Tragedy of the commons (TOC) occurs when a product or outcome is distributed equally among a group of individuals who act according to their own self interests. Simply put, when people are granted the opportunity to put in the least amount of effort and reap maximum benefits, they slack off and leave the work to the few who don’t. Take, for example, a divided tip among servers. A hard worker is less motivated to do well, because they know that the profit of their hard work will be leached by others who do not deserve it. Likewise, lazy servers know that their effort level will not mirror their paycheck, and will pounce on the opportunity to shirk. However, despite the numerous examples of its impotence, many Americans, led by Bernie Sanders, still believe in this method. “Equality!” they shout. “Spread the wealth! No upper class, no lower class; all people will be brought to the same level.” I have to give it to them; everyone would be equal. But equality’s not always that great, especially when it forces everybody to a lower level.
Bernie Sander’s propositions spell out certain doom for the US, just as similar ideas have laid waste to other nations (Such as Venezuela). Nonetheless, Sanders received 12 million votes in the primary. Not convinced? Here’s another example of real world TOC in America.
Don’t be fooled by the Thanksgiving myth of happy, plump pilgrims, enjoying big turkey meals every night for dinner. For the first few years after the pilgrims arrived in America, they faced famine and starvation. This was because of their system of ownership.
Upon arrival, the pilgrims all worked on a shared unit of land and equally split the crops harvested from it. Consequently, they starved for years until noticing their fatal error. To bring themselves out of this period of famine, they divided up the once-shared unit of land, and gave each pilgrim his own plot- it worked beautifully. This is because, as stated in previous articles, if a pilgrim neglected his duties on his personal farm, he- and only he- was punished through starvation or poverty. Likewise, hard-working pilgrims wouldn’t be dragged down by the lazy ones.
In the “community garden” system of early settlers, a lazy pilgrim scraped by, and dragged others down with him. In the later private system, a lazy pilgrim was a dead pilgrim, and that was plenty of encouragement to prosper.
William Bradford, Mayflower passenger and 30 year governor of Plymouth, states in his journal “After much debate, I, William Bradford, assigned to every family a parcel of land… This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious.”
Another great example of the Tragedy of the commons was an experiment done by John Stossel. Stossel positioned a small group of people around a circle approximately 1 meter in radius. This circle represented their “shared land.” After letting them design their land, he placed plastic coins in the middle of the group, saying “each coin represents one dollar, but every minute they are left in the middle they double in value to 2 dollars, 4 dollars, etc.” When the signal was given to start, all members immediately pounced on the pile of coins, greedily trying to get as many as possible before they were all snatched away. The outcome: all group members ending up with a scarcity. However, when Stossel divided the circle into even segments of individual “property” and placed an equal amount of coins in each segment, each member of the group waited patiently for their coins’ values to increase.
On a sports team, the term “A team is only as bad as its worst player” is, and should be, true. This, however, should not translate to an economy.