The Tragedy Of The Commons

The tragedy is individual interests destroying shared resources, but there’s a simple fix used by fishermen that Brits could use to repair their socialist eduction system.

We owe our prosperity to Adam Smith’s invisible hand:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

That works fine unless the baker, brewer etc use “free” resources owned by no man – then there’s no price mechanism to prevent over-exploitation.

Aristotle (as usual) first described the problem:

“That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it”.

This iron law explains why socialist enterprises never work, why a farmer lets his sheep overgraze common land, etc.

The answer is always ownership (my ellipsis):

Currently, regulators aim to avoid overfishing by limiting the length of the fishing season and requiring certain fishing techniques, figuring that each person who fishes will be able to catch a certain number of fish a day…

But most current regulations don’t limit the (total) number of fish that get to the dock. This encourages fishermen to rush out early in the season and get as much as they can, with no responsibility for limiting their catch.

This results in overfishing, lots of bycatch — the inadvertent taking of fish besides the target species — and degradation of the marine environment.

One way to reverse this trend is to institute a system known as catch shares, in which the total amount of fish allowed to be taken in a given fishery is capped and fishermen are given a share of the fishery’s quota, the study said…

Examining information on nearly 100 such fisheries and doing in-depth analysis on 10 in North America, the researchers found bycatch was reduced by nearly half, revenues per boat increased by 80 percent and safety improved dramatically in fisheries with catch share regimens.

Under the catch share system…”The job of regulators changes from trying to manage every aspect of fishermen’s behavior to keep them from catching too much fish to simply setting fishing targets … and catching cheaters.”

A similar ownership approach would fix the Brit (and US) education systems by giving people vouchers in return for their taxes and eliminating micromanagement.

Unfortunately, there’s a second order tragedy of the commons – millions of bureaucrats fighting to keep their micromanagement jobs.


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