Guest Post: The State Is A Tragedy Of The Commons
Submitted by Michael Suede of Fascist Soup
The State Is A Tragedy Of The Commons
Some of you may already be familiar with the economic law called “the
tragedy of the commons,” but for those of you who are not, I shall
explain it to you.
The tragedy of the commons
refers to a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple
individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own
self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even
when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this
For example: If two cattle farmers share a common plot of land
between them, and neither can exclude the other from grazing their
cattle on it, both farmers have a natural incentive to graze their cows
as much as possible on the common land, there by destroying it quickly,
rather than conserving it for future use.
Another example would be hunting deer on common land. If several
hunters share a common hunting ground, and none can exclude the others
from hunting there, each hunter has an incentive to shoot as many deer
as he can before the stock of deer is depleted by the other hunters.
The clear lesson to be learned from this economic law is that
common resources, which everyone has access to, lead to rapid depletion
and destruction of those resources as the public attempts to horde as
much as they can before the resources are depleted.
I would argue the tragedy of the commons receives far too little
attention as a rational explanation for the cancerous expansion of the
State. For what is the State other than people looting each others’
private property in a zero sum game of resource redistribution? The
tragedy of the commons gives us a rational basis for the
consistent and constant expansion of the coercively funded democratic
State and why that expansion always leads to the destruction of society.
Alexander Tytler once wrote, “A democracy cannot exist
as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of
voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public
treasury.” I would argue Tytler had the cause and effect inverted in his statement. Modern democracies are specifically created for the express purpose of establishing common property across an entire State region.
To be logically consistent, Tytler’s statement should be rewritten as: The modern democratic State cannot exist without the largess of the public treasury.
It is important to note that common property is not the same as
publicly accessible property. A rancher can regulate the hunting that
takes place on his own land. Often ranchers will allow hunters access
to their land for a nominal fee and under certain terms. It is in the
rancher’s best interest to allow only enough hunting on his property so
as not to deplete the stock of wildlife, and the rancher can regulate
this by varying the rate he charges or the number of people he allows to
hunt his land.
While modern democracies claim eminent domain across all of the land,
labor, and resources in a given region, the most typical form of
private property they assert control over is the trade intermediary that
society uses in barter with each other.
When the money of a society is defined as common property by a State,
nearly EVERYTHING in that society necessarily becomes common property,
since nearly everything in society has a price.
If each individual actor in a society perceives that his own property
(money) is not really his own, but is common property, he will
rationally act to horde as many resources (physical things) for himself,
through the political system, as he possibly can before the common pool
of resources is depleted. Under a common property money, this drive
by the public to expand State power becomes instinctive and rational.
When the democratic State has the ability to take as much money as it
likes from whomever it choses, it will necessarily and eventually turn
the entirety of society against itself. It will foster, through the
public trough, a mad rush for each political interest group to acquire
as many resources as they can, as quickly as they can, before those
resources are expropriated by other interest groups. Of course, the
largest and most powerful interest groups will always get the biggest
slice of the pie.
The tragedy of the commons explicitly shows us that modern democratic
States are ALWAYS unsustainable if they are allowed to use violence
against the population in order to make the money supply of the
population common property.
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes,
exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did
not commit suicide. –John Adams (1814)
These insights give us a clear picture as to what a truly sustainable democratic government must look like:
1. A sustainable democratic government must never be allowed to assert control over the money a society choses to use.
2. A sustainable democratic government must never be allowed to take
property by force, either through taxation or eminent domain.
Any democratic government that is permitted the use of eminent
domain, the forced confiscation of wealth through taxation, or monopoly
control over the issuance of currency, will always result in the
self-destruction of the given society.
It is interesting to note that the same is not true of other types of
State systems! For example, a monarchy may be able to be to retain a
monopoly over the issuance of currency and act as the final arbiter of
all disputes, along with violently taxing the public, but because the
King is able to prevent the public from “feeding at the public trough,”
that nation State may be able to exist for extremely long periods of
Of course, I’m not arguing in favor of a monarchy. But it is
important to note, since this explains why some monarchies were able to
exist in relative stability for long periods of time.
The ultimate truth of the matter is that democratic rule does not
require a voting booth and necessarily shouldn’t have one.
If we make
the assumption that no sustainable democratic government can be allowed
to wage violence against the innocent in order to expropriate property,
then we must consider how such a government is to be funded.
If it is to be funded voluntarily, then it is clear that public
voting is automatically accomplished by the consumers of that government
when they purchase its services.
What might such a democratic government look like?
Austrian Economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe provides us some answers:
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