If you are not already familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, you should read up on it. Here I will add just a few more details to the scene.
Now, the congestion in the Commons is going to be a significant issue, one which is going to come up from time to time. It will even play into the results of elections for village elder. And democracy is a wonderful thing, because it will eventually elect leaders who do what the voters want—extend the Commons, that is.
Remember, the villagers don't know what the problem with the Commons is. They see that it's overcrowded, and want to solve that. But due to their ignorance, they assume that extending the Commons is going to reduce the crowding. And if it did, that would increase the yield of the entire Commons.
Thus, in the villagers' mind, sacrificing some of their gardens to extend the Commons is a good deal. They are in a well-functioning democracy, and thus they can keep changing leaders until one does extend the Commons. It doesn't matter whether that leader is just as ignorant of the problem as the villagers, and thus honestly thinks it's a good idea; or if he knows it's stupid, but goes along with it anyway, because he can get elected get that way. The point is, leaders who both understand the problem and are conscientious about it, get deposed.
So, the Commons is extended. There's a big celebration, speeches, the works. And the standard version of the Tragedy plays itself out, as usual. Now the Commons is congested again—what are the villagers are going to do about it? Why, keep extending it, obviously! They aren't scientists, to discard an idea when the world proves it wrong. They think they already know the solution to the problem, after all.
So, bit by bit, the villagers convert their gardens (maybe each others' gardens) into more Commons. A higher-value use of the land is eaten up by the lower value use that is the still-unregulated Commons.
I want to make two points with this. One is to call attention to a specific example of the above in real life. Traffic congestion in cities is a constant issue, and there have been multiple proposals for solving it. The obvious way is to widen roads, create more parking spaces; generally speaking, to give as much public space to the automobile as possible. And the villagers cheered, but somehow congestion didn't go away.
Nowadays, a new crop of leaders realised what the situation is. And they tried to use the proper tools on the problem: regulation, access fees, and so on. Congestion charging, in other words. And the villagers were outraged. After all, they could no longer make a personally beneficial decision of adding yet another cow, at the cost of everyone else getting more congestion.Back to the top