Vauxhall Astra: the real ‘Tragedy of the Commons’

A key driver of the Tragedy of the Commons is that no one can put themselves at a disadvantage. Exploitation of open access to resources is merely its most obvious manifestation. It is not even limited, as I have sometimes implied, to a society which has become addicted to growth. The inherent competition just aggravates the basic problem considerably.

We Greens keep stressing that we must limit economic activity to what the ecosphere can cope with, before the ecosphere does it for us. That remains true despite what I am about to say. It is also true that the ecosphere’s answers will be unpleasant. They will preclude any question of combining social justice with sustainability.

I explored the dilemma thrown up by the Tragedy in relation to the steel industry in blogs on 24th January 2016 and 3rd April 2016, but today’s (27th August 2017) Financial Times throws up another example – production of the Vauxhall Astra at Ellesmere Port.

The immediate point of the FT article is the fear that Brexit will force Peugeot to transfer production to Europe. As with the steel industry, the logic of the Tragedy dictates that despite the longer term imperative of producing fewer cars, the immediate priority for Britain is to keep this source of wealth and jobs in Britain. ‘Longer term’ is of course a misnomer. As with steel, we should be producing fewer cars now, but whoever did that would not halt the damage to the ecosphere, they would merely weaken their ability to shape events in the future.

The Universal Citizens’, or Basic Income (UBI) will not solve this problem on its own. But it is the embodiment of the principle grasped by a stone age tribe in New Guinea (See Book résumé in my blog ‘Pages’), that if you want a whole society to respect ecological constraints, you must give every member of that society security that basic needs are assured.

Perhaps someone cleverer than me will find something better than the UBI, but they had better hurry up. Whatever they come up with will have to offer everyone, everywhere that sense of security. In the meantime, whilst Britain remains in competition with others, the UBI will at least either enable lower British wages, or robots, to undercut them.

I look forward to constructive alternatives from anyone who does not like the last sentence.

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