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24 August 2010


Paul Emery


Please refresh me on you're definition of commons and provide a few examples.

George Rebane

Paul, my definition of 'commons' is the classical one, and also that taught by Hardin. More here

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Paul Emery

Can you give me a couple of examples ?-does that include national parks, forests schools, municipal parks etc

Paul Emery

Here's one to discuss.
If a developer wishes to build a subdivision that adds 200 new homes within the city limits should they be required to pay mitigation fees for the increased impact on schools, roads etc.

Todd Juvinall

Mitigation fees are a total ripoff of the home buyer. Since when does someone have to "buy-in to their own community. I always used the example of a lifelon family whose kids grow up and move out. They have decided to build a new house in the community they have always lived in. They are required to pay mitigation fees before they can build their home. They have to buy-in to their own community.

Paul Emery

That's not an unexpected reaction

So what taxation-fee system do you recommend to pay for increased use of facilities and services when you have population growth in a city or county and precious facilities are no longer adequate?

Paul Emery

sp-previous facilities

D. King

“Mitigation fees are a total ripoff of the home buyer.”

“…They are required to pay mitigation fees before they can build their home. They have to buy-in to their own community.”

Todd- Don’t waste your time, he won’t fall for your Jedi mind tricks:)

George Rebane

Paul, re commonses, to the extent that the consumer of these resources is not held accountable for their consumption (e.g. graffiti on the walls), yes they are.

Paul Emery

So does dismantling the commons then mean selling off parks and national forrest lands for a start? I really like to talk specifics. I am reminded "Talk is cheap. The cost of action is colossal"

George Rebane

Well, it could mean any of several TBD solutions. One good one already practiced is charging for incremental use of a commons. That already gives the user a better sense of value and motivation to husband the resource. On the other end, the operator of the commons (e.g. national park) could possibly have a staff bonus plan based on some sort performance/usage measure.

Re 'talk is cheap, etc'. Paul, you seem to come from the school that no concept for improvement of anything can be profitably introduced and mutually contemplated unless you also come with a specific, detailed, and defendable plan for implementing it. Good procedure, if you can enforce it. But the real world - e.g. Sacramento and Washington - doesn't work that way. Look at either AB32 or Obamacare - no one knows the horrors that those pieces of passed legislation contain since it is the downstream unelected agencies/bureaus/commissions that are still writing the enforceable regulations. And that unfolds over time as we witness with the passing of every day.

Paul Emery

I think I like some details to go with sweeping generalizations. I want to know what "dismantle commons" means beyond the statement. Hardins essay is pretty interesting and a bit tough when it comes to population controls. How can that be accomplished without a strong central state and how would it be enforced? This was you're recommended reading. Do you agree with this?

"The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. At the moment, to avoid hard decisions many of us are tempted to propagandize for conscience and responsible parenthood. The temptation must be resisted, because an appeal to independently acting consciences selects for the disappearance of all conscience in the long run, and an increase in anxiety in the short.

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity"--and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons."

George Rebane

With the view of the future that Hardin saw in the late sixties, his prescription was the only logical one. Recall the dire predictions of the Club of Rome of rampant overpopulation, movies like Soylent Green, no green revolution yet, etc. We were very struck by all this and limited our children to two - i.e. statistically less than replacement.

Today, with all the creation of new wealth, green revolution, and diminishing birthrates, the UN projects the world population to max out at less than 13 billion somewhere around 2050, and then actually start declining.

There are three possible solutions - 1) dumb people and a strong central state, 2) smart people and distributed governments like today, 3) technology (pre-Singularity) that provides wealth, security, and stimulaton without having to breed beyond 2.1 per fertile woman. If population again becomes a problem, my bet is on technology providing a solution that is beyond biotics. And then there's always total war.

Mikey McD

NO worries: AP- "Recession may have pushed US birth rate to new low. US birth rate hits historic low in 2009, drops a second year since recession began."


Dan Getz

George, as a long time reader, I can say I'm probably not one of the smarter ones here. :) I do have a few counterpoints/thoughts.

Term limits: While, in general, I'm more for the lay lawmaker than a professional ruling class, aren't there some positions (such as president) that we want someone with government experience? Look where Obama's lack of experience has gotten us.

New Tax Code: I like the idea of a flat tax. I'm just not a fan of it affecting savings. People don't save enough already. We need to encourage saving rather than spending so that when hard times come around, people aren't lining up for government support.

Single Issue Legislation: I completely agree that legislation should be single issue, but haven't thought of a way to realistically enforce it with borderline cases. I'm also a fan of having a page limit on most legislation.

No more add-on fees for government services: It seems to me that some services, such as the patent office, need fees or the government will be quickly swamped with patent trolls.

On time budgets: House arrest may be struck down as too severe a penalty, but I have no problem with no pay.

George Rebane

Good counterpoints Dan, not all my druthers are lead pipe cinches to implement. Let me try to answer your concerns.

Term limits - just the process of getting into a high elected position should winnow out the unqualified. However, there is NOTHING in a democracy that prevents a dumb electorate from voting itself into disaster. Your Obama example serves.

The flat tax code I recommend does not tax savings, only earnings.

Single issue legislation, I believe, is fairly easy to implement and enforce. All it requires is a change in House and Senate rules. Noodling out borderline cases would be an enormous improvement over what's happening now.

Agreed with pattent app fees and several other such services that invite the behavior of the commons.

Judges can essentially order a jury to be sequestered until a verdict is reached (save personal hardship). Recall, that the alternative I suggested is the disbanding of dysfunctional and deadlocked legislatures. It is their job to reach a compromise and deliver a budget. If they demonstrate that they cannot do it within a reasonable time, we need to get a legislature that can. Continuing today's operating procedures is insanity.

Paul Emery

I have a problem with term limits. Shouldn't that be the responsibility of the voter? I can exercise term limits anytime I want. That's a basic conservative position-personal responsibility.

George Rebane

Apparently not Paul. You wanted another example of the commons, the resistance to term limits is it. When your seniority ranked representative promises you more ice cream cones from the big factory in the sky, as history shows, you're more apt to send him/her back to Washington or Sacramento. Who wants to be the first to keep sending freshmen backbenchers to the legislature, and get zip while other districts are bringing it home from the public trough? Term limits put an end to that commons, and we did by constitutional amendment when we saw the atrocious record that FDR left. But your local congressman and senator can usually make a very good case why they should maintain their sinecure.

Paul Emery

Then what you are saying is that voters are incapable of using their own judgement and we need legislation to take that choice away from them.

Steven Frisch


George Rebane

Paul (and SteveF?), am not sure that Hardin or I successfully communicated the notion of a commons to you. A commons is a societal resource structure that invites its violation, and punishes those who have access and don't consume it to the point of destruction. Am not saying anything more than that. Voters are human beings and react in their self-interest when presented with a commons.

You (both) may be teaching me what Hardin also taught. A commons is often difficult to see and not always easy to understand the workings of. Maybe that's one reason why so many of them are established and allowed to exist until they perish.

An excellent essay (actually an interleaved dual essay) that can shed more light for you is Hardin's 'Exploring New Ethics for Survival - The Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle' (1968).

Paul Emery


How do you propose we fairly tax international corporations with off shore tax shelters and international investments.
It seems the wage earner is a sitting duck for any taxation system and the big money operators can keep their money moving around so no one can trace it. What kind of enforcement system could penetrate this?

George Rebane

The method you (we all) desire has not been developed. There never has been a business structure of system gaming corporations superimposed on a layer of sovereign nation-states run by mostly second rate intellects. I believe your characterization of the situation is correct, and this lends credence to the notion that globalization may not work.

Michael Anderson

Hello George,

I've been meaning to reply to this thread for many weeks now. I apologize for the delay. I had hoped to do it before my recent vacation, but c'est la vie!

1. Term Limits: I'm OK with them now. When they first came into vogue in America in the 1980s and early '90s, I had a lot more respect for legislative experience. My trust was squandered by completely dysfunctional bodies like the US Senate. That being said, term limits may only be effective with smaller legislative bodies. I fear they will be ineffectual in the US Senate.

2. Tax Code: A very good start. Simplification and fairness, those are the hallmarks of all good tax reform. The only problem I have with an income tax is that it creates a small incentive not to work. I like tax breaks for wealth creation.

3. Sunset Laws: Agreed.

4. Dismantle Commons: I agree only to a very limited extent. This country has vast open spaces, and I have personal experience with how well the BLM helps all of the stakeholders manage these commons. They are so large, individuals cannot manage them on their own. But if you are talking about a homeowners association, I say yeah, throw them to the dogs.

5. Single-Issue Leg: Agreed.

6. Two-Thirds Super Majority: We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. It's gridlock after 50%.

7. Add-on Fees: Agreed.

8. Timely budgets: Agreed.

9. Peacetime budgets: Agreed.

10. Declaration of war: Agreed.

11. Deadlocked legislators: Agreed.

Michael A.

George Rebane

Thanks Michael for the calibrated thoughts.

Re Commonses - the BLM strategy has worked historically because they essentially did away with the commons when they leased the land to the ranchers and timber companies. These long term leasers saw it to their benefit to properly husband the land. In other places, the governments response to public use of public lands has been ever-greater restriction or outright denial. Again doing away with the commons because it's too expensive to maintain.

Re super-majority. Maybe 2/3 is too high, but a simple majority definitely will not work because it brings in all the instabilities of a democracy which will quickly destroy itself with the Peter/Paul Principle in full operation. What's a better way?

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