There is no reason to believe that privatizing the commons will save it from destruction; just the opposite, it is a good way to ensure that it will be destroyed.
The central message that the tragedy of the commons sends to many economists is that private ownership is better than public ownership. The argument is essentially a transposition of the old “what’s good for the master is good for the slave.” In any slave-owning society there is always plenty of justifications for slavery. Most of them boil down to slaves not being able to get along without a master. The tragedy of the commons is the same argument but with respect to non-human property such as a meadow: without a master who privately controls it and rents out access to it, the shepherds will ruin it.
[This week's guest post is by Eerik Wissenz of Solarfire. It is part one of a four-part series leading up to a wider exploration of Communities that Abide, based on the example of certain small nations which, much to the chagrin of neoliberal economists, have preserved a large and productive commons.]
In his 1968 essay “The tragedy of the commons,” Garrett Hardin argued that unrestricted access to resources held in common, and, likewise, unrestricted ability to dump waste, inexorably leads to the destruction of the commons. At the time, he may not have suspected that the term would become a formidable propaganda weapon in the hands of those who would do exactly what he was arguing against—used to sing the virtues of unrestrained self-interest while destroying the ecosystems on which we, along with all life, depend for our survival.
[A bit of sisterly advice by guest-poster Candace Makeda Moore, MD, along with a bitch-slap for those elite American women in positions of privilege and authority who drive women toward higher education and careers and, in so doing, are condemning most of them to a lifetime of debt servitude and childlessness.]
I have read many recent articles of supposedly sisterly advice for women from people in authority. The fact that this advice comes from people who are women themselves (e.g., Sheryl Sandberg et al.) makes it sound realistic. Much of this advice does make some sense—for wealthy, good-looking and otherwise privileged women. For the rest of us, I’m afraid we are being lied to.
|Lua de Proverbia|
Without exception, all communities that abide have a unique and specific ideology, or faith, or set of principles, which they accept unquestioningly, and which they attempt to practice to the greatest extent possible. I decided to use the term “ideology” because it is the most neutral term and gets us away from discussing the intricacies of religion versus other types of ideology. It may be argued that all ideologies possess an element of faith. Even faith in science is still just faith: the scientist believes that the truth is discoverable through experiment rather than, say, revelation, and, as is usually the case with ideology, it is pointless to argue either way. One either accepts it, and passes, or does not, and flunks out. If you join a community, you either accept its ideology, or you don’t join.
Dire predictions made by authoritative figures can provide the impetus to attempt great things: establish community gardens and farmer’s markets, lobby for improved public transportation, bike lanes and sidewalks, promote ride-sharing initiatives, weatherize existing homes and impose more stringent construction standards for new ones, construct of windmill farms and install solar panels on public buildings, promote the use of composting toilets and high-efficiency lighting and so on.
Last week’s post featured an extended excerpt from Peter Kropotkin, who counted off the main reasons of failure among communist groups: communal living, small size, and separatism from the wider world. Yes, an anarchist worker cooperative of a few dozen members that relocates into the American wilderness, shuns the world, and tries to make a go of it is likely to fail: the members will fall out with each other and live out Sartre’s dictum that “hell is other people”; they will lose their young people who will flee to seek new experiences elsewhere; they will either become enslaved by a “big brother” or become “utterly depersonalized.” Give up the thoughts of farming and of complete self-sufficiency and zero in on the concept of gardening in close proximity to a city that can offer a stimulating environment, a market for the produce and opportunities for the children as they grow up. Keep in mind, says Kropotkin, who you are: you are not “monks and hermits of old” but industrial labor that wants to get out from under the heel of the capitalists and the rentier class.