Tragedy of the Commons

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Scary.

That’s the only word that fits. Alberta, with all its wealth from natural resources and a booming economy, is dipping into deficit spending: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/19/marni-soupcoff-redford-taps-into-canadians-appetite-for-spending-and-comfort-with-debt/

I love this quote from the Wildrose MLA, criticizing the decision: “If Alberta cannot balance its budget with a 4.5% unemployment rate and $85 per barrel of oil, no province can.” (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/11/18/alberta-premier-alison-redfords-fiscal-policy-under-attack/)

Anderson isn’t saying provinces have no choice but to spend – he’s saying the idea of fiscal responsibility is dead in this country.

And the headline of this article is perfect: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/14/jesse-kline-with-conservatives-like-these-who-needs-liberals/

We’re being treated like children, and apparently we’re loving it. Politicians pay lip service to fiscal responsibility, but they’ve learned the lesson: spend, spend, spend. We’ve fallen into the trap of the ‘tragedy of the commons’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

This one’s worth a look. My take on it – and I could be way off – is that it’s in the selfish interests of each individual to get as much stuff as we can from government. The problem is that everyone knows this and everyone does it. This in turn creates a collective problem. And as individual members of that collective, it becomes our problem.

So when a politician brings goodies to the riding, the thinking is: “Why should we say no? If we don’t get it, someone else will.”

This makes sense…sort of. The problem is that a nation full of ridings making the same sensible decision nets a very foolish result: a burgeoning debt.

Having debt is a pretty normal thing for households. But with household debt, the buck stops with you. Each of us decides our own tolerance for risk (which, granted, still has the potential to impact collective risk). With national debt, though, there’s the illusion that someone else is responsible for worrying about it…and that illusion continues until the bottom drops, like it has in Greece, or you push it forward onto your kids, and their lifestyle suffers.

So, which of those two outcomes is the one we think is acceptable? I’m guessing neither.

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