Tragedy of the commons is inevitable in our roads due to these three main reasons:

 First, the price of oil in the United States is very low compared to other industrialized countries. Second, urban sprawl has shaped American land-use patterns in a way that makes it difficult to plan or infrastructure a public transit system. Third, historically, interest groups favouring investments in road networks rather than rail networks and mass-transit systems were very successful in their lobbying activities.

Firstly: In most of the industrialized world, including Europe and Japan, pump prices are much higher than in the United States even though the wholesale price is roughly the same, because the United States has the lowest gasoline tax of any industrialized country: 14% at current prices. Gasoline taxes have always been a politically sensitive issue. For instance, candidates for the 2008 presidential elections proposed a gas tax break for the summer travel season to ease the impact of the 2008 surge in oil prices on U.S. drivers. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 2008, crude oil prices jumped for the first time above $100 a barrel. At the time, research indicated that the price of oil would have gone on to touch $7 per gallon in the United States over the course of the following four years. The official estimate of crude oil was considered flawed and actually lower than the estimates. As a result of an increase in demand and a lack of adequate supply, the price of crude oil was believed to likely increase steadily over the following four years.

 Although some analysts maintained that the summer 2008 surge in oil markets was related to financial flows and had nothing to do with fundamental factors, many economists believed that the surge of oil prices would be permanent due to the increased demand from new buyers and the inadequacy of the reserves. Due to the spreading global recession in late 2008, oil prices began to fall and the 2008 oil price surge proved to be transitory. However, some commentators think that the oil price surge of summer 2008 has to be considered “a sort of dress rehearsal for the energy crisis we must still endure, at some point in the coming months or years, once the world’s demand for oil has permanently outstripped the world’s ability to supply it.” David Goodstein has already predicted that “the world will soon start to run out of conventionally produced, cheap oil” and explains that humans have consumed about a trillion barrels (42 trillion gallons) which, according to Goodstein’s estimates, is equal to about half of the earth’s total recoverable supply. In Goodstein’s view, a devastating global oil crisis will begin not when we will completely run out of oil, but when we will have reached the halfway point. This event is also known as the peak oil or the Hubbert’s peak, after the geophysicist who first predicted it. The Hubbert peak theory contends that peak oil is the point in time at which the maximum global petroleum production rate is reached. After this point, the rate of production will enter terminal decline and the price of oil can only increase. Once the peak is hit, oil will not just run out, but the supply of conventional oil will significantly drop and prices will dramatically increase. In the past, scholars predicted that the Hubbert peak was very close, or that it had already been reached.

However, new oil discoveries and technological advances in the petroleum recovery process exposed flaws in such prognostics. Goodstein’s worries may actually be excessive, considering that high prices incentivize drillers to look for oil in new places and new oil-extraction technologies make it possible to extract oil once inaccessible. But even if this is so, at some point oil reserves will eventually dry up. There is no doubt about the long-term trend because “oil, unlike shoes or wheat, has an end point” which may be closer than we might expect as it is related to the cost of bringing oil to the surface and making fuel out of it. As a matter of fact, the world will not keep extracting oil until the very last drop of it has been pumped out of the ground; it will stop much sooner at the point when the extraction of the remaining crude oil will no longer be economically viable. Some would argue that there is always the option of the more plentiful, yet environmentally unfriendly, carbon as an energy source. Or else the world could turn to “more plentiful carbon based alternatives and their derivatives.”

Secondly: The ideals represented by automobile use and ownership explain the popularity of suburban living. Land use policies and real estate development patterns have and continue to favour the use of private automobiles as the primary means of transportation. Most Americans are locked into their driving habits and can do little to alter their fuel-buying patterns when prices rise. For example, from 1990 to 2000, the number of workers with commutes lasting longer than sixty minutes increased by almost 50%, according to Census Department. In a survey by the American Automobiles Association and the American Public Transportation Association, only 26% of respondents used public transportation at least once during the year, whereas 91% of respondents admitted they prefer to use their cars for their daily travel needs. Americans generally prefer to live in less densely populated suburbs and “prefer detached dwellings over row houses, rural to city life, and home ownership to renting.” American ideals of individualism and freedom lie underneath the passion for open spaces—suburban living and automobile use make this love a reality. These ideals substantiate the cultural sub stratus of urban sprawl. Sprawl is development that (1) extends far from traditional urban centres, or (2) regardless of its location, is built in a way that requires residents and visitors to be highly dependent on automobiles. Sprawl endangers the stability of older neighbourhoods, increases auto-induced air pollution.

Finally, the pressure of what can be called the “road industry”—car makers, real estate developers, public works contractors, unions, and oil companies—has shaped federal spending in the transportation sector. Historically, the major part of such financing has been channelled toward increasing the capacity of roadway and highway networks rather than favouring the modernization and improvement of urban and regional public transit systems. Policymakers have the protagonist role in the tragedy of urban congestion. Under the pressure of the highway industry they have diverted large parts of the resources meant to improve transportation towards the construction of new roads, thereby incentivizing the use of cars. Indeed, the first comprehensive piece of legislation on U.S. transportation networks is the Federal Aid Highway Act, enacted in 1956. It authorized the construction of America’s interstate highway system. Since the Federal Aid Highway Act, the federal government dedicated large parts of its surface transportation resources to the construction of interstate highways. Consequently, the role of the national highway department officials became crucial in determining the scope and nature of the American transportation system.

But according to many analyst “history and logic often insensibly blend together and many analysts who revived the use of the common/enclosures discourse in the 1990s often associated neoliberal capital’s instinctive aversion to the commons and enthusiasm for enclosures (past, present, and future) with a total rejection of the commons by all forms of capitalism. Indeed, there appeared to be a logical antagonism between the existence of the commons and the development of capitalism. Not surprisingly, some have even taken Garrett Hardin’s 1968 classic article, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” as the ideological launching pad of neoliberalism much in the way the commoner other articles in common that Malthus’ Principles of Population was seen at the beginning of the 19th century as the ultimate economic counter to all the chatter about progress, perfectibility and enlightenment generated by French Revolution”.



  1. u0953238 Says:

    Well researched points but too big for blogging. Deliberate low tax on gasoline encourages the car manufacturing industry.

  2. u1059279 Says:

    Why is it that other Industrialised Countries oil prices are high,if most of them are getting their oil from the same country.America as you mention is having a large oil deposit in Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska.
    I do take on board your point that America has a reasonable subsides on their fuel.However America has got good oil reserve which has been proven to have grown by 3.8 billion barrels in 2011 of which the data represent 39% increase since 2008.

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