Things Which Belong to Everybody Belong to Nobody

Gbikes at the Google complex in Mountain View, California. Via Flickr

Bike share programs are a nearly perfect distillation of the problems with the socialist ideals espoused by leftist leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders.

I’m talking about the programs where bikes are left around to be freely used by whoever, not the bike rental services you see here and there. The latter is a model which can prove successful while the former tends to be a disaster.

Not even the mighty Google can make bicycle socialism works. Per a Wall Street Journal article, the internet search giant maintains about 1,100 bikes on and around its Mountain View, California campus for employees to use to get around. The problem is that the bikes frequently go missing.

The company loses somewhere from 100 to 250 bikes per week. They’ve had to hire 30 contractors, using five vans, to recover lost or stolen bikes. These contractors are equipped with waders, ropes, and grappling hooks because the bikes often end up in a local creek.

Bike share programs are often sold as being environmentally friendly. Certainly that’s how Google pitches their program, but how easy is it on the environment when bikes must be tracked and recovered by employees in vans? How environmentally friendly is the need to constantly replace hundreds of lost or stolen or damaged bikes every week?

Not every, I’d imagine. But that’s beside the point. More interesting is what this all says about the concept of private property ownership.

While bike socialism is all rainbows and sunshine on paper, in practice it’s a failure because individual bike users have no incentive to treat the bicycles responsibly.

Because that which belongs to everybody really belongs to nobody.

Google would probably find it cheaper to simply buy each of their employees a bike, or grant them some sort of an allowance to purchase one, and then expect those employees to care for and maintain their own bikes. The Google employees, now owners of specific bikes instead of users of some collective pool of bikes, would respond with different behavior.

And from that we can draw a lesson for public policy. When people have ownership over something, when it belongs to them for better or worse, they will treat that thing more responsibly than they would a thing which belongs to the collective.

Rob Port is the editor of, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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