Quote of the day—Mark Alger

It’s like I always say, the Tragedy of the Commons is a tragedy of commons. No commons, no tragedy. How much simpler could it get?

Mark Alger
October 24, 2011
Comment to Quote of the day—Ted Turner.
[There are some commons that probably have to stay common. For the example the atmosphere, the oceans, and to a certain extent the electromagnetic spectrum. But it is an idea worth giving considerable consideration.—Joe]


7 thoughts on “Quote of the day—Mark Alger

  1. At one time owning land meant you owned everything from the center of the earth to space, above and below your land. It wasn’t until the government stole those property rights to give to someone else (airlines, broadcasters, etc) that property rights in RF and air became “the commons”.

  2. When you get into urban and suburban areas infrastructure like roads become a bit of a sticky wicket as private property only. I mean who pays for my street? All the people with houses on that street? But what about the streets I drive on to get to work?

    The only logical solution would require making everything a toll road…or have the town maintain the roads…

    There’s really no winning how you slice it when you live around lots of other people.

  3. The quote expresses a historical revision. The Tragedy of the Commons was the loss of income and livelihood formerly obtained through use of the commons by the lower class. The Tragedy of the Commons occurred when the large landowners, who formerly allowed use of the commons by their tenant farmers and other peasants, fenced the commons in and converted them to large scale agricultural use for their own benefit.

    “No commons” is what the large landowners did to their peasants, driving the poor off the land they had used (but not owned) for generations, and leaving them with either starvation, emigration, crime, or low wage industrial positions in cities as their options. No commons, no tragedy is 180 degrees opposite the historical truth.

  4. The Tragedy of the Commons is the title of a paper published in 1968. Before that, the phrase was not in common usage.

    The Enclosure Movement (to which you apparently prefer) was, by the admission of the author of said paper not on all-fours with the concept.

    Since then, the phrase has come to be used in the sense I used it — that goods and resources held “in common” (including by governments, but for use by the public to one extent or another) inevitably lose value from poor maintenance and conservation. (As opposed to private property held for similar, albeit private, purposes, which generally increases in value, when properly managed.)

    The reason for this can be handily expressed in the phrase, “What everyone owns, no one owns.”

    The tragedy, then, becomes the waste of resources represented by public ownership. A solution — ONE, and I’m not claiming it’s universal — is to end public ownership of resources as both wasteful and invidious.


  5. I did not hear the phrase “tragedy of the commons” used in reference to the enclosures or to the Highland Clearances when I studied History of Britain and the Empire/Commonwealth in the early 70’s. I suspect that the later application of “the Tragedy of the Commons” to enclosure is similar to the appropriation of the title of the novel “the Ugly American” to refer to a set of behaviors completely different from the behavior of the ugly American of the novel.

  6. Total Recall, a movie starring the Governator and Sharon Stone, among others, illustrated what happens when the air is not owned in common, but was instead owned by the few. Bankruptcy or outlawry resulted in death by suffocation.

  7. Heinlein addressed the notion — slightly tangentially — that “air ought to be free” on a far firmer moral basis than either the film or the Phillip K. Dick story on which it was based.

    A resource which requires effort on someone’s part to exist CANNOT be owned in common without SOMEONE being enslaved for it. You want to breathe in an artificial environment, you pay for it in one way or another.


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