Tragedy of the commons – system archetype – human flaws
When an agent is out of alignment with the collective interest, you have the possibility of the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons is hard to miss in our world where we all suffer from so called negative externalities on all sorts of levels. The oceans are getting over fished, jungles deforested and fresh air is getting more polluted. These disastrous effects are commonly understood as a system archetype and a common defect in the rise and fall of civilizations. A purely rational agent would want to follow its self-interest in gaining the most out of public and open resources without having to deal with the cost and maintenance of these resources. This is the archetypal image of an agent who wants to maximize its strategy to increase payoffs and minimize the costs. All though, this model is fairly simplistic in nature, since not every agent is fundamentally motivated by self-interest only. There is something to say about it though, cause we clearly see the negative externalities on this planet caused by increased behavior motivated by self-interest. It does not mean it is always a competition for resources in the tragedy of commons, since we can still deplete the planet by cooperating to deplete it. There is just this massive alienation from nature that has occurred, that we are now at a point that we have to suffer the consequences of this alienation on an individual and global level. Eventually it is also in our self-interest as a global species to nurture the natural resources if we want to continue as a species from my view.
In traditional economics, the products and services of nature aren’t accounted for and are basically accessible and open for all players who are able to benefit from it. There is however a limit on these shared resources in a given society, and if it cannot be sustained through the individuals who are enjoying these resources, you need to have centralized institutions to manage the sustainability of these resources. An enforcement system is however costly and no guarantee for success seeing the great amounts of corruption when you centralize power.
Interesting to note is that small tribal communities probably do not need large enforcement systems to sustain their collective resources, because it is easier to recognize collective interest from a grassroots level perspective. Not only where tribal communities not alienated for nature, and, therefore, had a high respect for it, they also were closely tied with each other. When someone is messing up the resource in a close and tribal community, you probably get expelled and ruin your own reputation. So the solution to such a tragedy is dynamically solved on a grassroots level through a reputation and punishment system. When a society becomes more complex, individualized and advanced you probably would need the invention of property rights, either private or public in order to execute ownership for the negative and positive externalities caused by the society. However, this can cause great forms of inequality, inability to access natural goods when water becomes the new oil, causing even more disaster.
So the question arises; how to align the individual and the collective cohesively without having to sacrifice one or the other?
We can all agree that we shouldn’t deplete the natural resources of this planet, because eventually it is also in the interest of nations, towns and eventually individuals that we sustain these natural resources.
I think a great part of the solution will be found in technologies like the chain technology which basically enables us to distribute ownership in a decentralized fashion so that everyone can be a player in the game of shared resources and is empowered to make a contribution. Such a system also makes it possible to see how the cost/benefit analyses is spread per individual agent, so that negative and positive externalities can be equally distributed among the agents who are causing these negative and positive effects. A decentralized database, accessible for everyone, would make it possible to prevent a tragedy of the commons in my view. Especially, when economics integrates capitals like social, intellectual and natural capital in the value creation, by doing so, shifting from a single value economy to a full value economy, we can use these communication technologies to solve the issues of scalability, coordination and ownership.
A decentralized database is like integrating the grassroots level solution of the tragedy of the commons, but then on a much larger scale. You already see this happening with big corporations who are doing much harm to the environment. Big corporations have been the defectors and free-riders of public good games for quite a while now, but due to the rise of communication technology like the Internet, more and more people are standing up against such business practices. The Internet on itself is basically already creating a digital environment in which we evolve as a global, interconnected planet by which every agent in the game of life can expel other agents who are causing too many negative externalities. In a hyperconnected world agents cannot escape the consequences of their actions anymore, and are just like the grassroots communities punished by the collateral damage they create, and in so doing, ruining their own reputation and existence.
So I think contemporary society will not annihilate itself by this system archetype this time (hopefully). The negative externalities are so extreme in some places in the world, effects that cannot be ignored by the world population, and hopefully will cause a shift in value systems to reduce and revert the diminishing returns for shared resources.
A combination of a shift in value systems, helping agents to undo the alienation by connecting them to these open resources, and finally having the technology to communicate and distribute ownership and opportunity for equal entrance to an economic environment by which agents can contribute, must be a solid response to combat the negative externalities most of the world is suffering from.
More then happy to start a conversation to learn together.
I would like this website to be a co-creation.