Fisheries Classics: The Tragedy of the Commons

Garret Hardin’s 1968 article in Science, The Tragedy of the Commons is for sure a classical piece in the fisheries economics literature and has become the most popular description of the commons problem; fisheries problems are usually regarded as a special case. The passage where Hardin describes the tragedy is perhaps the most famous:

Garret Hardin (1915 - 2003)

Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his [input] without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons (Hardin, 1968, p. 1244).

Hardin has had an enormous influence, perhaps particularly in the sciences. It has been suggested (by notable persons as Jim Wilen and Elinor Ostrom) that Hardin’s choice of metaphor (the tragedy, where helpless individuals are lead to destruction in an inexorable process) has been unfortunate; Wilen, for example, has written that modern fisheries management systems are founded on a perception of tragedy.

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3 Responses to “Fisheries Classics: The Tragedy of the Commons”

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