Kenneth Boulding

Kenneth Boulding, "Commons and Community: The Idea of a Public", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

There are some very fundamental differences, however, between social and biological evolution. One is that biological individuals are biparental at most, whereas social artifacts are multiparental; hence the birth of social artifacts is directly involved with large numbers of other species. A horse can be produced by another horse and a mare; an automobile is produced by the interaction of designers, architects, engineers, corporations, trade unions, mines, ore ships, assembly line workers, salesmen, lawyers, politicians, and so on, and so on. [282]

Another very profound difference between biological and social systems is that in social systems human artifacts are made as a result of human decisions, which are very closely interrelated in human communities. Biologists call an ecosystem in a particular habitat a 'community', but the word is a metaphor and a very misleading one. The populations of a biological ecosystem are related by such things as predation, utilization of common food supplies, and physical niches. One species may help create a niche for another, but they are not in any strict sense a community. They have no government, and no individual member of the system has an image of the total system, only a very small fraction of it. Communities of human beings, because of their capacity for communication and shared images, have potentialities for conscious control which is not possessed by biological prehuman ecosystems [282]
[The kind of misconceptions of social evolution which must be addressed: purposefulness, conscious control, superior awareness & humans as the agents/replicators]

And ecological equilibrium, even when mathematically stable, is precarious and insecure, for there is always irresistible and irreversible change in the parameters of the system. For instance, we know very little about the sources of extinction. There are far more extinct species than extant ones. Species, like individuals, seem to have something like a life span, at the end of which their evolutionary potential is exhausted and they are displaced by species whose evolutionary potential is not yet exhausted. [283]

Malthus not only saw the great 'miserific vision' of the tragedy of the 'dismal theorem', as I have called it, but also had a very real answer to it, the trouble being that the answer is unacceptable. The answer is the segregation of misery through a class structure. This has been a very common answer in the history of the human race. If we privatize the commons, we will create an upper class who owns and administers it. It will be administered well. There will be no overgrazing. The boundary between the well-managed private property and the ill-managed public estate will stand out sharply as the famous irregular pentagon in the Sahel. Order and dignity will thrive in beautiful country houses, elegant gardens, productive farms within the boundary of class. Outside of this, the lower classes will breed themselves to egalitarian misery. If the upper class breeds too much it will chase out its youngest songs and unmarriageable daughters and will keep its population at the level at which it can enjoy per capita plenty. But outside the fence the lower class goes down to Hogarthian vice and misery. The pious and puritan middle class and upper working class may be admitted inside the territoriality fence and raise themselves above misery, restricting births, expelling the surplus, and catering to the rich, but there will always be the human cesspool of the poor, whose population is checked only by misery or vice. If the class structure can be preserved, if the fences hold through a combination of the threat system, the police and the military, and the opiates of religion, nationalism, and ideology, the system is pretty stable. [286]

We learn community as we learn everything else. It is a long and painful learning process. It begins in the hunting-gathering band. Everybody knows everybody and there is very general awareness of the nature and the resources of the community itself. Consequently, in spite of the fact that it operates usually in some sort of a commons, there is control of population, usually by infanticide, for everybody knows what the territory can support. The role of sacredness in the formation of communities, especially those of larger size, is an interesting and difficult question. Religion in some form seems to be universal in human culture, which makes one suspect that it is of great importance in the development of viable communities. Sacred sanctions that overcome the more self-centered images of individual interest might prevent the tragedy of the commons because of the community identity which the perception of sacredness creates in the individual. [287]

A very important dynamic in the building up of community is what I have called the 'sacrifice trap'. Once people are coerced, or even better, persuaded, into making sacrifices, their identity becomes bound up with the community organization for which the sacrifices were made. Admitting to one's self that one's sacrifices were in vain is a deep threat to the identity and is always sharply resisted. Martyrs create the legitimacy, identity, and community of the church; dead soldiers on the battlefield perform the same function for the national state, as innumerable war memorials testify. The sacrifices which parents make for children, or children for parents, bind them to each other much more powerfully than either love alone or hatred and fear alone could possibly do. The strongest communities, indeed, are those towards which we feel ambivalent. [288]

Where the boundaries of communities are not clearly defined and mutually accepted, the disputed space between communities becomes a commons which easily turns into a battlefield. War, indeed, is another example of the tragedy of the commons. In the absence of an overriding community, competing communities get into arms races and into conflict which is damaging to both sides. [288]

The effort to substitute ritual for actual fighting is a long-continued activity through human history. It results in the development of diplomacy, royal marriages, law courts, arbitration, ceremonies, treaties, all together comprising a very large range of human activity. As conflict becomes ritualized, the commons edges towards community. [289]

It may be, however, that ultimate sustainability is not possible, simply because of the exhaustion of what might be called 'social evolutionary potential' in any particular society or organization. It is strange how we take for granted that death is a universal law of living organisms and yet we deny this in the case of social organizations. [292]


John Baden

John Baden, "Population, Ethnicity, and Public Goods: The Logic of Interest-Group Strategy", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

We can also expect a general recognition that reduction of personal freedom necessarily accompanies high population density in a highly modernized, interdependent society. In brief, the personal costs of crowding become increasingly apparent, so that people should be more receptive to the ideal of a stable population size. [254]

Public goods if supplied privately are undersupplied.


John Baden

John Baden, "Neospartan Hedonists, Adult Toy Aficionados, and the Rationing of Public Lands", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

There is little reason to believe that the bureaucracies involved would seek to maximize net social benefits. Bureaucracies tend to be run primarily for the bureaucrats, and the self-interest of the bureaucrats tends to be consistent with that of their stronger clients. Thus, a land manager would be expected to arrive at a system that is easy to administer and police, does not significantly disadvantage powerful groups in the political system, and improves the competitive position of the agency's stronger clientele groups. [247]

Casual observation leads me to believe that there is considerable resistance to the method of rationing by pricing at equilibrium because it precludes access by the poor. This argument assumes that poor people currently do visit national parks and wilderness areas, and that alternative rationing systems would disadvantage the poor less than a system based on price. This second point suggests that for the poor, time has a low opportunity cost; that the poor can plan ahead better than the affluent and, hence, can submit their reservations earlier than others; or that the poor enjoy greater success at corrupting officials than the affluent. [249]


John Baden

John Baden and Richard Stroup, "Property Rights, Environmental Quality, and the Management of National Forests", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

In sum, externality is recognized by many economists and political scientists as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for government interference with markets. However, an important form of externality is pervasive also in all government forms of organization. At best, decision makers are held accountable by the threat of replacement. They do not directly receive the gains from better management (or costs from poor management) as private resource owners generally do. [236]

If the value of timber is expected to increase, then relatively intensive silviculture would be expected of the private operator, who had estimated both the costs and the benefits from various rates of harvest and levels of investment. The same incentives do not bear upon public managers insulated from market forces. The public manager is likely to find the prospect of increasing production more attractive than a rational consideration of the marginal benefits from this increase would indicate. Growing trees is fun. [237]


Robert Bish

Robert Bish, "Environmental Resource Management: Public or Private?", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

In a common pool resource each individual's use increases the costs or decreases the value to other users. An example of a common pool is a water basin. [218]

Private ownership of natural resources leads to the most efficient resource use when there are no third party effects from use, and when users of the resource can easily be charged. The owner, in seeking to maximize his return, will sell the resource to the individual who places the highest value on it and excludes potential users who are not willing to pay the market clearing price. Thus the difficult problem of identifying the value of a resource is overcome when the users reveal their preferences by paying the market price. There is then no need for an administrative official to determine how much each potential user values the resource and to administer it accordingly. [221]

If public ownership did mean completely open and unrestricted access, common pool resources would quickly be destroyed from overuse because no single individual would see destructive consequences from his use, while the combined use by all individuals would likely exceed the capacity of the resource. [223]

Public ownership and management of resources will probably benefit well-organized groups as would the private assignment of property rights; although with public ownership valuable rents will be obtained by users instead of resource owners. Even public agencies may neglect third party interests. Unless individual citizens become well organized and active in the political process, their interests are neglected. And even when citizens do become interested enough to organize, their political staying power is likely to be much weaker than that of well-organized economic interests whose welfare depends on the dominance of public agencies. [225]

Unless the political organization managing the resource is designed very carefully, large numbers of individual users are more likely to be neglected under public ownership. As for information, when the resource can be sold, a private owner will obtain the most accurate information available for evaluating alternative potential users. A public official, however, will have only equally competing demands to evaluate. [225]


Terry Anderson

Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill, "From Free Grass to Fences: Transforming the Commons of the American West", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

Between 1860 and 1900, changing land values and costs caused individuals and groups to devote more resources to definition and enforcement activity in order to capture potential rents to land. As a result of these activities, the institutions governing land ownership on the Great Plains moved successively toward exclusivity. [208]


Kari Bullock

Kari Bullock and John Baden, "Communes and the Logic of the Commons", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

'A premium was placed on liberality and honesty'. It was to any single participant's advantage to underestimate his surpluses and to overestimate his just wants and needs in the yearly consecrations among the members of the Mormon Order of Stewardships. Liberality and honesty were expensive, and those who joined in the practice of these virtues were penalized by being placed at a competitive disadvantage. [189]

Any society devoted to permanence and continuity must be economically viable. Optimally, the perceived opportunities and benefits flowing from membership in that society will be attractive to the individual participants, and individual maximizing strategies will harmonize with social goals. Under these conditions individually rational behavior will be collectively rational. [196]

Although there are strong evolutionary pressures against pure altruism, we do not argue that humans are genetically competitive and selfish. In principle, institutions could be created that substantially reduce the dysfunctions of competition. [197]

The Hutterite system for allocating the position of head preacher employs a balance between rationality and revelation. Achievement records of candidates narrow the field of possibilities, fostering rational selections. To avoid conflict and rancor, God makes the final decision and manifests His will through the drawing of lots. Other positions of responsibility are filled by election. Since all baptized males have a vote, all enjoy a degree of participation in management. This acts to minimize deprivation costs to individuals. Bargaining costs are minimized as well by employing the elected council in most decision, and by incorporating a measure of chance defined as divine intervention. [198]


Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom, "Collective Action and the Tragedy of the Commons", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

The combined efforts of two different agencies pursuing related but different programs lead to a system of regulation that is reasonably honest and effective, achieve the objectives of ground-water basin management, and protect the interests of affected but unorganized individuals in the area. The existence of special taxing arrangements developed by some special-purpose districts enables them to provide the corrective feedback that Hardin argues is necessary 'to keep the custodians honest'. By focusing on the nation-state and on the need for a monopoly of coercive force, social scientists may have blinded themselves to the relevance for social analysis of the inventiveness of those who directly face common pool problems. [179]

W. Ross Ashby has demonstrated that adaptation to a complex environment is most efficient when subsystems have considerable independence and can proceed to adapt serially. Totally integrated systems may not be able to adapt to complex environments in sufficient time to enable them to survive over the long run. [179]


Elinor Ostrom

Vincent Ostrom and Elinor Ostrom, "A Theory for Institutional Analysis of Common Pool Problems", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

Side payments for sustaining voting coalitions represent a cost in political decision making, and in its most aggravated form may raid the public treasury as a common pool resource. Therefore, wherever a governmental jurisdiction represents constituencies of a significantly different magnitude from those affected by its actions, an increasing bias toward inefficient solutions can be expected. [161]

This divergence between the expected costs to affected individuals and those to public entrepreneurs will lead public entrepreneurs to stress decision-making costs [on the right] and to discount deprivation costs [on the left] in any discussion of a common pool problem. They will tend to exaggerate the crisis nature of problems, thus shifting the estimated total collective choice cost curve of most individuals upward to the right. This has the effect of moving the estimated optimal decision rule to the left or toward a less inclusive rule. If public entrepreneurs are successful in leading individuals to believe that important opportunities will be foregone unless authority is given to a few to make decisions rapidly, a decision rule delegating responsibility to a limited proportion of affected individuals may be adopted. Affected individuals may later feel that the deprivation costs of such a decision are too high and attempt to change the basic rules. [170]


Gordon Tullock

Gordon Tullock, "The Social Costs of Reducing Social Cost", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

In the market with externalities, the individual can be a free rider in the sense that he does not make payments. In governmental dealing with externalities, the individual can be a free rider in the sense that he acquires no information, and therefore, his decisions are uninformed. [151]

In the case of medicine, the individual characteristically first selects an expert advisor and then purchases the medicine on the advice of this expert. The only argument for restrictions is that the individual may injure himself because he is inadequately informed. Note, however, that it is the individual himself who bears the full cost of any such injury. Surely he would be motivated to acquire information for making his decision more strongly than he is motivated to acquire adequate information whether or not to have a seat belt in his car. [151]

We could expect that the voters' lack of information and thought would lead both to an increased importance of fashion and other fluctuating influences, and to the manipulation of the system by various interest groups. Probably civil servants and the media are the most powerful special interest groups. [154]

The voter is unable to determine the relative expertise of the specialists on each side and, hence, chooses to play safe by voting against the construction of new power plant. We can hardly blame the voter for this conclusion, assuming that he has no motive to become informed and that (particularly in this case) becoming well informed would be quite difficult. Decisions of this sort lead to optimum allocation of resources only by accident. However, a large number of such decisions are being made today, and it is likely that the cost to our society will be quite great. [155]


John Baden

John Baden, "A Primer for the Management of Common Pool Resources", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

In small groups (as in some communal situations) social pressure can induce contributions for public goods. Or, if there is a situation in which the private benefit from providing a public good is greater than its private costs, the public good will be supplied privately. [138]
[Mancur Olson's Logic of Collective Action]

To what degree is freedom to be sacrificed through the replacement of willing consent by coercion in order to protect or enhance an environmental resource? One of the most substantial costs of an increasing population is precisely the sacrifice in freedom necessitated by the need for maximizing production in a context of increasing interdependence and increasing demands on the resource base. In general, the world is taking on an ever-greater resemblance to a common pool [140]

As Gordon Tullock has remarked, government is nothing more than a prosaic instrument designed to coordinate human behavior through potential resort to coercion when the costs associated with reliance upon voluntary agreement are considered to be excessively high by a group of people possessing sufficient power to set and enforce the rules under which rules are made. [141]

Quite apart from the above considerations, there is a subtle and more pervasive problem inherent in reliance upon bureaucratic order to provide public goods and manage common pool resources. Every bureau has a bias toward growth beyond the point where marginal cost equals marginal benefit. [144]


Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin, "Rewards of Pejoristic Thinking", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

Enthusiasts of individual freedom often acknowledge the existence of evil in the world, but they believe that the majority of mankind is basically good and that the majority is decisive in determining what happens. Sometimes this may be true; but there are many social processes that work in such a way the even the smallest minority spoils the results. [129]

Gresham's Law: Bad money drives out good. [evolution]

Note that when we are dealing with a monetary system a policy of voluntary compliance fails no matter how small the initial minority of noncooperators. Only a minority of zero would permit a voluntary system to work. Obviously, we would be fools to adopt any political or economic system that functions successfully only if literally everyone is virtuous. [129]

Pejoristic processes are easier to descry. Every pesticide, for example, selects for its own failure. (DDT, for instance, selects for DDT-resistant flies.) The rhythm method of birth control selects for arhythmic women. Voluntary population control selects for philoprogenitive instincts that mock at the system. Free competition among currencies selects for bad money. [131]

Though men have long assumed the general applicability of laissez-faire, they have not hitherto generalized from Gresham's Law to policy. In effect, they have treated this law as a special case. Had its generality been recognized earlier, we might sooner have recognized that in an unmanaged commons, greedy herdsmen drive out considerate one, grasping hunters drive out moderate ones, polluting industries drive out clean, and rapidly reproducing parents displace those who accept the limits to growth. [131]


Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin, "Ethical Implications of Carrying Capacity", , ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

The theory of discounting, using commercially realistic rates of interest, virtually writes off the future. The consequences have been well described by Fife and Clark. Devotion to economic discounting in its present form is suicidal. How soon is it so? 'In the long run', an economist would say, since disaster is more than five years off. 'In the short run', according to biologists, since disaster occurs in much less than the million or so years that is the normal life expectancy of a species. [113]

The foundation of situational ethics is this: The morality of an act is determined by the state of the system at the time the act is performed. Ecology, a system-based view of the world, demands situational ethics. ...
The legislative process is a slow one. Situational ethics seems almost to demand an administrative approach; by statute, administrators can be given the power to make instant, detailed decisions within a legally defined framework. Rules promulgated by an administrative agency are called administrative law.
On paper, the system may look fine, but the general public is understandably afraid of it. Administrative law gives power to administrators, who are human and hence fallible. Their decisions may be self-serving. John Adams called for 'a government of laws, and not of men'. We rightly esteem this as a desirable ideal. The practical question we must face is how far can we safely depart from the ideal undert he pressure of ecological necessity? This is the harrowing Quis custodiet problem; it has not easy solutions. [114]

We may speculate - we can hardly know - that the long avoidance of the commons problem was due to a subconscious awareness of the intractable Quis custodiet problem, which would have been activated by any attempt to depart from the system of the commons. [115]


Ilya Prigogine

Ilya Prigogine, Peter Allen, Robert Herman, "Long Term Trends and the Evolution of Complexity", ed. Ervin Laszlo, Goals in a Global Community, New York, Pergamon Press, 1977.

We find that if there is a certain 'plasticity' of the 'genetic' matter, there can only result a greater exploitation of the environment.
In this very simple system, evolution leads to the gradual filling of the available resource spectrum and to the increasing effectiveness of the exploitation of each resource. Of course, the above case has been chosen because it is especially simple. However, a mathematical criterion can be derived which is valid for the general case of n-interacting genotype populations which are perturbed by the arrival of small quantities of several mutant populations. Such considerations lead to an interpretation of the evolution of ecosystems in terms of a 'dialogue' between fluctuations leading to innovations and the deterministic response of the interacting species already existing in the ecosystem. The basic aspect is the selective advantage which is introduced through the new values of the parameters (such as K, N, d) which enter into the equations describing the populations dynamics [birthrate, carrying capacity, death rate]. Note that the exact mechanism of fluctuations is left unspecified. Briefly speaking, Darwinism supposes an origin of fluctuations based on random genetic variation, which may certainly be appropriate for many aspects of biological evolution, while Lamarckism supposes a 'learning' mechanism of the individuals trying to adapt to the environment. Socio-cultural evolution would seem to correspond more closely to this second type of interpretation. [53]
[Only if socio-cultural evolution applied to the vehicle rather than the meme]

It is further possible to deduce how many species will be found occupying a fully evolved ecosystem with a given resource spectrum. The species packing is determined by the level of environmental fluctuation, and in particular by the amount of coherence of resource fluctuation. The greater the fluctuation the greater the niche separation must be for the long term co-existence of neighboring species. Knowing the niche width from our evolution theory, we can now say that ecosystems rich in resources and not suffering large fluctuations will have the greatest number of species. Environmental fluctuations will reduce this number. A system with sparsely scattered resources, if their densities do not fluctuate greatly, will be populated by 'generalist' species with considerable niche overlap, while a poor system with fluctuating resources will be filled with a few 'generalist' species. [54]
[How does fluctuation rates or resource spectrums translate to co-existing social behavior-species in social ecosystems?]

Since the advent of quantum mechanics, many attempts have been made to relate microscopic indeterminacy, i.e., the celebrated Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, to macroscopic behavior. We now see that the situation is much simpler, for the macroscopic equations themselves contain the elements of stochasticity which leads to 'macroscopic indeterminacy'. Problems such as self-organization in non-equilibrium systems require both aspects - the deterministic one where averages represent accurately the physical state of the system and the stochastic one which is important near bifurcation points and instabilities. It is the cooperation of these two features which leads to a faithful representation of some of the basic aspects of evolving systems. [57]

Complexity is limited by stability which, in turn, is limited by the strength of the system-environment coupling. [58]

'man's particular relation to the environment is fundamentally similar to that of any other species, in that it is a continuing effort to exercise sufficient control to extract energy from the environment. Particularly typical of man, however, is his cultural mode of behavior which leads him to seek this security of control through constant redefinition of himself and his environment, permitting him to develop his society into an ever expanding system.' R.N. Adams, Energy and Structure, 1975. [59]


Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin, "An Operational Analysis of 'Responsibility'", ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

The philosopher Charles Frankel has given such a definition: 'A decision is responsible when the man or group that makes it has to answer for it to those who are directly or indirectly affected by it.' [66]
[The structure of responsibility]

Contrived responsibilities can be effectively applied to the decision maker only if the community is well informed of the consequences of his decisions. But the person who makes the decisions is generally in the most favorable position to control the flow of information about the consequences of his decisions. If he makes a bad decision he is then tempted to falsify the information about the consequences. In other words, he is tempted to sabotage the information system, as the private enterpriser is not. [72]