Hampstead Heath Ponds And The Tragedy Of The Commons


Despite this being North London we’re not talking about common people here and the tragedy of their entering the precincts of the progressives. Rather, the tragedy of common resources.

One fact about those bathing ponds on the Heath:

Honesty boxes for bathers to pay to swim were introduced in 2005. There were plans for a compulsory charge in 2012, but they came to nothing.

We have open access to a resource, Marxian access. We also have one other fact:

It was once a well-kept secret. Now the bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath are among the most crowded parts of London on a hot summer’s day.

We have – by one measure at least – excessive use of that resource, use that needs to be limited in some manner.

This is a problem that has been noted before, it’s called the Tragedy of the Commons. As Garrett Hardin points out there are only two ways of restricting such access, capitalist – charge for it – or socialist – regulate.

The third option, Elinor Ostrom’s, does not work with this number of people. That communal agreement tops out at about 3,000 peeps, not 10 million.

Which of the two solutions works depends upon the specific circumstance and isn’t the point to be made here. Rather, the lesson to learn is that Marxian access just doesn’t work when demand is at or above capacity. A useful thing to think about when contemplating other areas of the economy.

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Restricting access. Three options, I thought – rationing, pricing or queueing. I know that queueing is a technically form of rationing, but I don’t really mean groceries, but access to health services. 6 months wait for a consultant…


I have to concede that, unless I really can’t do without it, if you fuck me around too much I’ll just not bother.