Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons VIII: Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon

In this section, Hardin begins, “The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion of some sort.” He argues in general that it is proper to institute coercive reforms, beginning with the obvious extreme of prohibiting banks robbers’ treating banks as commons. This section mostly argues by providing a series of examples. From bank robbery prohibition, Hardin moves to one in which society coerces temperance.

Parking meters and fines are ways in which “carefully biased options limit parking. Hardin says he prefers the “candor of the word coercion” to calling this persuasion. Coercion is a dirty word but Hardin says that it need not remain so. He isn’t talking, he says, about the coercion of remote, arbitrary bureaucrats, but “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” “We accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless.”

He says this coercion doesn’t have to be perfectly just to be preferable to the commons, and supports this assertion with the example of private property and legal inheritance. Hardin says that justice would require that “ those who are biologically more fit to be the custodians of property and power” should inherit more, but that heirs often lack their ancestors’ virtues. We tolerate the system of property and legal inheritance because “the alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate,” and “injustice is preferable to total ruin.”

(I didn’t realize we were so thoughtful. It seems to me that we have the system we do because people organize to maintain their status. It may be that this system is preferable to the commons, but I’d like to throw a hankering for justice into the mix. Is custodial fitness for wealth and power identical to the fitness it takes to accumulate wealth and power? I’m sure I’m not the only schoolboy who noticed a paradox in which a good king was preferable to a venal and ignorant democracy, but that the good king could spawn a tyrant or fool.)

Hardin points out that there is a war between the status quo and reform, governed by a double standard. Reform must be perfect to be instituted, and requires unanimous consent. He believes inertia is based on two unconscious assertions: “that the status quo is perfect,” or “that the choice we face is between reform and no action.” We think we should wait for a perfect proposal before reforming.

Status quo is action. We should measure the costs and benefits of both status quo and reform, “discounting as best we can for our lack of experience,” and act in our best interests.

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