Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Tragedy Of The Commons

I used to be in charge of a warehouse in Everman, TX.  Everything that happened in the place was my fault, for better or worse.  The warehouse usually looked good.  We had good controls on the inventory there. 

We eventually outgrew it and moved into a much bigger facility in north Fort Worth. 

In the meantime, we still had the lease for the Everman facility, and kept a few dead or slow-moving products there.  And so did everyone else at other shops in the company.  Instead of a facility devoted to shipping only, it has become a storage bin for a wood shop, a metal shop, a plastics shop, and a trade show group.    

It isn't my place any longer.  It belongs to everyone in the company who has more crap than space.  It looks like hammered shit.  I would post before and after pics if I was sure it wouldn't offend co-workers. 

Here's why the place is now a dump.  And incidentally, it's why Socialism usually doesn't work very well.  This is from the Library of Economics and Liberty, on a concept called "The Tragedy Of The Commons":

In 1974 the general public got a graphic illustration of the “tragedy of the commons” in satellite photos of the earth. Pictures of northern Africa showed an irregular dark patch 390 square miles in area. Ground-level investigation revealed a fenced area inside of which there was plenty of grass. Outside, the ground cover had been devastated.

The explanation was simple. The fenced area was private property, subdivided into five portions. Each year the owners moved their animals to a new section. Fallow periods of four years gave the pastures time to recover from the grazing. The owners did this because they had an incentive to take care of their land. But no one owned the land outside the ranch. It was open to nomads and their herds. Though knowing nothing of Karl Marx, the herdsmen followed his famous advice of 1875: “To each according to his needs.” Their needs were uncontrolled and grew with the increase in the number of animals. But supply was governed by nature and decreased drastically during the drought of the early 1970s. The herds exceeded the natural “carrying capacity” of their environment, soil was compacted and eroded, and “weedy” plants, unfit for cattle consumption, replaced good plants. Many cattle died, and so did humans.

The rational explanation for such ruin was given more than 170 years ago. In 1832 William Forster Lloyd, a political economist at Oxford University, looking at the recurring devastation of common (i.e., not privately owned) pastures in England, asked: “Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so bare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures?”

Lloyd’s answer assumed that each human exploiter of the common was guided by self-interest. At the point when the carrying capacity of the commons was fully reached, a herdsman might ask himself, “Should I add another animal to my herd?” Because the herdsman owned his animals, the gain of so doing would come solely to him. But the loss incurred by overloading the pasture would be “commonized” among all the herdsmen. Because the privatized gain would exceed his share of the commonized loss, a self-seeking herdsman would add another animal to his herd. And another. And reasoning in the same way, so would all the other herdsmen. Ultimately, the common property would be ruined.

Even when herdsmen understand the long-run consequences of their actions, they generally are powerless to prevent such damage without some coercive means of controlling the actions of each individual. Idealists may appeal to individuals caught in such a system, asking them to let the long-term effects govern their actions. But each individual must first survive in the short run. If all decision makers were unselfish and idealistic calculators, a distribution governed by the rule “to each according to his needs” might work. But such is not our world. As James Madison said in 1788, “If men were angels, no Government would be necessary” (Federalist, no. 51). That is, if all men were angels. But in a world in which all resources are limited, a single nonangel in the commons spoils the environment for all.

Hit this link to read the whole thing.  I'm working to try to appoint ONE random person to be in charge of the place.  That's really all it takes - ownership and authority. 

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