By Tibor Machan: Freedom New Mexico columnist
Is this stuff with Greece and, soon, with Portugal, Spain and Italy, and the rest of us all that surprising?
Has it not been clear for ages that when people draw their support from a common pool, the resources will soon vanish?
Aristotle already noted this phenomenon when he said, “For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few.”
Biologist Garrett Hardin reaffirmed the point in an influential essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” for the magazine Science, on Dec. 13, 1968.
The gist of the tragedy is that commonly held (important) resources will be depleted and will not be replenished. And this doesn’t apply only to how the wilds are being ruined by being held in common but also to national treasuries, which everyone in a country believes is there for him or her to dip into indiscriminately. And then, with international communities, the tragedy isn’t contained by national borders.
One of the largest commons these days is the European Union. Everyone in Europe is fighting to take from its common pool of stuff — mostly funds through such outfits as the IMF, the World Bank, etc. — but few are eager to replace what they have taken. And this applies to the citizenry, clearly, not only the politicians who want to please them.
And the same is happening in the USA, of course, what with common pools such as the so called Social Security fund slowly being drained.
What are all those lobbyists doing in Washington? Looking to dip into the common treasury as deeply as they can. Getting stuff from the government is always enthusiastically pursued while refilling its coffers is not — who really volunteers to pay taxes, let alone more than one must fork over? That is just what the tragedy of the commons amounts to, get as much out as you can, and put as little back as possible.
The best way to deal with the tragedy of the commons is privatization. But of course that would help put an end to this constant promise of a free ride. Moreover, once people get used to getting a free ride, at least for a while, they regard it as a God given right for them to continue. And there you have Greece today and the rest of the welfare states of the globe tomorrow.