May 23, 2012
JONATHAN ADLER: Property Rights And The Tragedy Of The Commons.
One thing that Hardin overlooked is that the political process often replicates the same economic dynamic that encourages the tragedy of the commons — a dynamic fostered by the ability to capture concentrated benefits while dispersing the costs. Like the herder who has an incentive to put out yet one more animal to graze, each interest group has every incentive to seek special benefits through the political process, while dispersing the costs of providing those benefits to the public at large. Just as no herder has adequate incentive to withhold from grazing one more animal, no interest group has adequate incentive to forego its turn to obtain concentrated benefits at public expense. No interest group has adequate incentive to put the interests of the whole ahead of the interests of the few. The logic of collective action discourages investments in sound public policy just as it discourages investments in sound ecological stewardship. This, in addition to the pervasiveness of special-interest rent seeking, explains many of the failings of centralized regulation. So despite the environmental gains of the past half-century, real challenges remain, and the tragedy of the commons is still with us.
Just look at the debt.