Tragedy of the Commons

userpic=nixonAlmost a week after the election, and many of us are still trying to make sense of the surprising results. Over in a Facebook discussion with a friend, we were talking about Bernie Sanders and whether he could have won, and one of the folk responding had a comment that include the following:

And therein lies the problem …: politicians trying to draw in the African American voters, the Latinos, the LGBQ community, the white working class males, the Millennials, the soccer moms, the business community, and so on. We’re a country of needy, self absorbed children all looking for someone who will do something for us on a personal level, not a national one.

This got me thinking: to what extent is Trump’s victory an example of the Tragedy of the Commons. For those unfamiliar with the term: “The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource through their collective action.

I could give you numerous examples: Central California and the water crisis, where individuals drilling wells can benefit themselves while hurting the community, whereas an agreement with a little hurt for all could benefit everyone down the road. Climate Change is another area where we are running into this: people are putting self interest above the better public good.

To what extent is politics a tragedy of the commons. To what extent is our slicing and dicing of interests — putting our personal financial well being, our personal societal well being and privilege, and such, harming society as a whole. Was Trump appealing to that, especially in the hinterlands. Whereas Clinton was hoping to get some to sacrifice to make things better for all (think: Obamacare; think: taxing the wealthy; think: climate change; think: moving to a new energy policy; etc.), Trump was doing what Trump does — advocating for his own personal self-interest and benefit, and along the way advocating for each individual to be out for themselves. Lower *your* taxes, get a job for *yourself*. Wanting to go back to when America was “great” (i.e., when white privilege was unquestioned) – tragedy of the commons. Wanting to isolate America and be protectionist – tragedy of the commons. Numerous, numerous examples. It’s yuge, it’s bigly 🙂 .

To what extent does this divide split along political liberal/conservative lines? To what extent does it dictate what we do? How do our economic times make us susceptible to the tragedy of the commons.

In any event, last Tuesday wasn’t only the product of the tragedy of the commons, I fear it was a tragedy for the commons.