who coined the term tragedy of the commons
who coined the term tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons theory assumes that when making decisions, people take the course of action that maximises their own utility. However, if many people seek to do this, the net effect may be to deplete a resource making everyone worse off in the long run. The tragedy of the commons is a situation where there is overconsumption of a particular product/service because rational individual decisions lead to an outcome that is damaging to the overall social welfare.

Rightly understood, the opposite of overuse in a commons is underuse in an anticommons. Collective responsibility Much of the Swachh Bharat campaign focusses on not just governance and municipal responsibility, but also personal habits. However, after Diwali, cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow all recorded poor air quality. In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement ?

Generally, the resource of interest is easily available to all individuals without barriers (i.e. the “commons”). Collective funding and shared solutions across nations could help identify technologies that can solve carbon emission issues. Additionally, the more that nations are willing to collaborate and contribute resources, the higher the chances are for successful technological developments. Physical resourcesUncontrolled human population growth leading to overpopulation. The essay derived its title from the pamphlet by Lloyd, which he cites, on the over-grazing of common land. If we want to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and minimize its economic and social consequences, then we need to understand and deal with the tragedy of the commons.

His essay remains an academic blockbuster, with almost 40,000 citations. Governments may tackle the overconsumption of shared resources by legally banning some companies from consuming them or by regulating consumption and usage. Imagine there are 300 fish in the lake, and only five fishermen are using the lake. The lake is a resource that the local population shares, yet there are no regulations regarding its use.

who coined the term tragedy of the commons

Several countries have a variety of population control laws in place. The tragedy of commons can also be referred to the idea of open data. Anonymised data are crucial for useful social research and represent therefore a public resource – better said, a common good – which is liable to exhaustion. Some feel that the law should provide a safe haven for the dissemination of research data, since it can be argued that current data protection policies overburden valuable research without mitigating realistic risks. In economics, an externality is a cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.


How much does ownership fragmentation slow down technological innovation? It is difficult to measure discoveries that should have been made but weren’t, solutions that could exist but don’t. Since proof is difficult, we may even concede that the results of anxiety may sometimes, from certain points of view, be desirable. The larger question we should ask is whether, as a matter of policy, we should ever encourage the use of a technique the tendency of which is psychologically pathogenic. We hear much talk these days of responsible parenthood; the coupled words are incorporated into the titles of some organizations devoted to birth control.

who coined the term tragedy of the commons

Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle. While criticism was heaped on people burning crackers, others said people should have the freedom to ‘celebrate festivals’; crackers were burst both on Diwali and Chhath puja . Thus, those who feel anxious, emotionally stressed or angry following the burning of crackers are up against those who feel they are taking part in celebrations which cause happiness. It does not know the difference between damage caused by religious activities or otherwise.

Collective Solutions

If any group could make a commonistic system work, an earnest religious community like the Hutterites should be able to. 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. For the fractional reserve banks, there is now a great demand for the introduction of a central bank.

  • As Susan Cox pointed out, early pastures were well regulated by local institutions.
  • A real event that involves the collapse of the commons due to over-exploitation includes the fall of the Grand Banks Fisheries of Newfoundland due to cod numbers declining.
  • Studies have shown that punishment is a efficacious motivator for cooperation among humans.
  • Groups prefer leaders who are elected, democratic, and prototypical of the group, and these leader types are more successful in enforcing cooperation.
  • Unfortunately, individuals and businesses act in their best interest without considering their actions’ impact on shared resources.

As a result, the banks set a combined policy of simultaneous credit expansion. These policies permit them to keep their solvency, to maintain their reserves in relation to one another, and to make huge profits. Huerta de Soto’s application deserves a closer look, since it clearly explains why fractional reserve banks, by their very nature, are always tempted to expand credit. He also explains why fractional reserve banks in a free banking system are under immense pressure to introduce a central bank.

This destruction, he proposed, resulted from unchecked population growth and from the persistence of collectively held, rather than private, lands. In previous ages, said Lloyd, wars and plagues kept human and animal populations well below the maximum number the land could support. By the nineteenth century, however, England’s population was climbing.

As more people decide that roads and highways are the fastest way to travel to work, more cars end up on the roads, ultimately slowing down traffic and polluting the air. It’s helpful for both firms and individuals to understand the tragedy of the commons so they can make more sustainable and environmentally-friendly choices. who coined the term tragedy of the commons Here are five real-world examples of the tragedy of the commons and an exploration of the solution to this problem. This economic theory was first conceptualized in 1833 by British writer William Forster Lloyd. In 1968, the term “tragedy of the commons” was used for the first time by Garret Hardin in Science Magazine.


There are a number of different ways that Governments might address this, and Gissurarson explains what we can learn from Iceland and New Zealand who have managed to overcome similar ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ situations. Regulatory frameworks can be useful – however, to be most effective, these should be international in nature, as with the example of the Paris Agreement. In short, to a large extent, climate change is a result of the “Tragedy of the Commons”, but this can be tackled in a variety of ways, the most important of which is international regulations. Yet as Huerta de Soto points out, there is one important difference between the two. In Hardin’s analysis, there is virtually no limit in the exploitation of the “unowned,” i.e., environmental properties without clearly defined ownership.

In other words, these banks naturally want to exploit the great profit opportunities offered by the improperly defined property rights, but they can only expand credit to the extent that the risk of bankruptcy is reasonably avoided. When an individual exercises their rights over a finite natural resource in an uncontrolled manner, other vested parties are affected. This may lead to overconsumption and result in the depletion of resources. The growing concern of overpopulation is the prime contributing factor to such a situation. We can make little progress in working toward optimum population size until we explicitly exorcize the spirit of Adam Smith in the field of practical demography. In economic affairs, The Wealth of Nations popularized the “invisible hand,” the idea that an individual who “intends only his own gain,” is, as it were, “led by an invisible hand to promote … the public interest” .

Assigning private property rights over resources to individuals is another possible solution, effectively converting a common-pool resource into a private good. Institutionally this depends on developing some mechanism to define and enforce private property rights, which might occur as an outgrowth of existing institutions of private property over other types of goods. Technologically it means developing some way to identify, measure, and mark units or parcels of the common pool resource off into private holdings, such as branding maverick cattle. This resulted in overfishing and by 1990, the fishing industry of Canada saw a historical downfall. The problem can also result in under investment (since who is going to pay to plant new seed?), and ultimately total depletion of the resource. As the demand for the resource overwhelms the supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms others—and themselves too—who can no longer enjoy the benefits.

The Tragedy of the Commons Definition

We should rather retain the phrase as a perpetual reminder of fearful dangers we cannot avoid. The great challenge facing us now is to invent the corrective feedbacks that are needed to keep custodians honest. We must find ways to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks. It is when the hidden decisions are made explicit that the arguments begin.

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues looked at how real-world communities manage communal resources, such as fisheries, land irrigation systems, and farmlands, and they identified a number of factors conducive to successful resource management. One factor is the resource itself; resources with definable boundaries (e.g. land) can be preserved much more easily. A second factor is resource dependence; there must be a perceptible threat of resource depletion, and it must be difficult to find substitutes. The third is the presence of a community; small and stable populations with a thick social network and social norms promoting conservation do better. A final condition is that there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for overuse. When the commons is taken over by non-locals, those solutions can no longer be used.

Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy. Of course, a positive growth rate might be taken as evidence that a population is below its optimum. However, by any reasonable standards, the most rapidly growing populations on earth today are the most miserable. This association casts doubt on the optimistic assumption that the positive growth rate of a population is evidence that it has yet to reach its optimum.

What Is the Tragedy of the Commons?

Tragedy of the Commons occurs when every person has an incentive to use a resource, yet doing so comes at the price of every other individual’s use, and there is no means to prevent anybody from partaking in the consumption. The Tragedy of the Commonsoccurs when every person has an incentive to use a resource, yet doing so comes at the price of every other individual’s use, and there is no means to prevent anybody from partaking in the consumption. The Tragedy of the Commons occurs when every person has an incentive to use a resource, yet doing so comes at the price of every other individual’s use, and there is no means to prevent anybody from partaking in the consumption.

In a Tragedy of the Commons setting, there is no incentive for any participant to invest in maintaining and ensuring that the resource reproduces. That’s because even if one aims to consume the resources sustainably, others will continue to deplete them. The idea of the Tragedy of the Commons was first brought to light by prominent British author William Forster Lloyd in 1833. Sadly, as is true with the above example, the actions of one or many can have a lasting effect on everyone.

More importantly, many common pastures were being privatized by large landowners, leaving fewer acres of public land for village livestock to squeeze onto. The problem described in Lloyd’s essay was, in fact, one of uncontrolled free access to a resource whose collective ownership had broken down. Likewise, ocean fisheries have generally been uncontrolled, unowned resources with no collectively enforced rules of restraint. American public grazing lands have rules of restraint, but they fail because of poor enforcement and inadequate development.