Monday, February 9, 2009

Assignment 3

Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science, 162(1968):1243-1248.


In this paper, the author describes what he calls the “Tragedy of the Commons”. He describes commons as being finite resources shared by the public. The tragedy of the commons is that for an individual it is logical to increase the use of the commons since individual receives all the benefits whereas the cost is shared by everyone using the commons. However, when everyone using the commons follows this logic, the commons may be destroyed to the detriment of everyone using the commons. Hardin contrasts the Tragedy of the Commons to the laissez-faire principles of Adam Smith, which state that what is good for the individual will be good for society. Examples of the Tragedy from the paper include population growth, exploitation of natural resources, and pollution of the environment. The author concludes that “the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed” and that historically the only way to solve the tragedy of the commons is through regulation or through transforming the commons into private property, forcing people to take responsibility for their own actions.


I found the paper to be an interesting discussion on human psychology concerning resources owned by the public. His example of livestock sharing a common field was well thought out and logical. I tend to agree with his arguments concerning pollution—things like rivers, oceans, and air are common property which cannot be made into private property, so the only way to keep them from being destroyed by the Tragedy of the Commons is through some government intervention. I also agree that, when possible, transforming the commons into private property is the most effective way of averting the tragedy of the commons. At times in the paper I felt like the paper was more about promoting the author’s own individual beliefs on population than about actual science. I felt his arguments that the number of children is comparable to a field of sheep to be weak, while his references to “ultraconservatives” and Planned Parenthood exposed the author for what he really was, an ultra-liberal trying to promote his personal beliefs on human population by connecting them to the very real “Tragedy of the Commons”.

1 comment:

  1. I have posted a comment on your essay on the Tragedy of the Commons with reference to Adam Smith's views (the one born in Kirkcaldy in 1723; not the modern version)

    Gavin Kennedy