Communal Ownership Doesn’t Work – Particularly In Your Personal Life

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February 23, 2015 by Liberty

Communal ownership of anything doesn’t work. Just about every libertarian understands that. When no one has ownership over something, no one has any incentive to protect it. While that’s pretty bad, it gets worse. When everyone owns something, everyone has an incentive to exploit it for everything it’s worth.

This is the problem of the commons.

The problem of the commons is usually explained with an example. If you’re familiar with the problem then the following couple paragraphs may be skippable. Then again, I’m going to try to make them so fantastic that you’ll regret it.

Let’s say you find a lonely keg and donate it to a local fraternity. Everyone in the fraternity has an equal ownership over that keg. The fraternity is particularly excited because they have a party planned for that night.

Of course, right after class, David (the big drinker,) decides it’s time to get started on that keg. He pulls out the plastic cups and starts drinking. Carl is also a bit of a drinker. He didn’t feel like drinking right after class but decided, since David is drinking, he might as well join in. Bob normally only drinks when the party starts but after seeing David and Carl drinking, he figured that he might miss out on getting completely drunk if he didn’t start early. This, of course, continues indefinitely with everyone in the frat. No one wants to miss out on the wonderful keg you donated, so everyone starts pounding down on it. That, sadly, leads to an empty keg by 8:30. (“Dude. This party sucks.”)

The solution to this problem is private ownership. If you instead used your libertarian logic and donated the keg to an individual fraternity brother, the keg would be in great shape by the party. No one person could finish off that keg before the party. By party time, that keg owner will be passed out on the couch while everyone else enjoys his keg. (Tough luck… Drink responsibly or expect ownership of your beer to diminish.) Of course, being a good frat brother, he’d probably have donated the rest to the frat anyway.

Okay. That’s truly a miserable example of the problem of the commons but at least it’s original. I’m sure the point got though. Private ownership is much safer than public ownership.

Political To Personal

It seems like many libertarians short-circuit when they try to apply their political beliefs to their own personal life. While the logic behind the ideas make sense politically, it seems to be considered weird personally.

Private property is one of the most common examples of this short-circuit.

You can ask these libertarians what they think about communism and they’ll have all the right answers. They’ll tell you it doesn’t work because of this and this. Then, if you ask them how they pay bills in their personal relationship, they’ll tell you some communistic scheme. “Well, my wife and I split the bills 50-50.”

To anyone thinking this through deeply, the logical follow up question is: “WTF?”

There are definitely differences. In personal relationships, you get to voluntarily choose who you invite into your little communistic circle. Of course, if this libertarian’s wife blatantly took advantage of the communal situation, he could voluntarily stop. (Short of government marriage and long term contracts.) That being said, what is the point?

Private ownership of certain aspects of the relationship isn’t a negative. There is nothing wrong with sharing expenses through a friendly pricing mechanism. (I’ll go over an example later if that doesn’t make sense yet.) Given the choice between a communist relationship and a capitalist one, why are you picking the communist one? Considering the risks of communistic ownership, I’m not sure why anyone would voluntarily enter it.

Risks Of Personal Communism

Let’s say you want to buy a home with your lover. (I’m avoiding spouse to keep some legal complexity out of the relationship.) You and your lover make similar incomes. If you buy this home together, the expenses get split between you two 50-50.

While you split expenses 50-50, is everything else other than the expenses split that way? Do you both want to buy this particular home equally (or does one lover have more say than the other?) If not, then you’re instantly not getting a fair deal. Let’s say you both do want it equally though. What about that new shower you want in the bathroom? Do you both want that equally? Since it changes the homes value significantly, how can you get that new shower without someone not getting what they want. (If bathroom doesn’t work then try new garage, or anything that one party wants and the other doesn’t.)

In the split relationship, one person is always getting a little bit shafted.

Now let’s say you break up with this lover… Good luck getting this whole mess untangled. You could spend a decade in court trying to split all of the appropriate amounts between each other.

If there were no other option then I’d understand this strategy. Considering there is a better option…

Personal Private Ownership

Let’s change that buying a home situation a little. Let’s say you want to buy a place for you and your lover. You buy it 100% on your own.

That means you get 100% ownership over all the decisions you want with the home. You, of course, want to please your lover but you can balance that out with your own personal preferences as you see fit. You also are 100% responsible for changes you want. If the relationship ever struggles then you never need to question where the home ends up.

“Then I end up paying for everything!?” Yes. Or no. You can always make a lease or rental agreement with your lover. They pay a standard price to live in the home to help cover the expenses. With that agreement, they can get more of what they want in the place (maybe that new bathroom.)

Of course, this situation will only take place if it’s favorable for both parties involved. One persons denial doesn’t hinder the other person’s situation. (If you don’t want the bathroom upgraded but the owner does then the owner can still buy it themselves.)

Does this sound cold to you?

That is why you’re not applying libertarianism to your personal life. Voluntary relationships are not cold when you apply logic to them. It’s the only consistently peaceful relationship possible. We’re taught to think this is cruel from childhood. (Why? Because people treat us cruel… but that’s a looong story best saved for a new bottle of something strong.)

On that note: This can be an interesting way to imagine how other people feel when you suggest private ownership of businesses or social security (or everything.)

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