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PoliSci 2137 assignment 2.docx

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Political Science
Political Science 2137
Nancy Vamvakas

Yvonne Ho Political Science 2137Assignment #2 Explain why the tragedy of the commons can be interpreted either as an argument for private property or for government intervention. Tragedy of the commons, tragedy of the anticommons, capitalism, comedy of the commons… What do these terms have in common? These are four distinctive results of two vastly distinct methods of resource ownership—private vs. common-owned. Successful private ownership will bring us capitalism, while its failure will lead to “tragedy of the anticommons” where there are simply too many private owners in the same place, displaying symptoms of underuse and waste. On the other end of the spectrum, successful common ownership of resource will result in “comedy of the commons”, where increased usage of a resource increases its usefulness (Rose, 1986). Failure from common ownership leads to an unfortunate consequence called “tragedy of the commons”, which is the depletion of a shared resource due to overconsumption by individuals acting on self interest, ignoring the best interest of a larger group of users. This is a term coined by Garrett Hardin, anAmerican ecologist, in 1968.According to Hardin, free access will almost always lead to overexploitation. The rate of depletion depends on the number of users, the consumptiveness of use, and the robustness of the resource (Dietz et al, 2003). He proposed that there are only 2 ways to solve or prevent this crisis—private ownership of the resource, or having the government control it entirely. He stated that if we do not act in one of these 2 ways, we are bound to “acquiesce in the destruction of the commons” (Hardin, 1968). In order for us to begin searching for the best method of solution, there needs to be a line that is drawn to divide what is socially and legally acceptable in terms of consumption of the commons from what is not. In other words, coercion, or specifically mutual coercion, is needed to prevent a tragedy from forming. In nature, the fertility of prolific and irresponsible parents is controlled by letting their offspring die of neglect, disease, and starvation. However the way in which nature forces its life forms to live within its limits is futile if humans constantly use other means, such as technology, to break the restraint established by nature (Elliott, 1997).An effective way for humans to learn the need for societal constraint may be for others to do nothing but to stand aside and watch. Many nations may only realize the need to decrease their population and limit their resource use by allowing their people to endure living within their nation’s boundaries and carrying capacity. Hardin recommends using deliberate, societal coercion to preserve the commons, especially one that is mutually restraint, mutually enforced and mutually agreed upon. This leads up to his suggestion of eliminating all open access, common pool resource, and instead establishing property rights accordingly be it private or state- owned property. “It is the newly proposed infringements in our use of commons that we vigorously oppose; cries of “rights” and “freedom” fill the air. But what does freedom mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became freer, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruins, once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals. I believe it was Hegel who said, “Freedom is the recognition of necessity” (Hardin, 1968). In any proposals to resolve the tragedy, three important considerations include i) characteristics of the resource ii) variations in the incentive structures of users, and iii) realistic constraints of institutional arrangements (Godwin et al, 1979). It is only through setting down stringent ground rules that vary according to the resource at hand we can control the flow and harvest of the resource stock thus preventing a tragedy at large. One of the solutions put forward by Hardin is private ownership of the commons instead of open access to the public. Privatization of the commons is defined as a “decentralized approach that tries to create private, exclusive and transferable rights over the flow of common pool resources” (Grafton, 2000). Since decision-making is decentralized, private ownership allows individuals to optimize their use of input and outputs at the margin.According to Fergusion (1997), private property is something (a resource) over which an individual or a group of individuals have absolute right concerning access, use and compensation for damage. This is contrasted with common property in which individuals have unrestricted, uncontrolled access over a resource. Privatization of commons generally creates incentives for rational resource exploitation. If the owner has sole property rights, and the costs/ benefits accumulates to the owner and is reflected in the market price of the resource, the owner will have incentive to avoid destructive use of the resource (Feeny et al, 1990). This is the general presumed advantage of using private ownership as a means of governing to commons. “It is clear that the concept of
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