Theories of Public Service Term Paper

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Public Administration

Public Goods and the Tragedy of the Commons

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Down through the ages, societies have made use of common goods and resources for the benefit of all. In many cultures, that of medieval Europe for example, fields, forests, and bodies of water have been termed "common," the resources of which were available for exploitation by the members of a given community. As described by Garret Hardin in his 1968 essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons," peoples can use these resources for their individual ends, and often without restriction. Uncontrolled use of finite resources can lead to the depletion and eventual elimination of these very resources. Medieval agriculturalists made use of common pastures by grazing their cattle on what was theoretically public land. Typically only certain individuals i.e. The members of a particular village, householders in that village, etc. might have access to the common land. While a piece of land might easily support so many cattle, as the number of cattle increased over time with the number of human "commoners" the public resource, that is the pasture land, would become scarcer and scarcer. As numbers of cattle reached levels at which they could no longer be supported by the available common land, their human owners would suffer economic deprivation and loss. The larger the human population, the more cattle it requires, and the more cattle, the more land that is required on which to graze it. Thus, the dilemma of the commons - a resource is destroyed through overuse by an ever-increasing human population. In other words, the number of commoners increases to the point that not one of them can wring a decent living from the land. Hardin's ideas are especially relevant in today's world of explosive population growth, diminishing resources and climate change.

Term Paper on Theories of Public Service Assignment

The natural environment is particularly affected by its exploitation by increasingly large numbers of men and women. Across the globe, human beings are faced by, what for many, is the sudden realization that the physical resources that are essential for industry and survival are not limitless. People tend to look at the natural endowment in a specific, and essentially human, way. Pastures are for grazing, as fertile fields are for farming. Waterways are for fishing. Minerals within the earth are there to be mined and turned into products useful to human beings and their societies. According to such a viewpoint, any resource problem can be resolved simply by finding and exploiting more of the essential resource. In the case of Hardin's cattle herders, this would have meant opening up more land for pasture. Yet, there comes a time when such "solutions" only create further problems. One day, there is no more available pasture land. True, a pasture can be created, but this is often to the detriment of other land uses. The needs of one group - grazers - impinges on the needs of farmers, miners, real estate developers, and so forth. In a still larger context, the human uses of a piece of land or a stretch of water are not necessarily (in fact, rarely are) the natural uses of that geographical area. Human exploitation of resources affects biological diversity and viability. It interferes with the normal and natural flow of ecological systems and can end up "poisoning" the land, water, and atmosphere. The development of genuine system of sustainable resource management is rendered impossible because of human biases toward resource use:

In fact, the pursuit to build stable commons institutions systematically creates four important barriers to emerging values. First, we often design institutions to govern the commons with a narrow vision of why a commons has value. Commons institutions are intentionally myopic. The herdsmen looked at a field and saw a pasture; salmon fishers see rivers and oceans in terms of salmon habitat; jurisdictions attempting to limit greenhouse gases look at forests as greenhouse gas sinks; wilderness advocates see remote places as areas "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man." Our tendency to focus on one use of a commons at a time sets institutions on a path-dependent course at the outset. (Daniels 2007)

If the modern science of climate change has told us anything, it is that as human beings we exist within a complex web of biological interrelationships. Living creatures themselves depend on natural resources for their survival. The physical environment, too, is the result of a complicated series of cycles and interactions that ultimately determine the "livability" of our entire planet.

Global warming or climate change is a problem faced by all of the Earth's inhabitants. Human societies contribute directly to its creation by virtue of the way in which they make use of limited resources. Most likely, some groups of people do more adversely affect the environment than others. Nevertheless, these groups are so numerous and so diffused throughout human civilization, and the fruits of their resource use so widely spread throughout the global population that we are all, in some measure, jointly responsible for the problems of climate change. As in the "Tragedy of the Commons," we all share in the exploitation and destruction of the Earth's environment. And as in the example of the medieval herdsmen, we all hope that the "next person" will take responsibility for his or her actions and leave us to the happy enjoyment of our personal enrichment scheme. "Even if all states would be better off if the environmental problem were addressed collectively, any given state would prefer that others act to address the issue while it stays apart from regulatory action" (Desombre, 2004).

Agreements like the Kyoto Accord reveal the difficulties in getting countries to agree on plans for the improvement of the general welfare that produce potentially negative impacts on individual states. In order for the scheme to have succeeded, the United States would have needed to restrict its own economy while allowing others to flourish. Of course, one could make the argument that an already highly-developed economic power, like the United States, could stand to rein in its won economy while allowing others to catch up - particularly if such an action would be in the best interest of all.

Many have tried to encourage action against global warming by showing that the prevention of climate change is in the interest of all. Much as the herders in Hardin's example must make hard choices between their own personal freedom, and their own personal well-being, individual nation-states must choose between their narrow self-interest as sovereign entities, and their continued existence as viable socio-economic units. In the case of climate change,

The actual, unreflective consumption behavior of most individuals is based on perceived self-interest; second, this self-interest is often narrowly economic; and, third, it is such behavior that prompts much of the energy use that causes the problem of climate change.... any solution to the problems... will require calling on motivations other than those of narrow, economic self-interest, and in particular moral motivations associated with our obligations to future people.

(Gardiner 2004)

Climate change, being a problem of global scope demands a fundamental re-ordering of normal human priorities. The simple syllogism of individual freedom vs. physical well-being must be put aside in favor of far larger and far more profound realizations. The continued existence of material and physical prosperity depends on the continued usability of resources. These resources will become partially or wholly unavailable for continued human use if they are destroyed by climate change. Individual nations must begin to see the big picture, to react to a far-ranging problem as if it is something that affects multiple aspects of human existence and multiple generations of women and men. An alternative way of looking at the problem of global warming would be for the causes themselves of climate change to be seen as common property. Emissions, for example, could be controlled through an emissions credit trading programming under which nations that pollute less than others could give their credits to countries that pollute more heavily (Stewart, and Wiener 2004). An allowable average of emissions could be set against which credits would be issued. Eventually as societies work toward tighter emissions controls these standards could be amended, thus furthering the goal of largely eliminating climate changing pollution.

The fight against global warming extends to the management of numerous other natural resources. The use and overuse of these resources does not necessarily affect climate change, but the problems involved are similar. Land and water rights affect countless individuals worldwide, and are frequently the cause of disputes between nations. Many of these resources naturally entail disputes over ownership of property with the use of watersheds, oceanic basins, plains and mountain ranges being in dispute among different authorities. Within nations, too, individual states and provinces can fight over access to scarce water and land. In the United States, watersheds supply both water for human consumption and for agriculture. They also serve as fisheries. The Columbia River, in America's Northwest, serves as an excellent example of a "tragedy of the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Theories of Public Service" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Theories of Public Service.  (2008, January 8).  Retrieved June 5, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Theories of Public Service."  8 January 2008.  Web.  5 June 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Theories of Public Service."  January 8, 2008.  Accessed June 5, 2020.