Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science, 162(1968):1243-1248
In "The tragedy of the Commons" Hardin explores the inherent weaknesses of the socio-economic view (Post Adam Smith) when applied to areas of common property. Hardin argues against Smith's position that the decisions of individuals tend to be the best decision for society as a whole since each individual agent will act an a manner that increases their own benefits. Hardin argues that while Smith's "invisible hand" might have been true at some point in history it fails to hold up in modern times in the face of increased population density. Hardin's point that the increase in population density combined with "short sighted" individual optimizations leads to the inevitable degradation of common property is supported by the evolution of environmental legislation in this and other countries. As the population has increased in this country laws that progressively replace the common property nature of natural resources with more rigidly defined property rights have become prevalent at both state and federal levels. The impacts of these varying laws can be seen in the development on prior appropriation and riparian rights in water, evolving standards governing air quality and hazardous waste disposal.
Hardin's position about the self-selecting nature of conscience and the pathogenic effects of conscience deserve their own examinations and hopefully I'll get back to those points later in the week. Ultimately Hardin follows the demise of the concept of "the commons" as it is progressively legislated out of existence. Each new piece of legislation is born out of a new realization that "the situation has changed" and often the driver of that change has been the incessant growth in population. And although each new law has further infringed upon the rights of it citizens the uproar caused by the infringement tends to be short lived and is followed by general acceptance. This lead Hardin back to a quote from Hegel, which I shameless used, "Freedom is the recognition of necessity".