Free riding is one of the oldest problems in economics and in society in general. Simply put, free riding describes a situation where one party takes the benefits of an economic condition without contributing anything to sustain that condition.

The best example is a parasite on an elephant. The parasite sucks the elephant’s blood to survive but contributes nothing to the elephant’s well-being.

A few parasites on an elephant are a harmless annoyance. But sooner or later the word spreads and more parasites arrive. After a while, the parasites begin to weaken the host elephant’s stamina, but the elephant carries on.

Eventually a tipping point arrives when there are so many parasites that the elephant dies. At that point, the parasites die too. It’s a question of short-run benefit versus long-run sustainability. Parasites only think about the short run.

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