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30.3.04

Comedy Of The Commons

It's generally assumed that, in an open-access resource situation (i.e., nonprivate property and no coordination among users), the profit motive will lead to unsustainable overexploitation (the Tragedy of the Commons). But Murphy's Law dictates that when you want to encourage unsustainable overexploitation, people will manage the resource sustainably (we could call this the Comedy of the Commons). As an example I offer the case of rabbits in Australia: apparently the bounty placed on rabbits (in order to encourage people to hunt them into extinction because they'd become such a pest) led to people leaving a few animals alive in each warren, so that they'd breed and produce more rabbits which could be killed and sold to the government. The Commedy of the Commons works in this case, I imagine, because 1) you only need to leave a few rabbits behind -- since they breed like you-know-what, and thus conservation isn't expensive, and 2) there are economies of scale to rabbit hunting -- it's more cost-effective to go after big warrens than to mop up the few rabbits left behind by someone else.

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