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Pericles and Pork

The earliest statement of The Tragedy of the Commons I’ve seen is from Pericles (495-529 BC), writing about the key weakness of a potential adversary:
"They devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any matter of common concern, most of it to the prosecution of their own affairs. Meanwhile each fancies that no harm will come of his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays."

I suggest that the US Congress has a similar problem. Some members spend so much time working to bring federal money to their own districts (whether out of genuine concern for the people they represent, or just to buy votes) that national problems get neglected. It’s not so much that “pork-barrel? projects are the direct cause of our growing national debt (almost $30,000 per American), but that problems like balancing the budget get ignored in the scramble for pork.

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