On tonight’s show (FBN @ 9pm ET), I give thanks for property rights, because without them, we would be poor, cold and hungry.
People like the idea of sharing and communal property ... But communal property leads to what economists call “the Tragedy of the Commons.”
I first heard that phrase in a story about shepherds who lived around a grassy area they called a commons. Since the shepherds shared this free, green grass, they grabbed as much of it as possible. They brought many more sheep to graze. Soon ... all the grass was gone. The sheep died, and the shepherds had nothing. Then then they divided the commons into parcels. Each shepherd owned one. Each had an incentive to limit the number of sheep that grazed on his grass. Prosperity happened, and everyone lived happily ever after.
We see this battle between private property and the “tradgedy of the commons” happen again and again, with the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving (which I write about in this week’s column); with stewardship of American buffalo and African elephants; with the poverty of native Americans on government-run Indian reservations; and with our most common shared space: public parks.
In New York City, Central Park and Bryant Park were desolate places …. until their management was taken over by private organizations. Daniel Biederman, whose company revitalized Bryant Park and wants to do the same for Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park, will debate public vs private with Boston journalist Shirley Kressel, who says privately run parks are a mistake.
I’ll also talk to one of the most impressive people I know: Economist Hernando de Soto. His work on property rights has arguably done more to help lift people out of poverty than anyone. He’ll explain why property rights and the rule of law are the necessary precursors to prosperity … and how America developed rule of law through “tomahawk rights” and “corn rights”.
That’s tonight on Stossel (FBN @ 9pm ET)