The Talking Cure for the Tragedy of the Commons

Bad things happen when governments keep people from cutting their own deals on resource management

In his famous 1968 article in the journal Science, Garrett Hardin illustrated his notion of the “tragedy of the commons” by suggesting, “Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. But of course, argues Hardin, all other herdsmen will have the same goal. The result is overgrazing which destroys the nurturing pasture and starves all the cows. “Therein is the tragedy,” asserts Hardin. “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” Only centuries of “tribal wars, poaching, and disease” kept the tragedy at bay. 

Hardin’s tragedy is based on the logic of ruin embodied in the game theory concept of a prisoner’s dilemma. In prisoner’s dilemma two prisoners are questioned separately and if neither confesses then both will go free. However, if one confesses, he will receive a lesser sentence than the other who remains silent. If both confess, then both are severely punished. The prisoners’ optimal strategy is to remain silent and both go free. However, not knowing what the other will do, the best individual strategy is to confess, which results in the worst outcome, punishment for both prisoners.

Hardin overlooked the fact that herdsmen are not like isolated prisoners; they can talk to each other. And as economics Nobelist Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues make clear in a recent Science article, “Lab Experiments for the Study of Social-Ecological Systems,” talking makes a big difference.

To highlight the crucial importance of communication in preventing the tragedy of the commons, Ostrom and her colleagues devised a series of laboratory games. In each game, five players seek to harvest resource tokens from a computer grid using their on-screen avatars in the course of six four-minute play sessions. The initial 210 resource tokens reproduce if left alone long enough, offering the patient players a possible optimal harvest of 665 tokens in each period.

The researchers divided the play periods into two sets of three sessions each. At the beginning of some four-minute session periods, players could not communicate with nor engage in costly punishment of other players. In that case, the researchers report that “the resource was consistently depleted within about 90 seconds, confirming that without communication or punishment, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ prediction of Hardin is supported.” The result was that players got to stare at an empty screen for two and half minutes. Even more dismaying, players learned that forbearance was a fool’s game, so resource depletion sped up in each subsequent session. The results, respectively, were that groups of players collected an average of 292 tokens, 265 tokens, and 274 tokens, far less than the 665 that would be optimally available in each session.

But what happened when players were allowed in the second set of three sessions to either communicate, punish, or both? For example, when communication and punishment was allowed in the last three sessions, the groups that averaged 292 tokens boosted their harvest to an average of 451 per session, for an overall average take of 743 tokens. Just as hoped, making and keeping credible threats prevents free-riding and increases cooperation. 

Lots of earlier research has found that allowing players to punish free riders can increase overall payoffs. However, Ostrom and her colleagues found that without communication, punishment alone can be counterproductive. For example, when the games began with punishment but no communication followed by three rounds of neither, the players harvested an average of 280 tokens in the punishment rounds, and 256 in the no communication or punishment rounds, for a pitiful overall average of 536 tokens. Even worse, a series of sessions that began with neither communication nor punishment followed just by punishment, resulted in harvesting an average of 265 in each of the first three sessions, falling to 247 per session in the punishment rounds, resulting in an average take of only 512 tokens. 

Punishment alone made things worse. Why? The researchers suggest that the problem is that “receiving a sanction does not carry a clear message.” Does the sanction relate to the amount, the speed, or the pattern of harvesting? “When communication is possible, punished participants correct their harvesting rate by slowing down,” note the researchers.

In fact, the researchers found that when first three sessions involved both communication and punishment followed by three sessions with neither, the average harvests were considerably higher than when neither communication nor punishment were permitted. In that case, harvests average 402 in the first three sessions and 331 in the following three sessions, resulting in an overall average of 733. This is slightly lower than the results when the first sessions do not permit communication or punishment were followed by sessions allowing both, 743 versus 733, respectively. In both cases, it is clear that communication improves overall harvests of a common resource when combined with punishment.

But an intriguing result of the research is that communication by itself boosts overall gains even more. When researchers allowed five sets of players to begin their first three sessions by communicating, the average harvest was 441 tokens, the highest average of any opening set of sessions. When the players were not allowed to communicate nor punish in the following three sessions, average harvests fell slightly to 415 tokens. The overall average harvest was 856 tokens, more than 100 tokens better than the next best result of 743 tokens.

Interestingly, the researchers did not run six full sessions that included just communication versus six full sessions combining communication with punishment. Assuming the average harvests remained the same for each treatment, communication plus punishment would edge out just communication by 902 tokens to 882 tokens. If the lowest result from games that forbade both communication and punishment were assumed for all six sessions, the average harvest would be just 530 tokens. In other words, communication alone boosts overall harvests by 66 percent.

The good news is that research shows that just talking can make Hardin’s logic of ruin anything but inevitable. In fact, historical research shows that Hardin’s overgrazed meadows are rare. For example, the tragedy of the commons didn’t occur in Medieval England because local herdsmen negotiated a set of rules (communication) and established enforcement mechanisms (punishment) to allocate access to scarce pasturage among themselves.

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues have repeatedly found the same thing in their field work. All over the world, local people talked among themselves and worked out serviceable rules for protecting and benefiting from common pool resources, like streams, forests, and fisheries. Take the famous case of the harbor gangs among lobster fishers in Maine. Although the state government says that anyone is legally permitted to catch lobsters commercially, the harbor gangs restrict access by outsiders by cutting the buoy lines to the traps set by interlopers. This informal management results in a more sustainable fishery and boosts the incomes of the local fishers. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last fall found that local communities are much better at managing forest commons than are governments. In contrast to government management, local communal ownership boosted incomes and forest sustainability.

Ostrom previously noted that large studies from “around the world challenge the presumption that governments always do a better job than users in organizing and protecting important resources.” In fact, a 2002 study correctly noted, “The overall state of the world’s fisheries is much worse today than 45 years ago, even though most fisheries have come under government regulation in this period.” By preventing local people from talking among themselves, it is often the case that governments actually create prisoner’s dilemmas over resources that result in the tragedy of the commons.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books.

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  • Suki||

    A teachable moment!

  • Tim||

    It's all just a big game to you, isn't it?

  • Life||

    Yes

  • obv||

    Smtg pretty important missing.... how about the harvest for the simulation where PROPERTY RIGHTS were assigned?

  • Tragedy of the bunnies||

    bunnies in the commons

  • jadoo seo||

    true, this is a very teachable moment!

  • Steve Nash Equilibrium||

    Economist creates mathematical model, doesn't bother to check if his results make sense in the real world. Ric Romero has the report at 11.

  • hmm||

    Ostrom's work put a pretty good dent in the commons argument. Oddly that dent hasn't been discussed in the mainstream media or public forum much. I remember her getting the prize arousing a few articles here and on Mises (of course), but over all it's been pretty silent.

  • Jason||

    Her work supports the idea of states' rights (or, more generally, subsidiarity), so of course it's not going to get play with the fans of top down centralized solutions.

  • ||

    History is replete with self regulated markets and resource areas. That is an obvious historical fact. The Common Law arose from such arrangements. Some anarchists and libertarians maintain that such organizational behavior predates the modern state and is superior to the regulation imposed by the state.

    What is interesting, to me at least, who decides who is allowed to use violence to enforce the rules. In modern times the state has a monopoly on violence and enforcement but sometimes it does not. The Harbor Gangs are more relevant example of non-state actors enforcing regulations with coercion and violence. Street gangs and organized crime syndicates are other examples of non-state actors regulating markets which the state futilely attempts to eliminate in lieu of sanction or regulation.

  • Chad||

    You make a good point: enforcement is critical. Depending on the situation, it can be violence, or simply social pressure.

    In the case of these games, the answer is obviously the latter. Since the students were probably paid pretty small sums for playing this game, the chance to make a few extra dollars by looking like a jackass in front of a few fellow students and the researchers was probably not worth it to most people. However, even with near optimal communication and solid monitoring and enforcement, the students were still performing in a far from optimal manner. That's really telling.

  • Geotpf||

    Enforcement, typically, requires a governmental entity or similar to issue the punishment. There are parts of the world where criminal gangs or terrorist groups function as the defacto government in enforcing punishment.

  • Chad||

    Not really. On very small scales (such as between friends, lovers, family members, etc), social pressure alone is enough to prevent defections. This gets much harder as the groups get bigger and the social ties get weaker. The ties were probably strong enough in most cases even in tribal societies, but they are not strong enough in modern society, with its loose and temporary connections.

  • ||

    Hey, that made sense! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE REAL CHAD?!??

  • ||

    Was thinking the same thing.

  • Charles Johnson banned me||

    Things fall apart: it's what they do.

  • ||

    I think the new study validates the tragedy of the commons. It says what we already know,

    that in the absence of some type of agreement to manage the commons, overuse results.

    This agreement can come about in different ways, if it's a local problem, the users can often handle it. For larger areas, "some times" regulation is the way to go.

    Also since when did government prevent local people from talking amongst themselves in regards to commons managment? There are always NUMEROUS meetings for any new regulation. Finally, population growth, and better fishing technology are the principles reasons the fisheries have come under increasing strain.

    Commons managment isn't much of an issue if the resource use is well within the sustainable limits.

  • Charles Johnson Banned Me||

    Gloucester Massachusetts has been a successful fishing port for hundreds of years. Then in the 1980's the Feds step in with regulation and presto! No more fish! It only took about ten years.

  • ||

    correlation does not equal causation.

  • Charles Johnson Banned Me||

    No, probably just an unhappy coincidence.

  • Coeus||

    No, but if true, it does mean that the regulation failed in its intended goal. Just another datum in the continuing saga of ineptitude that is federal regulation.

  • Geotpf||

    [citation needed]

  • ||

    I knew Garrett Hardin well at UCSB in the Sixties, drank beer with him, and I think he would make quick work of this argument. Probably say that major corporations competing for resources don't communicate or share proprietary information. See Chevron and BP.

    D'Green

  • T||

    So, some guy you used to know would make a counter argument based on hot air? Thanks, that was informative.

  • ||

    I know of some cases where the corporations actually wanted regulation, because then they could make sure other people woudn't cheat (or would be much less likely too). Also, that makes the rules offical, and not monopolistic behavior.

    Also, it should be pointed out that it's not just corporations that are the problem, but often individuals.

    For example, with fishing, most people think that it's only the commerical fishers that are the problem. But sport fishing can also be a problem. Sport fishers might be less efficient, but there is often more of them.

  • ChrisO||

    It's just as likely that larger corporations want regulations in a commons situation because they have the influence to get a larger, fixed share of [whatever] than their smaller, less-connected competitors.

    The notion of a disinterested regulator is specious.

  • ||

    "The notion of a disinterested regulator is specious."

    Oh, I'm certainly not arguing that regulators are all knowing/good etc.

    But I would argue that in certain situations, regulation is needed/necessary.

    Let's take fishing for example. If one is just concerned with fishing in a small bay, and there is only a limited number of fishers, then quite possibly all the fishers could get together and set limits. But what about international waters? Will the fishers in CA, tell the fishers from China not to fish?

    In situations like that, an interatnional agreement "could" be necessary. By one estimate, I've heard there are about 3 times as many boats as necessary to fish at a sustainable level for the world's fisheries. The problems from that (which have been made worse by government subsidies) are self evident.

  • ChrisO||

    I'm not arguing that regulations are never necessary. However, it's important to understand that "regulation" is frequently nothing more than a means for a few players to win at the expense of others--which probably has a lot to do with why regulation often seems to result in the destruction of common resources.

  • Tony||

    You've not demonstrated that regulation is a catalyst for destruction. Everything is always too regulated to you guys, so there will always be a regulation to blame. It's neither clear that most regulations are corrupt nor obvious that even this means they are therefore pointless. What if we tried electing people who actually believed in well-administered regulation?

  • Coeus||

    We did. How's that working out for ya?

  • Tony||

    Not enough, and anyway the senate is minority rule at the moment.

  • Coeus||

    Not enough? You're one of those "China for a year" people aren't you? And that "minority rule" shit is priceless. If someone doesn't do exactly what you want, they control you? I am in constant awe at the level of cognitive dissonance you maintain.

  • Tony||

    Minority rule meaning a minority (the minority party) can dictate the legislative agenda, provided their agenda consists of blocking everything.

    We don't need to be China, but we do need to reform government so that it is functional.

  • Chad||

    Too bad you can't turn the Titanic in a minute. It would take 20 years of complete Democratic rule (and not rule by Lincoln, Nelson, and Lieberman) to fix the messes the right has made. What do you expect, when one of the two major party's ideology is to destroy government rather than make it work well?

  • ||

    Ahaha! Yes, the federal government has grown so tiny and poor and weak over recent decades.... OK, the standard clueless Chad is back. I needn't have worried.

  • Chad||

    These guys will never admit regulation works, even when it obviously does. Let's take a trivial one: typical building codes that, for example, demand certain electrical wire diameters in new construction or remodels.

    First, why do it in the first place? If you didn't know, thicker wires are less resistant, and therefore more efficient. Depending on the cost of wire, one's discount rate of cash flows, and one's assumptions about future electricity costs, there is an optimal wire diameter.

    Now, in a perfect market populated by Homo Economicus and flooded with full information, the government wouldn't need to involve itself in this matter at all. But here in reality (yes, this foul place), there are at least three major flaws involving this choice that will all cause people to choose wires that are too thin.

    1: People are just downright stupid, and often over discount the future in situations like this, as confirmed by study after study.

    2: Since electricity use is subsidized several ways, the government has a vested interest in reducing these subsidies by reducing wasted electricity.

    3: Most people are not informed about this issue, and contracters have every incentive to use their asymmetric information advantage to take advantage of their customers. That bid might look $50 cheaper, but how will you ever know that it is going to cost you $1.50+/month for the next 30 years?

    This simple regulation offsets these three problems, with almost no downside I can think of. Hypothetically, there may exist a few people with really high discount rates who are actually harmed by the regulation, but they will be few and not lose very much.

  • ||

    1. As you said, "people are just downright stupid." And the government is just as guilty, if not more-so, of discounting/underestimating future costs. To use another example, look at public works projects.

    2. Why do use this argument on a libertarian website where the readers have just as much disdain for government subsidies (be they electric companies, cable companies, farmers, or defense contractors) as they do for government regulation?

    3. If government stayed out of the regulating building codes, then it frees up the choices for inhabitants to live/work in a building that still built up to the best standards and those that are lower than the projects. As it is now, with government regulation, people will probably assume that every building is roughly the same because of the government regulations, and so they don't actually take the time to research the building's wiring, structuring, etc.

  • Chad||

    2. Why do use this argument on a libertarian website where the readers have just as much disdain for government subsidies (be they electric companies, cable companies, farmers, or defense contractors) as they do for government regulation?

    Wrong. Unfortunately, your disdain of subsidies only extends to subsidies that result from government action, rather than inaction. You refuse to admit the latter exist, because it causes too much cognitive dissonance for your pretty little minds.

    3. If government stayed out of the regulating building codes, then it frees up the choices for inhabitants to live/work in a building that still built up to the best standards and those that are lower than the projects. As it is now, with government regulation, people will probably assume that every building is roughly the same because of the government regulations, and so they don't actually take the time to research the building's wiring, structuring, etc.

    So you actually want people to live in homes that will fall on their head during an earthquake and cost them far more in heat and electricity costs in the long run than they save in the short run? And just imagine all the money we will have to spend on inspections under your plan! Boy, that would sure be a model of efficiency.

  • ||

    "subsidization by inaction"? wow - you mean if the government decides to leave me alone it is actually SUBSIDIZING me? I don't know if that's an evil concept or just stupid.

    Good builders already form industry associations, many of which have a hand in writing the existing regulations, and in a free market would determine the standards. It would be a marketing advantage to advertise adherence to these codes, in other words it would appeal to the GREED of the builder to help him sell more houses. And if he advertised them as such, and didn't adhere to the codes, that's called FRAUD, even in a free market.

    And as far as wanting people to live in a home that will fall down on their heads, I certainly would want everyone to have a safe, comfortable home, but if someone chooses to ignore the workmanship of their homebuilder, then I do believe in PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. If you don't. I must ask - where is your compassion?

  • Chad||

    Mokie|6.9.10 @ 11:22AM|#
    "subsidization by inaction"? wow - you mean if the government decides to leave me alone it is actually SUBSIDIZING me? I don't know if that's an evil concept or just stupid

    If the government leaves you "alone" to such an extent that it allows you to dump your costs onto third parties, and provides no viable way for them to recover those damages, then you are just as subsidized as if they handed you cash.

    Why can't you morons grasp this concept. It is really really really simple.

  • ||

    That is not an example of a government subsidy, shitstain. That's an example of theft, combined with government incompetence.

    Otherwise, we might as well say that the national population of purse snatchers -- government leaves them alone to the extent that they're able to misappropriate others' property with relative impunity, and seldom provides any meaningful remedy for the victims -- are receiving a government subsidy.

  • Chad||

    I thought taxation WAS theft, right?

    There is no practical difference between the two situation of the government robbing Peter to pay Paul, and the government turning a blind eye to Paul robbing Peter. But you seem to be perfectly happy with the latter, because it somehow fits within your misguided "gub'ment = bad" meme.

  • ||

    The only "cost" I should have to pay to government is my share of what it takes to secure my property rights. I am glad to pay this amount.

  • Me Libertarian||

    Me like Haiti building codes.

  • ||

    You refuse to admit the latter exist, because it causes too much cognitive dissonance for your pretty little minds.

    No. I refuse to admit the latter exists because I'm not enough of a gibbering totalitarian asswipe to believe that all human freedom is merely the product of governmental munificence, such that not regulating human behavior amounts to some kind of handout.

  • ||

    The real Chad writes: "This simple regulation offsets these three problems, with almost no downside I can think of."

    "Simple regulation." "No downside" that you can "think" of.

    Give a man enough rope....

  • Bryan||

    Its odd that the "tragedy of the commons" argument that is raised constantly by liberals re: land and nature, is never in their minds when they want to make pensions, social security, medical care, et al. essentially a "common" by making it universal.

  • ||

    Excellent point.

  • MJL||

    I think government itself is a "commons". Unlike lobster fishermen, though, special interest groups don't have to worry about getting their buoy lines cut, or other types of direct pressure from their competitors. All they have to worry about is getting as much as they can from the "pasture". Overgrazing? You betcha!

  • MJL||

    that was meant to say, I agree with you Bryan...

  • ||

    Exactly. They're all soooo knowledgeable about the ways an environment can be harmed, but don't think the rich or taxpayers in general can ever be overfished.

  • Almanian||

    it is often the case that governments actually create prisoner’s dilemmas over resources that result in the tragedy of the commons

    And, what Bryan said.

  • Chad||

    Ron, I think you are missing the point. I don't think anyone doubts that communication helps. However, both this study AND the examples you cite are all small-scale. Yes, five people playing a game can effectively communicate and monitor each other. That very well might translate to a few people living around a shared grazing field. However, it bears little relation at all to many real-world examples, where the people involved number in the millions or billions and do not know each other, and the effects of each persons' individual actions diffuse and likely immeasurable.

    A study demonstrating that prisoners' dilemmas can be beaten in small-scale settings where good communication and monitoring are available is not particularly enlightening.

  • ||

    Isn't that why people get together though to require regulations?

    A town decides that people dumping in a lake is a problem. The towns people get together and pass a law against dumping in the lake. They then authorize the local sherrif to keep an eye on it.

    IMO, this is just as valid, as a case where there is only a small number of people, and they all just agree not to dump.

    Different situations can call for different solutions.

  • Chad||

    I agree that the most likely form that even most local situations will take are ordinances. It really is hard to have sufficient monitoring and enforcement without the legal stick hanging over peoples' heads.

    It really isn't obvious how this particular study translates into real world problems, which almost always involve larger numbers of people, many of whom have no contact with each other, and much lower abilities to monitor and enforce.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Chad,
    Matt Ridley wrote a good book on this called The Origins of Virtue.

  • Tony||

    Yeah and isn't that the point of government? To be the means of communication and arbitration among citizens. A group of five people has a very small government (but a form of one nonetheless), a group of a few hundred million an appropriately bigger one.

  • Chad||

    I agree, Tony. Government is an organized form of communication, one that is designed to handle communication among more people than could possibly communicate directly, and to have a formal way of making a choice after everyone has expressed their opinions. It may not be perfect, but it is the best form of communication we have in these circumstances.

  • Me Libertarian||

    But me no want communicate.

    Is word like communism.

    Me like freedom!

  • MJL||

    Yes, a choice made for everybody. Often the choice is a poor one, made not for our benefit but for that of special interests. One small example and my pet peeve: Have you used one of those federally-mandated "spillproof" portable gasoline containers? I've never spilled more gasoline! It's a joke! During the winter in my unheated garage the air-tight seal causes them to crumple like the potato chip can in those high school experiments. In the summer they balloon out from internal pressure. Who communicated here? The container manufacturers? The union who makes them? Were those interest groups concerned with the environment or were they concerned with getting more "cows" in the government "pasture"?

  • ||

    Yah, Ron, don't be dumping on empirical study when "feelings" are available.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Although the state government says that anyone is legally permitted to catch lobsters commercially, the harbor gangs restrict access by outsiders by cutting the buoy lines to the traps set by interlopers. This informal management results in a more sustainable fishery and boosts the incomes of the local fishers."

    Isn't this simple restraint of trade, boosting prices by restricting supply? And aren't "interlopers" simply non-gang members? It's hard for me to imagine that "gangs" could operate effectively in international waters. It's hard to talk to each other when you don't speak the same language. I doubt if Russian and American fishermen could form an effective gang in the Bering strait. And if they did, they might start shooting the Japanese.

  • ||

    Jesus Christ! Why does reason keep torturing me with these ads featuring these insanely hot t-shirt girls? I clicked on one of them once in hopes of nudie pics, but to no avail. Looks like it's time to suffer in silence again.

  • ||

    Jesus Christ! Why does reason keep torturing me with these ads featuring these insanely hot t-shirt girls? I clicked on one of them once in hopes of nudie pics, but to no avail. Looks like it's time to suffer in silence again.

  • ||

    This article needed more Lobster Girl.

  • obv||

    yes please!

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "Although the state government says that anyone is legally permitted to catch lobsters commercially, the harbor gangs restrict access by outsiders by cutting the buoy lines to the traps set by interlopers."

    Such a property respecting, non-coercive solution.

  • ||

    A tiny fraction of resources in the U.S. are controlled by individual private decision-makers.
    Run this study with corporations that have to keep up with quarterly estimates, earnings, and dividends, then get back to me.

  • ||

    I'm not saying corporations are unnatural (for once) I'm just saying this study isn't correlative to the real world. I couldn't read the full study without a subscription, so I have no idea how many participants there were or about the demographics (were they all college students?) but I'm pretty sure that each participant had only one brain making the decision, and thousands of investors weren't depending on them to meet quarterly [i.e. short-term] goals.

  • abercrombie and fitch uk||

    Hardin’s tragedy is based on the logic of ruin embodied in the game theory concept of a prisoner’s dilemma. In prisoner’s dilemma two prisoners are questioned separately and if neither confesses then both will go free. However, if one confesses, he will receive a lesser sentence than the other who remains silent. If both confess, then both are severely punished. The prisoners’ optimal strategy is to remain silent and both go free. However, not knowing what the other will do, the best individual strategy is to confess, which results in the worst outcome, punishment for both prisoners.

    Hardin overlooked the fact that herdsmen are not like isolated prisoners; they can talk to each other. And as economics Nobelist Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues make clear in a recent Science article, “Lab Experiments for the Study of Social-Ecological Systems,” talking makes a big difference.

  • abercrombie fitch uk||

    Hardin’s tragedy is based on the logic of ruin embodied in the game theory concept of a prisoner’s dilemma. In prisoner’s dilemma two prisoners are questioned separately and if neither confesses then both will go free. However, if one confesses, he will receive a lesser sentence than the other who remains silent. If both confess, then both are severely punished. The prisoners’ optimal strategy is to remain silent and both go free. However, not knowing what the other will do, the best individual strategy is to confess, which results in the worst outcome, punishment for both prisoners.

    Hardin overlooked the fact that herdsmen are not like isolated prisoners; they can talk to each other.

  • ||

    This article is a better illustration of why subsidizing professors to run silly modeling experiments in a lab is a waste of time than it is a clear cut example of the issues with regulation and the challenge of the Commons.

  • Jen||

    Ron, you mangled the Prisoner's dilemma. The prisoners don't go free if they don't talk; they get a sentence that's less than what they would get if both confessed. If one confesses and the other doesn't, the betrayer either goes free or gets a sentence that's even less than if neither talked.

  • echton||

    Wrong. Ab. Fitch UK has it right.

  • Jen||

    echton, virtually every textbook on game theory confirms what I just said. Sorry.

  • ||

    I was thinking oligarchy then read about lobster fisherman bullying outsiders from joining in on the catch. A private cartel for lobsters would solve the overfishing problem but it would also destroy a lot of personal liberty in the process.

  • ||

    The lobster gang is pretty much any organized cartel that prevents innovation, keeps prices high and harms consumers, no?
    What if one of the "interlopers" has superior technology and a lower cost structure?
    I'm not arguing for government intervention.
    I'm just saying that self-regulatory power is often just a smokescreen that gives government plausible deniability for giving consumers the cramdown while taking donations from organized business. And gives that same cartel a regulatory smokescreen that they can trot out whenever consumers complain about lack of choice, low quality and high prices.

  • ||

    I can't believe I read all these comments on Reason and no one mentioned the obvious: to eliminate the Tradegy of the Commons, just prevent "Commons" in the first place. Ownership/property rights are the way to prevent the problem from ever forming. I agree that the reference to lobster men forming gangs to initiate force against other lobstermen to get their "share" of the commons is a bizarre thing to advocate on a libertarian site, but if that "gang" actually *owned* the "commons" in question, then it's no longer an initiation of force, it's a protection of their property rights. If a town wants to have good stewardship of their pond, say, then they should sell the f*cking thing. The owner becomes the "regulator", but in contrast to government regulators, the owner has an intimate personal stake in the effectiveness of their regulation. There is almost no incentive for a government regulator to do a good job: they are not held liable in any way for damages their mismanagement creates, they generally move jobs long before the effects of their mismanagement have really manifested, and generally their strongest incentive is to avoid scandal and stay out of the papers, which at best is very lightly correlated with "good management".

    Short version: sure, "regulation" is good, and the free market provides a wonderful form: ownership.

  • ||

    Sorry buddy, but privatization and property rights has been tried for the commons, and as detailed in Ostrom's work, is as much a failure as a top-down, government approach. I wish Mr. Bailey had mentioned that aspect of Mrs. Ostrom's work, it might have saved some commenters some time.

  • ขายคอนโด||

    The Harbor Gangs are more relevant example of non-state actors enforcing regulations with coercion and violence.

  • ปลวก||

    A private cartel for lobsters would solve the overfishing problem but it would also destroy a lot of personal liberty in the process.

  • ran||

    Better fishing technology are the principles reasons the fisheries have come under increasing strain.

  • กำจัดปลวก||

    Even with near optimal communication and solid monitoring and enforcement, the students were still performing in a far from optimal manner. That's really telling.

  • Thomas||

    Again game theory comes to our rescue. Long live John Nash!

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  • elektromotoren||

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    I need some time to think about this!

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    Gotta love engineers ;-)

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    The faculty of reason, rationality, or the faculty of discursive reason

  • b-ook.info||

    The reasoning for the black box is to document what exactly happens in a crash.

  • b-uy.info||

    I agree with most of what you wrote down below

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    ast update?

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    do you wanna be my leader ?

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    si on ne mélange pas les torchons et les serviettes

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    Once registered and logged in, you will be able to create topics

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    You don’t need to add your email if you are already subscribed by email to Reason

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    we try and we hope.

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  • ผลบอล||

    I agree that the reference to lobster men forming gangs to initiate force against other lobstermen to get their "share" of the commons is a bizarre thing to advocate on a libertarian site.

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    Generally all of their strongest incentive is to avoid scandal and stay out of the papers, which at best is very lightly correlated with good management. http://sbobet.sbo-win.com

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  • andsonjhon||

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