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Posts Tagged ‘tragedy of the commons

“What is common to many is least taken care of”*…



As an evolutionary biologist who received my PhD in 1975, I grew up with Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in Science magazine in 1968. His parable of villagers adding too many cows to their common pasture captured the essence of the problem that my thesis research was designed to solve. The farmer who added an extra cow gained an advantage over other farmers in his village but it also led to an overgrazed pasture. The biological world is full of similar examples in which individuals who behave for the good of their groups lose out in the struggle for existence with more self-serving individuals, resulting in overexploited resources and other tragedies of non-cooperation…

Unbeknownst to me, another heretic named Elinor Ostrom was also challenging the received wisdom in her field of political science. Starting with her thesis research on how a group of stakeholders in southern California cobbled together a system for managing their water table, and culminating in her worldwide study of common-pool resource (CPR) groups, the message of her work was that groups are capable of avoiding the tragedy of the commons without requiring top-down regulation, at least if certain conditions are met (Ostrom 1990, 2010). She summarized the conditions in the form of eight core design principles: 1) Clearly defined boundaries; 2) Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs; 3) Collective choice arrangements; 4) Monitoring; 5) Graduated sanctions; 6) Fast and fair conflict resolution; 7) Local autonomy; 8) Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance). This work was so groundbreaking that Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009…

David Sloan Wilson on the design principles that can solve the tragedy of the commons: “The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas.”

For more on the tragedy of the commons, see here— also the source of the cartoon above.

* Aristotle


As we share and share alike, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that we– the entire population of the earth– narrowly avoided total obliteration, as the 500,000 ton asteroid/planetoid 69230 Hermes failed to collide with our planet.  It missed by twice the distance of the Moon… but that’s only three seconds.  (In 1989, the earth had an even closer approach, but by the smaller 4581 Asclepius.)

69230 Hermes




Written by LW

October 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Organizing is a process; an organization is the result of that process”*…



19th century railroad stock offers were the cryptocurrencies of their time: confusing, risky… but with the promise of converting “old” wealth (mostly land riches) into the wealth of the future


Many crypto enthusiasts are looking at blockchains as a way to correct the sins of the past (government over-reach, lack of sound money, expensive middlemen, centralized businesses, etc.)

The truly important question should be way bigger than this: How can crypto-powered businesses create new types of abundance? How will blockchains drive our standard of living forward exponentially? How will we see the creation of tens of trillions in new value like we did with the stock market in the last 150 years?

The answer lies in how crypto can transform the tragedy of the commons into the wealth of the commons…

“Midas List” V.C. Mike Maples traces the provenance of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain from the railroad IPOs of the 1870s (which helped launch an explosion of global economic growth) through the work of Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrum to argue for crypto’s promise as a remedy to the Tragedy of the Commons: “Crypto Commons.”

[Readers looking for an on-ramp to understanding crypto-tech and the blockchain may want to start with Steven Johnson’s blissfully-clear “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble.”]

* Elinor Ostrum


As we address asset allocation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Henry F. Phillips received several U.S. patents for the Phillips-head screw and screwdriver– a system in which a matching driver with a tapering tip conveniently self-centers in the screw head.  Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company to license his patents, and persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture the fasteners.  General Motors was convinced to use the screws on its 1937 Cadillac; by 1940, virtually every American automaker had switched to Phillips screws.



Written by LW

July 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

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