What belongs to all belongs to no one. In Russia even today hallways and shared spaces are often unkempt and rundown while private apartments are lovingly maintained inside. Travel the Chinese highways and you will see abundant litter scattered along the roadside where it is no one’s particular job to pick it up. Travel American highways and you will find much less litter, and frequent signs boasting that a particular stretch is being maintained by some volunteer civic group out of pure idealism.

A unified culture in which the citizens generally feel benefitted by the system as a whole–say, Japan–can maintain clean and safe public spaces. Diverse cultures with many citizens who feel disenfranchised and alienated, like the U.S., have a much more difficult time doing so. Clearly small projects–a village well, a community garden, even a credit union–can generate loyalty and pride in shared ownership; but no one has demonstrated that such cooperation can be scaled up to a national level and sustained. The evidence is heavily against those who maintain that it can.

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