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<nettime> digesting the tragedy of the commons [pawlo, snelson]
nettime's_ruminator on Wed, 16 Jan 2002 09:08:25 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> digesting the tragedy of the commons [pawlo, snelson]


Mikael Pawlo <mikael {AT} pawlo.com>
     Tragedy of the commons (was:Re: <nettime> Don't Fuck with Democracy.)
"Kermit Snelson" <ksnelson {AT} subjectivity.com>
     RE: <nettime> Don't Fuck with Democracy.

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Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 22:25:37 +0100 (CET)
From: Mikael Pawlo <mikael {AT} pawlo.com>
Subject: Tragedy of the commons (was:Re: <nettime> Don't Fuck with Democracy.)

Den 14 Jan 2002 skrev Lachlan Brown:
> I just wondered where the phrase 'tragedy of the commons' 
>came from
> and what this phrase was doing in your conference call. 
(---)

The Tragedy of the commons was the title of an article written by Garrett 
Hardin, published in Science, 162(1968).

This passage in the article sums Hardin's theory up pretty well:

"The tragedy of the commons develops in this
way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be
expected that each herdsman will try to keep as
many cattle as possible on the commons. Such
an arrangement may work reasonably
satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars,
poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both
man and beast well below the carrying capacity
of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of
reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired
goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this
point, the inherent logic of the commons
remorselessly generates tragedy."

"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?" This utility has one negative and
one positive component. 

1. The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal.
Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the
additional animal, the positive utility is nearly + 1. 

2. The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing
created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are
shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular
decision­making herdsman is only a fraction of - 1. 

Adding together the component partial utilities, 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."

The article is avalaible all over the net. One place is here:
http://dieoff.org/page95.htm 

Regards

Mikael Pawlo
_________________________________________________________________________

                                          mailto:mikael {AT} pawlo.com  
                                          http://www.pawlo.com/

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From: "Kermit Snelson" <ksnelson {AT} subjectivity.com>
Subject: RE: <nettime> Don't Fuck with Democracy.
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 19:11:36 -0800

> I just wondered where the phrase 'tragedy of the commons' came
> from and what this phrase was doing in your conference call.
> It sounds like dangerous right wing revisionism in new media
> suited to the undemocratic agenda of the National Security State.

Fear not.  The phrase "tragedy of the commons" was introduced in 1968 by
biologist Garrett Hardin in an article for the US journal _Science_, in
which he argued that our current legal definition of private property
encourages environmental pollution.  The article was influential, and the
phrase has since become somewhat of a term of art among economists.
Economists, by the way, call things like pollution "negative externalities"
should anyone wish to Google on the subject.

A similar and related economic commonplace is Gresham's Law, which states
that "bad money drives out good money."  In his more recent work [2], Hardin
has deployed this idea against the idea of laissez faire and demonstrates
that such philosophy can lead to undesirable market failures.

The "tragedy of the commons" idea has proven troublesome to arguments in
favor of GPL-like software licenses, just as Gresham's Law might also pose a
problem for "open money" arguments.  Since the nettime community is
fortunate to have experts on both subjects, I'd enjoy reading an analysis of
Hardin's arguments here (but let's first rename the thread ;))

Kermit Snelson

Notes:
[1] http://dieoff.org/page95.htm
[2] http://www.iapm.org/newsletters/april99.html

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