Tragedy of the Commons is a metaphor that was first used by Hardin Harding to describe a dilemma of population and its use of resources in an article of the same name that was published in the journal Science in 1968. In this paper Hardin defined the problem of use of a resource by multiple individuals who act independently for their own interest resulting in the depletion of resource. Hardin used an example of herders and their cows grazing in a piece of pasture to illustrate the problem, as the core content of the paper.
In this example, each of the herders considers putting as much cows as he can on the pasture advantageous, even if the increasing size of his herd exceeds the total capacity of the pasture resulting in its getting damage of permanent or temporary basis. Though each herder gets advantage by adding a single cow to the pasture, the damage to the pasture is shared equally among all (Vallero, 2006).
The tragedy of the commons points to an important problem in exploitation of resource among multiple people. It shows that that if a resource is utilized by multiple people on the basis of only individual self-interest than although each of the person may get a partial benefit from the resource but the disadvantage of this approach can be much more severe as it may devoid all the people of the resource completely. Hardin in his paper also described the way in which the tragedy of the commons appears in the society. For example, though the pollution, chemical or otherwise, is created by man on individual basis, but this pollution when combined with pollution created by other individuals creates an environment which is dangerous for all. Hardin stated the rationale for this as the cost of polluting being lower than the cost of cleaning wastes before they are discharged. Being an evolutionary scientist himself, Hardin made a case that nature favors those who make use of the common resources at the expense of more restrictive users. He also argued that voluntary contributions made to create institutions which could manage the common often fall short because of the fear of free-riders. For this, Hardin made a suggestion of mutual coercion, which was agreed upon by the majority of affected people (Hardin, 1968).
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