Excerpted from: MYTH No. 1 Sharing Would Make the World a Better Place
We learn in childhood that sharing is a good thing. And it's true in families and small groups.
But would the world be better off if we shared everything? No.
Think about shared public property, like public toilets. They're often gross.
Public streets tend to get trashed. Earlier I mentioned how people litter on public lands,
and think about what you share at work. The refrigerator where I work is disgusting
filled with food that's rotten. I found cottage cheese that was more than a year old.
It's because it's shared property.
Russell Roberts, professor of economics at George Mason University, points
out that private property rarely gets abused or degraded.
And there's an explanation for this. "When something belongs to everyone, it belongs
to no one. No one owns it. There's no incentive to take care of it. It gets abused and degraded," Roberts said.
Private property sounds selfish. We think of rich people taking advantage of other people.
But it works a lot better, Roberts said.
Compare dirty public toilets to privately run toilets. They're common in
Europe, and cleaner, because their owners selfishly seeking a profit work at keeping them clean.
But good things happen when this public property is privatized. For example, private fishing
quotas helped restore fisheries in the United States and New Zealand. In the 1980s, New Zealand's
government gave fishermen individual fishing quotas, setting a total allowable catch for different
species of fish. Then it granted each fisherman the right to take a certain percentage of that.
Because the fishermen own those rights, it's private property. The government can't take it
away from them. The fisherman are free to buy or sell those fishing rights, just like private property.
The result: Fish populations went up.
Communal farming is similar. The Pilgrims tried shared farming when they first arrived in America.
But, rather than working shared property, they faked illness. Some of them said the kids were
too young to go out in the fields. The Pilgrims nearly starved to death, and ended up eating rats,
dogs, horses and cats. When each was given his own land on which to grow crops, food was abundant.
I wish they taught the kids that at Thanksgiving. Likewise, when Stalin and Mao collectivized their farms,
their people nearly starved to death.
Economists call this the "Tragedy of the Commons."
[...] [W]hile sharing may feel warm and fuzzy, it often makes things worse.
By contrast, private ownership whether it's public toilets or hunting and fishing licenses
makes the world better.