Another nail in the coffin for the "tragedy of the commons"
Local communities manage forests better than governments, reports New Scientist
Few ideas have been so thoroughly misused as Garrett Hardin's notion of the tragedy of the commons. Hardin's idea was that "multiple individuals acting independently and solely and rationally consulting their own self-interest will ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest for this to happen" (to quote Wikipedia). There are some historical cases of this happening (i.e. the Boston commons). There are, however, many more cases where it did not; and the idea is often used to try to justify the privatization of public goods.
I've found when I travel to the United States that the tragedy of the commons is a popular idea there, despite the fact that the historical evidence for it is equivocal, at best. Commons were a widespread feature of European life for centuries, and mismanagement of them was extremely rare. Now, New Scientist reports on a new study that shows that forests that are managed locally (i.e. as a commons) sequester more carbon than institutionally, governmentally or privately managed forests.
One significant comment in the article was the following:
They argue that their findings contradict a long-standing environmental idea, called the "tragedy of the commons", which says that natural resources left to communal control get trashed. In fact, says Agrawal, "communities are perfectly capable of managing their resources sustainably".
This really comes as no surprise. But it needs to be reinforced, particularly for people who've drunk the koolaid of the notion that public goods either can't exist or can't be managed efficiently.