clearly had no real appreciation for community, for it is the community that defines the commons, and different communities create different forms of commons, and there is nothing inherent to all commons that means any particular commons must suffer a tragedy of exploitation, as particular commons’ are capable of formulating their own rules of engagement and use bound by the community using it.

    Why this is such a hard idea for some people to understand I find puzzling and depressing.

  2. Chris Rodgers July 18, 2011 at 1:08 am |

    I don’t know if we have become too many or come to far to remember what we once knew but I have no doubt that at the moment we have forgotten what it is like to be completely and totally dependent on the well being of our community for our very life. And when a person is in that position, it is impossible to act selfishly and greedily because we do not survive that way. We die.

    We are social and cultural, that is our genetics. For ages and ages we survived because we knew how to do a good job of living within a group that made it possible to survive. I admit that when populations numbers go up we have problems with people who are not in our group. In that case we can become tough and competitive. But we have, for the most part for thousands of years come up with numerous systems to manage the sharing of our resources. We had no other choice. Obviously we succeeded because we managed to get to this time and place. How do you think we did it? By selfishly trying to out consume our neighbor?

    Some systems were better than others. Some lasted much longer than others. Some were destroyed by external changes. But boy were we inventive! Of course we used social pressure and rules, sometimes religion, sometimes myths, sometimes math and early science but these sytems weren’t imposed from outside, they were created over time by the ones who needed each other and needed the system to work.

    There is even a possibility that we are just a bit too good at it and as our population grew we may have had a more and more detrimental effect on the natural environment we used. With the discovery of oil, we quickly took advantage of that dense resource and increased our population rapidly.

    We may possibly be a bit too ingenious for the perfect well being of our natural support system, the earth. But we are smart and most of us still take care of our own, whether it is our family and family connections, a village, our neighborhood, a community of friends, our fellow church members, our schoolmates, a hiking club. There you have the beginnings of a network, cross memberships, relatedness within and connecting groups.

    I believe our modern Capitalist consumer society has encouraged our independence and self reliance making us selfish and preoccupied with our individual likes and dislikes, wants and needs. Most watch TV and play on the computer rather than actually relate to others. We have lost touch and so no longer think about or care how our actions can effect other people. But that is not our nature. That is how we act when disconnected from our nature.

    We, in recent times have never had a chance to act with neighbors to develop a system that enabled us to share a common field in a way that maximized the well being of our community. If we needed to, I bet we would jump right to it and be quite successful at it. In the end, we would share with our group a great satisfaction, as well as a sense of safety and accomplishment. We are made for it. We lived like that far longer than we have lived like this.

    I personally love figuring out how to live simply, with much less waste. It feels right to connect with others who are trying to remember how to cooperatively manage the commons. I do it because it is best for the world and my fellows. Doing so stimulates my mind and creativity. I am more powerful and less passive. In many varied groups of various sizes and types, people are beginning to recreate the “commons.”

  3. Peter Moss July 17, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    Robert, you can’t be serious. The amount of CO2 emissions produced by all industries dwarfs those produced by individuals and their cars. Please do some research on this.

    Saying we are all responsible is a way of saying therefore no one is really responsible.

    Oh, and for the record, I like graffiti and don’t drive.

  4. Derek Wall October 17, 2009 at 4:09 pm |

    well I think Ian, you can take a little bit of credit along with elinor ostrom!

  5. Howard Silverman December 15, 2008 at 2:50 pm |

    Nice post, Ian.

    I’ve also written a reflection, “The Tragedy – 40 Years Later”:

  6. Robert November 10, 2008 at 9:21 pm |

    “Attributing environmental problems to “the tragedy of the commons” (which means to human nature) ignores history and present-day reality. It lets the system and the people who run it off the hook.”

    We all live in houses and use gas and electricity without any regard to our CO2 emissions. Just about everyone that can afford one has a car in the front drive, but how many people think twice as they chuck another 100 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere doing something really important like following their football team from one end of the country to the other?

    These aren’t corporations. They are people like you and me – and we all treat the atmosphere like a global dustbin. TTOTC is alive and well and you are part of it.

  7. Robert November 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm |

    Ian, But in this modern sick society the evidence is that very few people at any level act with a social conscience. Just look at the litter and graffiti in public places. Or try dropping your wallet in a train and see how many times it will be returned to you with its contents intact.

    People cease to act as communities when they get larger than about 50 people. After that its every man for himself.

    It may suit your anti-capitalist agenda to blame it all on the corporations, but it simply isn’t true. If anything the large corps need to be whiter than white in terms of pollution and at least appearing green. They have very deep pockets for anyone trying to sue them.

  8. Robert November 5, 2008 at 2:10 pm |

    Dave, Ian – well, at least I see where you are coming from. Yes, in some mythical utterly socialist global economy, in which 6.7 billion people somehow managed to cooperate with each other at a very deep level, TTOTC would not exist. In practice the world is made up of self-interested individual players (people, families, companies, countries, etc) who privatise the profits and socialise the costs.

    I can’t even get the other members of my family to turn off lights when they leave a room because they don’t have to pay the electricity bill!

    To my mind the real culprit is fossil fuelled industrial society. Over the last 2 centuries we have expanded the world’s human carrying capacity by borrowing energy from the past (fossil fuel) and taking the environment from our children. This would have happened under any regime – just look at the massive increase in CO2 emissions under Soviet Russia, and now China. Humans have become the ultimate plague species and the the planet will only resume ‘normal’ operation when we are history.


  9. Dave Patterson November 5, 2008 at 12:44 pm |

    I wonder if Hardin, perhaps unwittingly, was engaging in one of the most popular capitalist tricks – the inversion of truth. Accusing someone else of what they themselves are guilty of. In that, there actually is a thing that we might call the tragedy of the commons, but it is not the activities of ‘the common folk’ causing the tragedy, but they are the victims. It is the few predatory humans who are always with us, currently dominated by those we identify as capitalists, who cause the tragedy by their refusal to play by the accepted norms that most civilized people play by, rules which involve moderation and sharing rather than violence and selfishness. So the predatory few abuse the commons which should be shared by all, in moderation, and thus destroy those commons, thus the tragedy. And then blame anyone but themselves. Just some thoughts.

  10. Robert November 4, 2008 at 1:09 pm |

    Ian, You appear to fully understand and accept TTOTC in your paper entitled “Confronting the Climate Change Crsis”, when you say:

    ““GHG emissions are an externality; in other words, our emissions affect the lives of others. When people do not pay for the consequences of their actions we have market failure. This is the greatest market failure the world has seen.”
    “Externality” is a term capitalist economists use when capitalist corporations don’t pay for the damage they cause. Pollution is the perfect example — individual corporations pollute, but society as a whole bears the cost.”

    What you are REALLY saying is that you don’t accept capitalism or the freedom of corporation to pursue profit. A reasonable viewpoint if you are a Marxist, but not a route to dismissing TTOTC.

  11. Robert November 4, 2008 at 12:48 pm |

    I find it bizarre that anyone should challenge the basic concept of TTOTC. It is so simple that a child can see it. It is also the reason why mankind is very unlikely (IMHO) to get to grips with curbing CO2 emissions – because tha marginal utility of emitting CO2 to the individual (or even the individual country) will always outweigh the shared cost to the global population.

    You might not like the range of “solutions” to TTOTC (more private ownership, more regulation, etc) but that does not mean the theory is wrong.

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