Monday, December 10, 2007

Diamond's Road Map to Collapse - Rational Bad Behaviour

UCLA Prof. Jared Diamond's studies have shown that doomed societies "often fail even to attempt to solve a problem once it has been perceived."

"...some people may reason correctly that they can advance their own interests by behavior harmful to other people. Scientists terms such behavior "rational" precisely because it employs correct reasoning, even though it may be morally reprehensible. The perpetrators know they will often get away with their bad behavior, especially if there is no law against it or if the law isn't effectively enforced. They feel safe because the perpetrators are typically concentrated (few in number) and highly motivated by the prospect of reaping big, certain, and immediate profits, while the losses are spread over large numbers of individuals.

"A frequent type of rational bad behavior is 'good for me, bad for you and for everybody else' - to put it bluntly 'selfish.' As a simple example, most Montana fishermen fish for trout. A few fishermen who prefer to fish for pike, a larger fish-eating fish not native to western Montana, surreptitiously and illegally introduced pike to some western Montana lakes and rivers where they proceeded to destroy trout fishing.

"One particular form of clashes of interest has become well known under the name tragedy of the commons,' in turn closely related to the conflicts termed 'the prisoner's dilemma' and the 'logic of collective action.' Consider a situation in which many consumers are harvesting a communally owned resource, such as fishermen catching fish in an area of ocean, or herders grazing their sheep on a communal pasture. If everyone overharvests the resource, it will become depleted by overfishing or overgrazing and thus decline or even disappear. ...But as long as there is no effective regulation of how much resource each consumer can harvest, then each consumer would be correct to reason, 'If I don't catch that fish or let my sheep graze that grass, some other fisherman or herder will anyway, so it makes no sense for me to refrain from overfishing or overharvesting.'

Diamond has studied several civilizations where this "correct" or "rational" logic has brought collapse and others where ruin was avoided. There have been three approaches that have worked to preserve commons resources. One is for government to step in and regulate. A second is for the commons resource to be privatized and divvied up so that each owner will have a direct incentive to prudently manage his interest. The third (and least likely option) is for the consumers to recognize their common interests and establish, obey and enforce their own harvesting regime.

1 comment:

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