Front Page Titles (by Subject) Uncrowding the Commons - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4
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Uncrowding the “Commons” - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Uncrowding the “Commons”
“The Commons Problem: Alternative Perspectives.” American Psychologist 35(February 1980):131–150.
The dilemma of the commons involves the conflict between individual and group interests over resources held in common. Problems arise when the collective demand of individuals on resources exceeds the supply and the rate of consumption threatens the future functioning of the total resource pool. Examples of commons problems include range land, whales, and oil. An individual who increases his or her rate of consumption may derive a short-term personal gain while others may sustain an immediate loss and all will suffer if the resource pool vanishes.
Prof. Edney reviews a number of psychological perspectives and discusses how these may illuminate the nature of the commons dilemma. Using Platt's reinforcement theory, the commons dilemma is shown to involve problems in the timing of the rewards and costs to consumers. In a commons situation, each individual's cost-benefit analysis leads to an escalation of the problem behavior. Biosocial theories involving territoriality appear to apply to commons problems in animal societies but have little relevance to human communities. Also discussed is Dawkin's “selfish gene” theory which rejects any biological basis to altruism.
Under conditions of scarcity of a resource held in common, we need to limit consumption. However, this poses hazards both to principles of social equality and to community democratic structures. Although providing all members of the community equal (but limited) allotments to the common resource preserves equality, all may suffer if the allotment is insufficient. Alternatively, access may be limited to a few, but these will have a sufficient allotment. Social psychological rewards may reinforce logical or functional justifications for inequality.
Democracies are not well suited to solving commons problems since the wish of a majority to freely consume will destroy the pool. Also, even where the majority do vote to restrain consumption, the actions of a dissenting minority may destroy the pool if it defies complying with majority wishes. Providing information and incentives is unlikely to be particularly effective in solving usage dilemmas.
Edney offers two potential solutions to the commons dilemma which emphasize voluntary, self-determined action. The first involves territorializing, i.e., conveying resources held in common into private property. The second focuses on the possible benefits of increased trust and mutuality among the members of a community.