Posted by Word Camel on December 17, 2003
In Reply to: Tragedy-of-the-commons? posted by ESC on December 17, 2003
: What does "tragedy-of-the-commons" mean?
: By Michael Collins
: Cincinnati Post Washington Bureau
: WASHINGTON -- After the U.S. House passed a massive spending bill last week, Rep. Steve Chabot's office issued a press release listing $6.4 million worth of projects that the congressman will be bringing back to
: Yet a few minutes earlier, Chabot voted against the bill that contained the funding. The Westwood Republican said he could not support the legislation because congressional spending is getting out of hand.
: Chabot sees nothing contradictory about inserting projects for his district into the appropriations bill and then voting against the legislation and decrying excessive spending.
: But others do.
: ...The Club For Growth, a conservative group that has praised Chabot's votes to reign in government spending, said it has no problem with him
: requesting money for his district.
: "This is basically the tragedy-of-the-commons problem," said Stephen Moore, the group's president.
: "If everybody is sticking their snout in the trough, if you don't stick your snout in, you're not going to get anything for your voters."
: There's nothing inconsistent about a congressman getting money for his constituents at the same time that he is pushing to reduce government
: spending, Moore said...
Here's my understanding:
(Disclaimer - I have just spent several hours claming a hysterical teething baby, so I may be less than lucid and there may be typos)
The commons was an area in medieval villages where anyone could graze his livestock. This was fine until the villages grew to the point where there was so much livestock that they over grazed. Because no one owned the commons, no one took responsibility for them and the village economies collapsed.
Another way to think of it is short sightedness, grabbing what you can now in spite of consequences later. Anyway, that's the tragedy of the commons: when people are incapable of reconciling their own self interest with that of society as a whole, everyone loses.
Hope that helps,