The Tragedy of the Commons: Article by Garrett Hardin

The Tragedy of the Commons:

There are common resources that belong to everyone but are owned by no one. The basic idea of the Tragedy of the commons is that individual action affects the quality of the commons.  In other terms, the tragedy of the commons is a collective action problem. People rationally use common resources for their own self-interest, which impacts the common resource negatively in the long run; the common resource often gets degraded or depleted. Hardin uses the example of a pasture and how it is in each farmer’s interest to put as much of his cattle in the pasture as possible. Yet, in the long run, the pasture suffers from over grazing which leads to erosion and weed dominance.  In order to rectify this tragedy of the commons, Hardin proposes to sell them off as private property or keep them as public property, but allocate the right to enter them (based on either wealth, merit, lottery system, or a first come first serve basis).  In this instance, administering the commons as private property enabled the privileged individuals of this society to profit, while the less privileged individuals were now stripped of their free communal advantages in society.

In modern day, as the book references, the idea of administering the commons as private property relates to ICT4D through things such as intellectual property rights or patents. We live in a capitalist society, therefore people naturally want to make a profit from anything they can, even if these commodities were once communal. The book takes this idea of a commons to the digital realm. As Unwin states, “there are concerns that the Internet may become privatized, and that the potential communal benefits that it currently provides for poor people will be eliminated.” (24).   I think this is a very sound concern as the introduction of ICTs can make a significant difference in people’s lives, yet these privatizations are emerging because dominant countries want to maintain competitive advantage in terms of the “global knowledge economy.”

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One response to “The Tragedy of the Commons: Article by Garrett Hardin

  • gmizrahi

    It is very interesting to see a theory that is generally related to the environment, which many find to be often in opposition to technological development, applied to technology.

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