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RE: The tragedy of the commons

John Cowan wrote,
> Steven R. Newcomb wrote:
> > As I understand it, the "tragedy of the commons" is a concept from
> > Economics: the tendency of individuals to over-exploit publicly-
> > owned assets.


> What nobody understands who uses this example is what common land 
> really was, before it was expropriated without compensation.  Rights 
> of common were *individual* rights;

OK, wandering off-topic, but ...

If you're objecting to Steves talk about common ownership vs.
individual rights of use (of the same thing), then you've not got a
great deal to grumble about. Arguably these individual use-rights
_constitue_ common ownership (tho' there are lots of subtleties here).

What I'd object to is the presumption of a "tendency of individuals to
over-exploit publicly-owned assets". It might very well be that
publicly owned assets are often (even typically) over-exploited, but
it's by no means clear that this is due to any tendency of 
individuals. It's almost a axiom of Rational Choice Theory that 
individuals are pure maximizers of an individualistically defined
utility function, and in situations with the right (or rather, wrong)
incentive structures, that inevitably leads to over-exploitation.

But RTC is just a (now rather stale) highly formal theory of 
behaviour: there are no particulary compelling reasons for believing 
it to be true as theory of how real individuals behave.



Miles Sabin                                     InterX
Internet Systems Architect                      27 Great West Road
+44 (0)20 8817 4030                             Middx, TW8 9AS, UK
msabin@interx.com                               http://www.interx.com/