November 26; How Can The Manager Avoid The Tragedy Of The Commons?
365 Daily Bible Verse &
One-Minute Management Lessons For The Busy Faithful


26 November

Those who work their land will have abundant food…

Proverbs 28:19a

How Can The Manager Avoid The Tragedy Of The Commons?

Profit Hungry

I knew the deal going in. Your Business Professor agreed to work as an understudy. I would learn the product knowledge and sales techniques peculiar to a high-end product and service market.

The contract outlined that I would get trained and sell in a geographic region and the sales commission would accrue to the sales representative who ‘owned’ the territory. My training period was undefined.

And this was my mistake.

After my third Big Sale making more than a few dollars—for someone else—I expected to be assigned my own income-producing area. I felt I was ready, but my sales trainer and manager were in no hurry to make realignments that would disrupt the status quo.

I grew tired of working someone else’s land.


The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony had gratitude and Thanksgiving but little else. The first three years were base on a communal philosophy where the outputs (food) were independent of the inputs (work). From each according to his ability; to each according to his need, as Karl Marx might say. Everyone shared the load and everyone shared in the harvest.

Everyone starved.

Not 50 survived of the 102 who came to the New World. The Native Americans helped the non-threatening, starving Pilgrims. The remaining Puritans were not dying but not thriving. Management was not getting it right.

Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director of Institute for Faith, Work and Economicsquotes Governor William Bradford, the colony’s governor,

This system was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

The problem was that young men, that were most able and fit for labor, did repine that they should spend their time and strength for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.

Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.

[The Governor decreed – voted that to give each family a personal plot of ground to own and to cultivate] Governor Bradford explains,

This change had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.

Giving people economic incentives changed their behavior.

Even Plymouth Colony had problems with free riders and slackers.


Garrett Hardin was an ecologist who proposed an economics theory in [1968] that he entitled the Tragedy of the Commons. It says the people will act in self-interest and not always in the interest of a larger group.

Hardin was referring to the work of English economist William Forster Lloyd who, in 1833,

[P]ublished a pamphlet which included an example of herders sharing a common parcel of land on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze.

In English villages, shepherds had sometimes grazed their sheep in common areas, and sheep ate grass more severely than cows.

He suggested overgrazing could result because for each additional sheep, a herder could receive benefits, while the group shared damage to the commons. If all herders made this individually rational economic decision, the common could be depleted or even destroyed, to the detriment of all.

If a common area is owned by no one then no one would respect or care about the territory. Today’s Tragedy of the Commons can be seen by visiting any office kitchenette/pantry in America.

(Notes posted in the kitchen commons, “Your mother doesn’t work here, clean up after yourself” “I will not wash someone else’s dishes.” “All food left in the refrigerator will be thrown out on Friday.” The nonsense managers must deal with.)

A rational economic man works best with ownership and boundaries.


Your Business Professor was done with the deal and had had enough of working someone else’s territory. It wasn’t a bad exchange: I learned how to sell; the manager got the credit. I left the sharecropper’s life and set off to work my own land.

The King James Bible gives the interpretation of ownership of the land and of work in Proverbs 28:19a, He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread…




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