Tragedy of the Commons

… a core term used in Economic Analysis and Atlas102


Wikipedia defines the tragedy of the commons as an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource.

Wikipedia goes on to say:

“The concept and name originate in an essay written in 1833 by the Victorian economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land (then colloquially called “the commons”) in the British Isles. The concept became widely known over a century later due to an article written by the ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1968 [Hardin, G (1968). “The Tragedy of the Commons”. Science 162 (3859): 1243–1248]. In this context, commons is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, or even an office refrigerator.

“The tragedy of the commons is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over global warming. It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation and sociology.

“Although commons have been known to collapse due to overuse (such as in over-fishing), many examples exist which prosper without collapse. The political economist Elinor Ostrom stated that it is often claimed that only private ownership or government regulation can prevent the “tragedy”, however it is in the interests of the users of a commons to keep it running, and complex social schemes are often devised by them for maintaining common resources efficiently.”


Wikipidea, Tragedy of the commons, at, accessed 10 May 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Public Goods and Commons Problems (core topic) in Economic Analysis and Atlas102.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 10 May 2016.