The Tragedy of the Commons: Hardin v Ostrom

I have transferred this post to the ‘Pages’ on my weblog, where I update it regularly in response to new information.

Briefly, for those with too little time, the main change is to emphasise more strongly that although it is true that the Tragedy has been used as a pretext for privatization, not only is this justification flawed, it diverts attention from the central problem.

The Tragedy is the reason it is proving extraordinarily difficult to stop the headlong rush to global ecological destruction.



4 responses to “The Tragedy of the Commons: Hardin v Ostrom

  1. Clive, it seems from the above that you are basing your claim to the validity of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ on the statement that this is the first time this culture has met ecological limits. I think that would be very hard to justify.
    Firstly we do not know what went on on Easter Island, why they did not realise, or ignored the fact that they were destroying their own resources. We can only speculate. But that knowledge is everywhere available to our culture

    • Anna, Professor Jared Diamond produces a wealth of evidence that there is a pattern. Wherever humans moved into uninhabited territory, they either de-forested it, exterminated game that could have been hunted sustainably, or both. Easter Island is simply the best documented, (mostly archaeology, but also some verbal evidence). Yes we do know what went on. How could they not realize that they were chopping trees down? How could they fail to realize the consequences? As I say in my book, my worry is the bit we can’t be certain of – that they were probably as intelligent as us.

  2. Moreover the prisoners could not communicate with one another, so could not know what the other would choose. If they were able to communicate as we are, it is most likely that they would negotiate as we are able to do. What prevents us is the power politics which dominates the world which clings to the possibility of using force as the ultimate way to get what you want. That belief system has actually worked so far unfortunately and the dominant powers see no reason to give it up. For the same reason they would not countenance the CI. Why should they? That would mean giving up control, sharing power with others, and learning to live as equals.

    • Ability to communicate misses the point being made in the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’. It is I think clearer in my ‘shepherds’ example in my book and résumé: if 10 shepherds each have 10 sheep, in a meadow which will support 100, if 8 exercise restraint and 2 continue to expand (and the others can’t stop them), the 2 gain at the expense of the rest, in the short term. So when the resource crunch comes, they are the ones in control.
      Those battening on us may not like the CI, but in my naivety, I am blogging because I want to see what happens when millions world wide take up the cry in unison.

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