Avdi September 14, 2005 5 Comments The tragedy of the commons: you don’t save what you don’t own. Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)MoreClick to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Uncategorized
a few things..
If you go back to Hardin’s original article, the point he makes is that
“If you make free markets and capitalist frameworks the foundation for your society.. then you create the situation where the commons are destroyed–because in this system, you don’t save what you don’t own…
And looking at the article that is linked to here.. you don’t really see anything that would necessarily have altered the situation, other than the fact that the busses themselves might have been saved…
I mean, the main point that is made is that the value of the privately owned busses would have jumped immediately prior to the hurricane.. so they would have been mobilized..
But what isn’t mentioned is that the same kind of logic that would have made the busses come into use–would also encourage the owners to charge the highest possible price for seats on those busses that they could get for them.. Thus.. the truly poor would also likely have been excluded again from getting out on them..
Or..another possibility is that the owners–seeing the hurricanes were coming and fearing that there might be riots to get onto the busses–which could destroy their very valubable property–might have just moved the busses out of the area early on…
The gasoline example that the author brings up very much follows this kind of logic–it is true that high prices are “conservation” signals–they would slow consumption.. and the means by which they “slow consumption” is by making consumption by the poor impossible… So, while the position advocated is true–it doesn’t address any of the the grander problems that had plagued NOLA…
They way to avoid the tragedy of the commons is not just to abolish the commons and proclaim them the property of the local lord/wealthiest farmer– a situation that did actually happen historically in France–which led to over 50% of the population being landless agricultural workers–and helped instigate and accentuate the violence of the French Revolution–namely the Terror and the 25 years of constant warfare that killed 1/2 of the male population between the ages of 14-40…)
The better solution is to set up a situation where the actual costs of using the commons are passed on to those who are using them–this is what environmental regulations are all about..
In any case.. the reason why those busses weren’t used has more to do with a fundamental lack of planning by officials at all level of government.. but we all know that government planning is evil… isn’t it.. 😉
Re: a few things..
Personally I found the gasoline argument more compelling than the bus one… sure, the market drove up prices, but is there really anything nobler about running out of gas than charging high prices for gas? The only conceivable way to price control gasoline during a shortage and NOT run out is to put together some kind of ration system… basically eliminate the market completely (which, of course, has it’s own attendant problems).
I’ve heard others talking about price controls, and I just don’t understand why having NO gas is better than having expensive gas – either way, people are gonna be stuck.
are inherently stupid things usually–mainly because they lead to the shortages that you mention…
And let me note here at the beginning, that I’m not a fan of price controls for any extended period of time.. (people who keep thinking the gov’t can just impose $2/gallon for gasoline till the end of time aren’t being particularly rational in my view..)
In any case.. I don’t necessarily find the gasoline argument compelling.. but I do agree that it is more consistent and thought out.. The problems/issues that I have with it is:
1. That the price setting being done by station owners is most likely not being done in the mindset of the “rational economic actor trying to follow conservation efforts..” but more likely just being done out a haphazard attempt to play upon peoples irrational fears at the moment to make a quick profit no matter what the consequences of this quick profit taking might be… (same thing happened on 9/11/2001–when gas prices all went through the roof for 2 days–even though there wasn’t any economic reason at that instant to believe that they should..)
now.. I fully realize that making profits is a good thing in an of itself.. I support making profit.. i.e. I’m not against profit per se.. However, I do tend to think–or at least my values tell me–that quick profits taken in an emergency situation–where the costs to others–usually the poor and mostly disenfranchised–are inordinately high in response–e.g. death, total destruction of their means of livelihood, etc etc.. –is not a particularly good situation for society..
solutions to this problem, of course, are complicated.. most of them probably involve enforced rationing.. which does have its intended problems.. but which, overall, in times of crisis does seem to be a more egalitarian solution than just allowing the wealthiest people to skate on through…
2. In some ways, perhaps running out of gas is more noble than charging higher prices..
here’s the possible logic for it.. (I’m not sure I buy it completely.. but it’s a thought experiment like that article)
1. Prices for gasoline are not jacked up particularly quickly..
2. So the situation becomes a first come/first serve kind of situation
3. People who, in some way, prepared better to leave in the face of this upcoming devastation–are more likely to leave earlier and are thus going to be the ones to get the gasoline first.
4. Thus, the people who benefit in this situation are not those who merely have a higher financial station in life–but rather those who have the common sense and forethought to prepare for a possible calamnity…
Personally, I find this to be a more honest/fair/reasonable situation–basically it is a “merit based” kind of situation… and there is less chance (although this “less” is merely relative) of people who wanted to escape–but were unable due to financial reasons–getting trapped, while others, merely because they were rich, got out..
Re: price controls…
I can buy the logic of that thought-experiment.
One problem with such experiments which may be irrelevent for extremely short timescales is the in-drawing effect a regional price spike can have. E.g. in the aftermath of a hurricane the cost of carpentry services if unregulated tend to go through the roof. The flipside of this un-egalitarian “gouging” is that it tends to draw enterprising workers from hundreds of miles around, resulting in a greater absolute amount of labor on the ground than would have been there otherwise. There are issues with applying this principle to gasoline though; first, that it’s harder to set up a gas station on short notice, and second, there may not be time to exploit the price spike before the catastrophe comes.
Re: a few things..
making consumption by the poor impossible… So, while the position advocated is true–it doesn’t address any of the the grander problems that had plagued NOLA…
That depends on whether you see poor people not being able to afford gas as a problem.
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