Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Hutterites are no angels - Concise Encyclopedia of Economics

The scale of the commons (the number of people using it) also is important, as an examination of Hutterite communities reveals. These devoutly religious people in the northwestern United States live by Marx's formula: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." (They give no credit to Marx, however; similar language can be found several places in the Bible.) At first glance Hutterite colonies appear to be truly unmanaged commons. But appearances are deceiving. The number of people included in the decision unit is crucially important. As the size of a colony approaches 150, individual Hutterites begin to undercontribute from their abilities and overdemand for their needs. The experience of Hutterite communities indicates that below 150 people, the distribution system can be managed by shame; above that approximate number, shame loses its effectiveness.

If any group could make a commonistic system work, an earnest religious community like the Hutterites should be able to. But numbers are the nemesis. In Madison's terms nonangelic members then corrupt the angelic. Whenever size alters the properties of a system, engineers speak of a "scale effect." A scale effect, based on human psychology, limits the workability of commonistic systems.
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