Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Is any group doomed to die out?

The "Tragedy of the Commons" states that in any group which shares a common resource, conservation and long term benefit of the group as a whole take a back seat to the immediate benefit of the individual. For example, if ten people share use of a common plot of land sufficient to graze 100 sheep for ever, the logical solution is that each has ten. However, if one has 12, while this may reduce the average results per sheep by 2%, for the greedy individual, he or she can gain a net 17% (+20%, less 2% of the new total). So many of the people will enter an internal competition to use the resources. Those who aim to lead by good example will lose, yet if they join in the process of deterioration will accelerate.

This applies whether the ressources are fossil fuel, clean air, job leads, or anything. Strict policing by an authority which has real power over all is needed to keep the resources from being depleted. In a corporation, people will fight for resources and power, even though this may mean the ultimate end of the company. It does not require that all act in this way, but even one who takes more that their "fair share" can destroy the group. Nevertheless, we must remember that that individual will prosper in the short run, so incentives exist to be selfish.

In fact, many of the "successful" people in our society, from Donald Trump to Larry Ellison have seized what they could. However, we must ask what impact this has on society. Does it hasten the end of the society?

No comments: