Guest Post: The State Is A Tragedy Of The Commons

Tyler Durden's picture

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
to happen.

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
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
relative stability.

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:


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
AnAnonymous's picture

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 imperative does exist no matter what in a competitive environment.

The whole US political fantasy is modelled on Europe which was an area of small sized powers rather equivalent in power, always rebalancing the advances of another through an everlasting game of alliances. This closed universe  led to the fallacious equilibrium theory.

Yet the reality of the US fantasy is imbalances, people looking for weak entities that can not exclude them from performing exactly the same, that is depletion of resources in other to carry out the competitive process.

Common property, private property, it does not matter.

Every time the same story: property rights are not enforced, the State is failing, got corrupted whereas the whole game is oriented to deny property rights, be they collective or private.

The whole US has been built on denying property rights.

The facts are jumping into face but yet, people prefer to build fantasies.

So be it.

Misean's picture


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."

Yeah...BWAHAHAHAHAHA!...good luck with that. Give power of government to a group of men and watch the 1.5 sigma cluster of humans centered on a 95 IQ follow them right into slavery...oh wait...

downwiththebanks's picture

This is why the dictatorship of Capital - i.e., what exists now globally - cannot allow democracy.

Capital abhors democracy, because it relies upon the exploitation of the very people to whom it grants a voice.

Chump's picture

Your new terms and definitions are just as wrong as the old.  Capital is not "i.e., what exists now globally."  It is also not sentient, and has no preference which political or economic system is in place.

Start over again.

downwiththebanks's picture

Sorry - Capital relations are social relations.  While Capital isn't sentient, those who deploy it are.

And they care about one thing, and one thing only:  creating more Capital.

l1xx3r's picture

Capital is a good thing to create...

downwiththebanks's picture

All you need is a willingness to rob your neighbor...

snowball777's picture

I'm guessing you've never created anything of value in your entire life.

Carl Spackler's picture

I second what snowball777 says.

Clearly, people who have never "had skin in the game" of producing something from something else they own are the first ones to be whining incessantly or spewing hyperbole.


BigJim's picture

No... all you need is savings. And before you say: to get savings, you need a willingness to rob your neighbour, again, no, all you need is a willingness to consume less than you produce.

Once you have savings, you can then decide you wish to pay someone else to do the work (using your equipment) while you go do something else. That's Capitalism. Or you and a bunch of other savers might decide to pool your savings, so you can put together something more complicated and resource intensive, or will take a longer period to turn a profit because it had high startup or fixed costs, and then you hire other people to operate the equipment. That's Capitalism. Or you might have a great idea but no money, so you approach a person or group of people with savings and get them to fund it, and you pay people to operate the equipment. That's Capitalism. Or the person with the great idea might go to someone who manages money for other people, etc, etc. That's Capitalism too.

None of that is intrinsically incompatible with Democracy, is it? So what DO you mean?

RockyRacoon's picture

Capital is a good thing to create...

So, Bernanke is, in fact, doing God's work?

BigJim's picture

C'mon Rocky, tell me you're pulling our tails here. The Bernanke is creating currency, not capital. By creating currency he's extracting value from every other holder of that currency, and (given the USD's reserve status) by extension, pretty much everyone on the planet.

He's no more creating capital than a mugger, counterfeiter, or thief.

RockyRacoon's picture

Well, yah!   The whole point was to make fun of the goofy bastard.

Chump's picture

Your first mistake was to assume a demonstrably false definition of capital.  Your next mistake follows: you try to justify your ridiculous definition through a vague and loaded statement, "capital relations are social relations."  (And?)  Based on your misunderstanding of capital and capitalism, how am I to trust you even understand the concept of "social relations"?

And to complete your trifecta, you mistakenly assume that capital is managed and used the same by everyone, simply because it's "capital."

Quit while you're way behind.

downwiththebanks's picture

Capital is used to make more capital which is used to make more capital.  That's the point.  It's what distinguishes Capital from cash-money.

Asserting that you're too dumb to grasp a pretty simple idea (hiring and firing workers, raping and pillaging land, etc. is a social act) while simultaneously asserting how smart you are is a strange approach to argumentation.

topcallingtroll's picture

Plato pointed out a cycle of government if i remember.correctly that roughly corresponds to anarchy leads to tyranny/dictatorship which leads to monarchy which leads to a republican form of.government which leads to democracy then democracy deteriorates into anarchy and the cycle repeats.

P.s. not the good kind of anarchy either.

topcallingtroll's picture

He noted that democracies destroy themselves when people realize they can vote themselves treasure from the early.rendition of the tragedy of the commons.

AnAnonymous's picture

You mean he noted that in a period of time when voters had to be bribed to be brought to the fora in order to discuss political matters and vote on them?

They indeed seemed pretty eager of voting themselves advantages as they had to be bribed to perform the act.

Bob's picture

The entire thing is so convoluted that only those who worship at the altar of state-hate can possibly follow it. 

Clearly what we need is another bracing round of Capitalism without restraint by the state.  Don't think so?

Ya just gotta believe

CH1's picture

LOL... sure, we need hyper-thugs to beat us all into righteousness!

No sale here. I am BETTER than the rulers - ANY rulers. And as much as we quite disagree, I'd bet you are far more righteous than they.

Rulership has NO MAGIC.

Dick Buttkiss's picture

Honestly, only a complete idiot believes that what we have today is capitalism, as in a market-based economic system. What we have instead is the complete corruption thereof, whether it's called crony capitalism, corporatism, socialism lite, or better, their amalgamation in the form of "fascialism": 

So whatever you call it, the state is at the bottom of it. And a tragedy of the commons it certainly is, never mind what simple-minded state-worshipers like yourself maintain.


downwiththebanks's picture

Capitalism is a system in which Capital rules and determines the actions of actors living under it.

That's PRECISELY what we have.  The simple fact that you don't like the outcome doesn't negate the reality of things.

Capital decides which politicians rule; Capital decides which businesses succeed; Capital determines the public school curriculums; Capital determines which products come to market; Capital determines what states go to war, and who they kill.

Capital determines everything.  That's called Capitalism.  Ignoring this material reality of our lives is either evasion or ignorance.

Chump's picture

Capital is not sentient.

Never breed.

downwiththebanks's picture


Capital relations are social relations.  Capital is driven by one goal, and one goal only:  to create more Capital.  To ACCUMULATE.  

That's all that matters.

Chump's picture

There it is again: "capital relations are social relations."  I'm sure that means something to you, but it falls short of an actual argument.

Creating capital with capital is inherently good.  Accumulating capital while doing so is inherently good.

Forcing other people to use their capital as you see fit is abject evil.  You attempt to defend evil with your gibberish.

downwiththebanks's picture

Your inability to understand that Capital moves, operates, and accumulates through social interaction doesn't make it untrue.

Capital isn't created by magic.  It's created by exploitation of people by people.

Your assertion that theft is "inherently" good, without any evidence to the contrary (except for all those landfills and golf courses) demonstrates the outer limits of your argument.

CH1's picture

Troll. You begin with a fraudulent definition and refuse to consider anything but your attached doctrine.

RockyRacoon's picture

Did you ever watch a fly bump up against a window pane -- until it eventually dies?

snowball777's picture

You might attempt something beyond your anthropomorphic aping of Marx's work and consider the possibility that exchange of capital for labor is not inherently exploitative.

As an analogy: not all sex is rape.

Nootropic's picture

I'm not even sure they that the average ZHer a good grasp on the tradegy of the commons, either.  That explanation was weak.  Here, try the original essay.

topcallingtroll's picture

Public finances is also a commons and now a tragedy. There is no one with a sustainability interest who can stop the rest from destroying it.

topcallingtroll's picture

That was an early trick to get short sighted poor people to vote, the people who usually dont show up. Once those types started showing up it enhanced certain political careers but doomed the democracy.

DFCtomm's picture

That's a matter of opinion. I guarantee you there are more than a few waiting, and hoping for just this type of anarchy. Lusting at the thought of doing away with the ever increasing restrictions of this over bearing nanny state. I'm actually thinking of buying a horse, just in case.

topcallingtroll's picture

Then the cycle shall repeat, which is probably a.good thing because human systems usually cant reform themselves, but must be replaced in a political version of creative destruction.

Steroid's picture

It is not a zero sum game thus the tragedy.

Free market: positive some game

Etatism: negative sum game

Mix economies: depends on the ratio of the above.

topcallingtroll's picture

Some group must be incentivised to maintain good stewardship.

CH1's picture

Maintain good stewardship on your own property. Going beyond that is thuggery, no matter how many purple-robed priests make incantations at your altar.

Nootropic's picture

So I dump the offal from my tannery upriver and poision your land, while my land remains nice and clean.

See, I maintain good stewardship on my land, its all well kept and clean.  See how nicely the cabbage row is?  Would you like to buy some leather?

CH1's picture

You could solve that straw man in 20 seconds if you tried.

But that's the catch - YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE THE IDEA FAIL.

DFCtomm's picture

God save us from the dogooders.

downwiththebanks's picture

Free market:  "make believe idea that has never existed and will never exist"

johnQpublic's picture

 It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury



see wisconsin etc


public voting is automatically accomplished by the consumers of that government when they purchase its services....or purchase the government as the case may be


see wisconsin etc

ReallySparky's picture

Those clowns are at the Best Western In Rockford, IL.  What a circus.

mmlevine's picture

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" - Lord Acton

Man by nature is a greedy animal.  In fact, I'm sure man is the only animal that takes more than needed to survive.  The tragedy of the commons is a made up "economic law" that has not and will not work.