Uncommonly Bad Treatment of the “Commons” Concept

by on March 5, 2009 · 15 comments

Many of the folks here on TLF believe that commons treatement of some resources is the best way for society to make the most efficient use them (though I hasten to add that not all agree, or we differ in various nuances). Commons treatment of spectrum is why we have WiFi, for example. Ideas and expressions that are out of patent or copyright are the commons from which new ideas and creative works spring.

Commons treatment is appropriate when a resource is exceedingly plentiful, or when the costs of ownership and trading are too high for markets to apportion it. But some people want commons treatment of lots of other stuff.

The folks that are skeptical of commonses (and of advocates for commonses) are certainly given a lot to work with by awful videos like the one below. Believe it or not, this video advocates for commons treatment of water by pointing out how much water scarcity there is in the world.

Well, gang, there’s so much water scarcity precisely because water suffers from the tragedy of the commons. There aren’t property rights to give it tradable value and encourage conservation, so not enough of it is collected and delivered and it’s overused and spoiled by the first to get their hands on it.

Commons treatement is a legitimate and wise use of some resources, but advocates for commonses make it look stupid, fanciful, and unwise with junk like this. Ugh. Gawdawful. (Oh – but the production values are good!)

  • Jardinero1

    My own take is that it is merely a semantic change. My dad used to call himself a socialist, back, when I was a boy, in the sixties. Today, as an old man, his views have not changed, but he claims he is no longer a socialist but, instead, an advocate for the commons. My older brother stopped being a liberal back in the nineties and started calling himself a progressive instead.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Excellent post and video. I a firmly believe that many resources, such as water, fish, minerals, and the radio spectrum are best managed under the concept of the commons. Implicit in this is the commons concept is that the public lands (spectrum too) are really another form of private ownership. When one owns stock in a corporation the stockholders are partial owners of whatever the corporation owns. Similarly, citizens are stockholders in our country and the government manages the public lands, in trust, for the benefit of the American people. Furthermore, the government should manage these resources just as any business would, in the case of government – to provide revenue for the operation of this country. If we didn't have profligate spending, we might even have a budget surplus. Well, I guess that's enough heresy today for the TLF!!!!

  • http://orcmid.com/blog orcmid

    I like this view. There is the interesting problem of how we are trust asymmetrically. For example, our notions of which social mechanisms are efficient or inefficient come into this, as well as our notions of how the particular system is gamed (or the game is stacked), and in whose favor.

    Management of a commons (e.g., a trade system or economy or common/public lands and resources) is a great example of how our stories collide.

    Although there are similar, though maybe more subliminal, differences around ideas of property and ownership, I think the idea of a public trust and accountability that can actually function (that is, has efficiency) could serve both models of ownership.

    The prospect of generating income (that is, imposing a tax) is a problem, and I notice the distortion here in Seattle between what I pay for public utilities and what I paid in a suburb where the services were from private companies and much less expensive. There are not markets within the service areas, of course, and I have to choose where I live in order to make substitutions. An interesting case of economic inefficiency versus social planning (e.g., urbanization as a presumed efficiency).

  • http://orcmid.com/blog orcmid

    I like this view. There is the interesting problem of how we are trust asymmetrically. For example, our notions of which social mechanisms are efficient or inefficient come into this, as well as our notions of how the particular system is gamed (or the game is stacked), and in whose favor.

    Management of a commons (e.g., a trade system or economy or common/public lands and resources) is a great example of how our stories collide.

    Although there are similar, though maybe more subliminal, differences around ideas of property and ownership, I think the idea of a public trust and accountability that can actually function (that is, has efficiency) could serve both models of ownership.

    The prospect of generating income (that is, imposing a tax) is a problem, and I notice the distortion here in Seattle between what I pay for public utilities and what I paid in a suburb where the services were from private companies and much less expensive. There are not markets within the service areas, of course, and I have to choose where I live in order to make substitutions. An interesting case of economic inefficiency versus social planning (e.g., urbanization as a presumed efficiency).

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