tragedy of the commons

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Reportedly coined in 1968 by U.S. ecologist Garrett Hardin.


tragedy of the commons (plural tragedies of the commons)

  1. (economics, politics, social criticism) A situation in which unmanaged use of a shared resource (such as the atmosphere or an ocean) by a number of participants results in the unintended ruin or total consumption of that resource.
    • 1995 May 7, Timothy Egan, "Let the Owner Beware," New York Times (retrieved 4 July 2012):
      One theory, known as the tragedy of the commons, holds that people will exploit and abuse something in which they have no ownership stake.
    • 2010 Nov. 18, "Troubles as deep as the oceans lie ahead," The Independent (UK) (retrieved 4 July 2012):
      Overfishing is the classic tragedy of the commons. Since no single nation "owns" the high seas, they exploit it without restraint and without thought to sustainability.
    • 2012 April 18, Rick Stengel, "Editor's Letter: A World of Possibilities," Time:
      The economist Elinor Ostrom, who is on our list this year, has written about the tragedy of the commons, which is the idea that self-interest can undermine the common good.

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