My post this morning, about the incentive for those who rely on Minnesota trees to ensure the long-term health of Minnesota forests, came right up to the edge of a much bigger topic. The most-important factor guarding humanity against the tragedy of the commons — wherein individuals use up natural resources because the incentive to preserve never outweighs the incentive to profit for any one person — is that the human beings involved think forward to the future beyond their own personal needs and desires.
As I wrote earlier, we can expect people not to poison their own well, so to speak, by destroying the resources on which they rely, but only within a certain range. If the activity (like cutting down trees) is relatively difficult and the people able or willing to do it are relatively few, it is more likely they’ll collectively recognize their long-term incentives. If something is easy to do and many people are doing it, then it is less likely that they’ll delay immediate profit for longer-term stability, because somebody else can come along and edge in.
Obviously, it also matters how far into the future the players are looking. If people are desperate to have a meal today, they’ll be more careless about the resources. The selfish, childless businessman of progressive fantasy need only preserve the resource to the extent that he can capitalize on it.
This is where the topic expands. A business owner who sees him or her self as building a multi-generational source of income will worry about critical resources indefinitely into the future.
That principle extrapolates beyond businesses, too. People who are thinking about their own children and their children’s children have a living, breathing reason to figure the future into everything they do. That is, making families and children central to personal and cultural meaning has philosophical benefits for the entire society.
This realization points an interesting light at secular progressivism, which is fundamentally anti-family in its philosophy. When progressives find it necessary to appeal to a long-term perspective for their political advocacy, as with the environment, they have to resort either to abstractions (the good of humankind) or to a religious elevation of something else (like the planet) as an object of concern in its own right.
Neither alternative can compete with the incentives that come from love of one’s children.