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Definition

The Tragedy of the Commons is a theory developed by ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1968, which states that individuals acting independently and rationally in accordance with their own self-interests, end up depleting some common resource and harming the group as a whole. "Commons" had come to mean any shared resource that was not regulated. This could mean the atmosphere, ocean, rivers, or anything "common" that was not regulated. source html

Hardin took the concept from William Forster Lloyd who studied shepherds who let their sheep graze on common land, which led to overgrazing and destruction of common land. Lloyd published a pamphlet on this in 1833.

Hardin believed if people recognized resources as commons and that they required management, they would be more likely to preserve them.

At its most basic definition, the Tragedy of the Commons is the result of selfish people caring only about their short-term interests and wasting precious resources for their own benefit, instead of thinking about others and the effects of their deeds.

Revisiting Hardin's Work

From Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges

Political scientist Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded 2009's Nobel Prize of Economics for her work on the issue, and others revisited Hardin's work in 1999. They found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent or as difficult to solve as Hardin maintained, since locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves. For example, it was found that a commons in the Swiss Alps has been run by a collective of farmers there to their mutual and individual benefit since 1517, in spite of the farmers also having access to their own farmland. In general, it is in the users of a commons interests to keep the common running and complex social schemes are often invented by the users for maintaining them at optimum efficiency.

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.

Solutions

From Resolving the Tragedy of the Commons by Creating Private Property Rights
Articulating solutions to the tragedy of the commons is one of the main problems of political philosophy. In absence of enlightened self-interest, some form of authority or federation is needed to solve the collective action problem.

In a typical example, governmental regulations can limit the amount of a common good that is available for use by any individual.
Alternatively, resource users themselves can cooperate to conserve the resource in the name of mutual benefit.

Another solution for some resources is to convert common good into private property, giving the new owner an incentive to enforce its sustainability.

An opposing idea, used by the United Nations Moon Treaty, Outer Space Treaty and Law of the Sea Treaty as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Convention involves the international law principle that designates some areas or resources the Common Heritage of Mankind.

Robert Axelrod contends that even self-interested individuals will often find ways to cooperate, because collective restraint serves both the collective and individual interests.

Questions For Us To Circulate Around

- How can Wikis or other social media spaces be used outside of the tragedy of the common? Can we create a CommonsWithoutTragedy?

stuff for further development. this paper is a starting point for more
Tragedy of the Commons


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