The Tragedy of Privatization (Part Two)

Note: Be sure to read part one first to understand this article in its full context.


There a two phenomena when addressing private ownership that are absent form Hardin’s famous article “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Most of them are intertwined with general criticisms of the capitalist structure, but they also specific criticisms of Hardin’s theoretical narrative.

For one, there have been innumerable examples of private rightsholders preventing a socially wanted outcome. Because each individual is working for his own pursuits, communal interests are excluded from the profit equation causing inherent inequity. This particular feature of private accumulation of capital and land has been called “The Tragedy of the Anti-Commons” and it is essentially the antithetical variant to Hardin’s proposed scenario; it is when private individual ownership hinders the common good. Private owners essentially hurt the majority for their own individualistic ends, which is an incentive created only by the dollar motive. Such an outcome, I would argue, has been seen in much of the Third World with foreign ownership of resources. Arable land, oftentimes unused, is bought up by foreign investors, which strips the locals from share of their own resources. In Argentina, to take one example, foreign ownership owns about half of all land that can be used to grow crops. I’ve already talked about this in depth already in another post, so I won’t go into it again, but more info on the inequity of land ownership in South American be found here and here.

The nature of this unequal distribution, which hurts the townsfolk of these regions, is a direct product of profit-drive economy and a privatized market structure because the encouragement to go far and beyond to acquire foreign assets would not exist without it. This, I would argue, is the tragedy; the taking of land for the sole purpose of wealth accumulation and hurting the impoverished regional majority in the process.Another phenomenon is something that some have called “The Comedy of the Commons,” a ‘parody’ of Hardin’s original assumption. It is when all of Hardin’s absurd assumptions are found, but the outcome he predicts still does not occur. However, such an example is absent from the real world because his scenario is strictly an abstract concept. It does not pertain to the material; however, there have been examples in the virtual where value has actually increased with an open communal setting.Wikipedia is a perfect example of this, and any online database or forum that is open to individual input. Anybody can use the information, but its value and database only increases with more communal activity and contribution. This begs the question; Why are individuals driven to contribute to a network or open system when they gain no monetary compensation? It seems that human action is driven by more than profit, especially in academia, where no worth can artificially be put on the pursuit of knowledge. It is this that privatization fails to compensate for; that ideas are invaluable ‘commodities.’ The downgrading of the humanities and others areas of academia are a perfect testament to this. Once you reach the area of intellectual thought, the price-determining element of capitalism seemingly cannot put a monetary number on it. This most certainly dissuades individuals wishing to pursue these respective fields, because now they are forced to fundamentally reshape their aspirations to be paid a better wage to live. I find this immensely limiting to the human spirit and mind, and it is incredibly dehumanizing to an intolerable degree.
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A general article on the Tragedy of the Anti-Commons can be found here. It discusses the under-usage of resources with many private owners, completely undermining the “efficiency of the market.” And here is an informative video on what motivates us, which especially pertains to academia.
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