One of the landmarks of the early environmental movement was the essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in 1968 by the ecologist Garrett Hardin in Science. It can be to an individual’s private advantage, he points out, to exploit common resources at the expense of others.
In the absence of other constraints, he argued, most people will take more than their share, out of greed or fear, eventually depleting the resources in question.
By the same token, those who don’t take advantage for themselves end up with less.
In a later essay, “Living on a Lifeboat,” he elaborates further: “Under a system of private property the man (or group of men) who own property recognize their responsibility to care for it, for if they don’t they will eventually suffer.
“A farmer, for instance, if he is intelligent, will allow no more cattle in a pasture than its carrying capacity justifies. If he overloads the pasture, weeds take over, erosion sets in, and the owner loses in the long run.
“But if a pasture is run as a commons, open to all, the right of each to use it is not matched by an operational responsibility to take care of it. It is no use asking independent herdsmen in a commons to act responsibly, for they dare not.
“The considerate herdsman who refrains from overloading the commons suffers more than a selfish one who says his needs are greater.”
Hardin highlights the disconnect in an open, unregulated commons between “operational responsibility” and the preservation of common resources. He insists that “idealism” – some form of restraint and self-sacrifice for the greater good –doesn’t help in this situation.
The only way to guarantee “operational responsibility,” Hardin argues, is if your survival depends on your owning and maintaining the resources you need. This means not just owning some personal possessions, but owning, as your private property, a productive enterprise providing goods and services on which your living depends. It means being in business for yourself.
You might be a simple herdsman, as Hardin pictures it, or a farmer, or any other independent business person. But you have to be small enough so that the success or failure of the enterprise hinge on the decisions you make.
There was a time in American history, before the rise of corporations after the Civil War, when the vast majority of people were small independent business owners of the type Hardin describes. Most were farmers, but there were also artisans, tradesmen, manufacturers, shopkeepers, wholesalers, teamsters, ship owners, undertakers, lawyers, doctors and many others.
These small independent business owners were the heart of the pre-corporate economy. They were obliged by circumstances to ensure the preservation of the raw materials they needed to continue in business.
In what was still a low tech, agricultural society, this meant having to follow a natural ecological way of life, which put limits on despoiling the land, water, and air.
It wasn’t all good, of course – forests were clear cut by farmers, paper mills and tanneries polluted streams, wood and coal fires polluted the air, etc. – but it remained largely within the power of small independent producers to change their behavior under such circumstances.
Today, however, independent business owners comprise a small and declining – even endangered – part of the population. Most of the economic ownership, once widely distributed, has been steadily consolidated into fewer and fewer hands – mostly in large corporations.
The vast majority of people today are wage laborers, working for somebody else. They are not “operationally responsible” for the success of the enterprises that employ them.
No wonder most people feel powerless in the face of the political and economic problems we face today: They have been relieved of any effective “operational responsibility.”
Hardin drew a simple picture of herdsmen using a pasture, but we can imagine as well the large corporations roaming the earth and consuming its resources as if it were one big pasture. In an increasingly deregulated world, there is no effective check on corporate behavior.
This is the tragedy of the commons writ large. Each corporation, bound by the profit motive, has no choice but to act selfishly to maximize its private advantage in exploiting whatever resources it can command. Otherwise it will be overtaken and consumed by the competition.
The personal survival of those running corporations – CEOs, top executives, and boards of directors – no longer depends on the survival of the corporation. They can skim off short-term profits and make money from inflated salaries, stock buy-backs, golden parachutes, and even bankruptcy.
Corporations are not too big to fail, but if they fail, it is the rank and file wage-earners who suffer, not the executives.
We’re not going back anytime soon to a non-corporate, decentralized, re-personalized, re-localized model of independently owned and run businesses. Yet, if Hardin is right, that may be the only way in the long run to achieve a sustainable society, one in which we preserve rather than destroy the resources we’ve been given.
Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor
and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
from JULIE HUNTSMAN, CHRIS KJOLHEDE
To the Editor:
We appreciate this paper’s coverage of local dissent from the global United Methodist Church’s “Traditional Plan” which passed by a slim majority at the church’s conference in February of this year.
To those not acquainted with the issue, the Traditional Plan continues the UMC Book of Discipline’s codified discrimination of people identifying as LGBTQ. Those so identifying are not turned away from church, but they are denied full benefits of membership.
The implied message to LGBTQ people by this decision is that there is something wrong with them, that they are just not worthy.
FLY CREEK – Some members of the Fly Creek United Methodist Church have allied with their Oneonta colleagues, penning a letter expressing “disappointment and dismay” that the international church has affirmed bans on gay pastors and gay marriage.
Thirty-seven regular attendees also signed it, said Julie Huntsman, who drafted the letter with Chris Kjolhede.
But the pastor, the Rev. Sharon Rankins-Burd, did not sign it, and Huntsman said it is not the Fly Creek congregation’s official position.
FLY CREEK – Sarah (Sally) Van Horne Rezen, 95, a Marine, farmer with her husband Paul and antiques restorer whose family has lived in the Fly Creek Valley for 200 years, passed away on April 2, 2019, at Walden Place in Cortland.
Sally was born on Dec. 13, 1923, the daughter of Dorr and Emma Van Horne. She was the sixth of seven girls and grew up on the family farm in Fly Creek Valley.
Sally went to a one-room schoolhouse at the Sprague School through 8th grade. She attended Cooperstown High School, graduating in 1941. After graduation, and with WWII underway, Sally worked at several jobs throughout the region, including an airplane parts factory in Sidney.
from Paul Lord
To the Editor:
As a deaf guy, I don’t attend many musical performances. They are largely exercises in frustration for me. Before my hearing loss, I appreciated music, and I still appreciate memories of music, but the reality is that the notes don’t resonate when you are missing enough frequencies.
I attended last night’s performance to acknowledge the support provided by the Fly Creek Philharmonic for the Otsego Lake Association. I enjoyed every minute of it. This was the second or third time I attended a Fly Creek Philharmonic performance. Knowing the visuals would be important and hoping that my lip-reading skills would help to understand the lyrics, I stood in the rear last night.
THEME: ‘Water, Water Everywhere’
As emcee Chris Kjolhede put it, tonight’s annual Fly Creek Philharmonic performance, “Water, Water Everywhere,” was “the hottest ticket in town – except for the Cooperstown boys’ basketball team,” and – as always happens – it packed the Fly Creek United Methodist Church. In top photo, the chorus performs “Under the Sea”; front, from left, are Julie Huntsman, Scottie Baker, Celeste Johns, Judy Grin, Joelle LaChance, Sharon Rankins-Burd, Ellen Tillapaugh and Vicki Gates. Inset left, “Singing in the Bathtub” featured, from left, Gary Kuch, Bill Hughes and Tom Huntsman. The two-hour performance began with the traditional “Down in the River to Pray,” and ended with “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and a standing ovation. “Kids” in the troupe included Evelyn Baldo, Kayleigh Butler, Avery Croft, Paul Crowell, Lucy Hayes, Clara Pokorny and Creighton Williams. Music by Ron Johnson, Tim Peters and Lorna Wilhelm. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
PEOPLE SAFE; 2 DOGS DIE
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Whipped by high winds, flames destroyed three homes in northern Otsego County overnight – in the towns of Middlefield, Springfield and Otsego.
At 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve, crews from the Middlefield Volunteer Fire Department were called to 207 Rezen Road after a passerby called 911 on observing a home on fire.
FLY CREEK – Dennis Alfred Tallman, a man devoted to his family and a vital part of his community, passed away unexpectedly Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at the age of 76.
Born June 6, 1942, Dennis was the son of Harold Winfield Tallman and Francesca Louisa Krack Tallman. Dennis was a graduate of Toccoa Falls Institute in Georgia.
COOPERSTOWN – Ward C. Fish, Jr., who spent almost two decades at Remington Arms, peacefully passed away Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. He was 79.
Ward, known as Jim, was the son of the late Dorothy (Sheridan) and Ward C. Fish, Sr. of Richfield Springs. Jim was born on the family farm on March 7, 1938.
He met his “huggy bear,” Merri Lynn (Macomber) at the roller skating rink in Richfield Springs. They were married in August 1959 in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Springfield Center.
Editor’s Note: This is the editorial opinion of www.AllOTSEGO.com, Hometown Oneonta and The Freeman’s Journal. Letters to the editor on political topics received after 10 a.m. Tuesday will appear on www.AllOTSEGO.com. Polls are open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7.
With all the sturm und drang over the years surrounding the Otsego County Board of Representatives – MOSA or not, road patrols or not, economic development or not – a central truth was lost: County government doesn’t work very well.
It makes sense that Andrew Marietta, the freshman county rep for Cooperstown and the Town of Otsego, would quickly recognize that. As regional director of NYCON, the state Council of Non-Profits, his job is to get struggling organizations to focus on mission and map steps necessary for success.
Locally, from Foothills to the Greater Oneonta Historical Society to merging the Smithy Pioneer Gallery with the Cooperstown Art Association, NYCON, often with Marietta in the lead, has strengthened so many key institutions we take for granted.
The road to success is simple: Identify priorities – five at a time, maybe, not 100 – resolve them systematically, then move on to the next five. The goal, progress. Simple, but requiring vision and discipline.
Shortly after taking office in 2016, Marietta salvaged the $40,000 county strategic plan that had been put together the year before by the Laberge Group out of Albany, tapping common needs among the county’s municipalities. It was headed for the shelf, but his advocacy saved it, turning it into the guiding document of the county board’s Strategic Planning Committee.