The Tragedy of the Commons

In economics there is a theory called the Tragedy of the Commons, the basic premise being that public resources are inferior to private resources in creating wealth and prosperity.

In recent years, the United States has been moving away from the idea that private concerns are superior, as the welfare state grows and politicians clamor for more resources for public consumption.

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Sadly, in our nation, the government does not fully appreciate all that the private sector can do, and at times even actively works against private entities that operate for the public good. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few examples.

Over the last few years, “food truck” dining has become more popular as a way to get a good meal at an inexpensive price. Not too long ago, people in cities across the country started to get the idea that they could use a food truck program to feed the homeless and poor in their communities. They began doing great work and meeting the needs of those less fortunate in their area–that is until the government got wind of what they were doing. Many municipalities stepped in and shut down these operations because they didn’t have their local government’s seals of approval.

In Las Vegas, “The City began ticketing good Samaritans who shared food with more than 24 people, under the belief that giving food to people already in the public park violated statutes requiring permits for gatherings of 25 or more people. When the ACLU of Nevada took issue with this interpretation of permit laws, the City took a more direct approach: it explicitly outlawed the sharing of food with anyone who looked poor.”

In New York City, they banned food gifts to the poor and homeless because the city could not assess their salt, fat and fiber content. So because NY couldn’t judge the health worthiness of the food, the people should starve? But it’s not just Vegas and New York; it’s happening across the country.

Another example of the government’s extreme inefficiency at work has been playing out in Washington, D.C. A local garden artist going by the moniker the Phantom Planter had been surreptitiously planting flowers in a barren DC Metro garden. The Phantom Planter, Henry Docter to his friends, has been doing similar acts of anonymous public beautification all over the world since the 1970s. However, the DC Metro authority is not amused. They have ordered him to cease and desist and announced that if he attempted to give any care to the flowers he had planted he could be fined or arrested. Well, the transit authority has now ensured that the evil (said with tongue firmly planted in cheek) Phantom Planter could do no more harm. The Metro has ripped out all thousand of the flowers planted by Docter. There it is folks, government efficiency… the garden lays barren until someone comes and spends their own money to beautify it. Then an agency that routinely whines about not having enough resources spends those resources to rip out a thousand healthy and beautiful plants. Awesome use of your tax dollars.pothole robin hood

Lastly, lets look at the most recent plight of a good natured citizen in Jackson, Mississippi. The man has run afoul of the law by admitting that he has been stealing asphalt from the city maintenance department to fill potholes around the city. He has recently filled and fixed his 100th pothole, which has the local community calling him the “Pothole Robin Hood.” Jackson city officials are looking into the circumstance arising from his recent confession, but it’s not likely that he’ll face charges. If he does face charges, the city will probably have a lot of angry citizens on their hands for turning against a man who was doing a job on which the city had been dragging its feet.

The moral of the story with these three short examples is simply this: the government is better at screwing up a job than it is at getting a job done. The less the government has to do, the better it will perform. Let’s work together to get the government out of anything that the private sector could likely do better (which would be just about everything).


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