Star Parker

An essay that appeared in Science magazine back in the 1960's explains clearly and concisely the self-destructive path we're on in our country today.

The essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons", showed how individuals, rationally pursuing their self-interest, could unintentionally destroy their own common existence.

A simple problem is put forth: A common grazing field is available to a community of herders. Everyone brings his or her cows there. Because there is no clear ownership, the only incentive each herder has is to bring all of his cows to graze and consume as much as possible.

With everyone doing it, and no one having any incentive to consider the implications of their behavior beyond consuming as much as possible, the final result is obvious. The field is destroyed.

Only when there is ownership and private property do individuals working in their own self-interest also make everyone else better off. When it's yours and you have responsibility for it, you think about tomorrow and how to make best of use of resources.

Today's equivalent of the common field is what we call the public sector -- government. And our grazers are politicians and interest groups.

Whereas a businessman will be out of business in short order if he delivers a poor product or mismanages his firm, politicians just graze in the public pasture doling out other peoples' resources.

There was a lot of flowery talk recently about Senator Kennedy on occasion of his passing.

Kennedy was a man born into wealth who spent a life in politics growing government. What was the personal consequence to him of what he did in politics? By personal consequence, I mean on his bank account, his survival. None.

He could convince poor people that he was working for their interest by fighting against school choice while everyone in his family attends private schools.

Or he could declare, as he did, that everyone has a "right" to health care. The personal costs of this to average Americans in the way of massive new intrusion of government into their lives and in major new taxes to pay for it all had absolutely no personal consequence to Kennedy. Does anybody think he ever sat in an HMO waiting room?

The public sector -- government -- was just a sandbox for Senator Kennedy to play in to seek personal power and glory.

President Obama has just submitted a 10-year federal government budget projecting our national debt burden to reach $17 trillion. This is greater than our entire GDP today.

Does anyone think Barack Obama manages his personal finances this way? Or if he were president of his own company that he would be running it this way?

The bigger government gets, the more "special interests" we have grazing for personal gain.


Star Parker

Star Parker is founder and president of CURE, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, a 501c3 think tank which explores and promotes market based public policy to fight poverty, as well as author of the newly revised Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can do About It.