Monday, June 18, 2007


“People like the freedom to choose their lifestyles, what they consume and when they consume it,” observes Attari. “However, the environment is a ‘commons’ that we share with other citizens of the world, and when individual choices start negatively impacting others, we need to understand how to change or alter those behaviors.”

The phrase ‘tragedy of the commons’ was first used by Garret Hardin in a 1968 issue of Science.

To illustrate, in the case of cattle grazing on public land, it is in the interest of the cattle owner to place as many cattle as possible on the land. Of course too many cattle will result in erosion and deterioration in forage quality, but this cost is shared among all grazers. The grazer does not bear the full cost of grazing an additional animal, but receives the full benefit. Each grazer acting in his own interest results in the degradation of the ‘commons’ for everyone.

Whenever the cost of one’s behavior is not factored into a price at which this tradeoff can be valued, a commons problem exists. This tragedy is unnecessary, if we are willing to embrace legal systems that provide for property rights and free markets.

Many of the ‘commons’ problems that Hardin cites in his article such as polluting the commons with insecticides and fertilizer have much been mitigated with modern technology and markets. Many of my articles regarding free market agriculture and biotechnology explain how this has come about.

SOURCES: Science, Vol 162 no 3859 Dec 13, 1968 p. 1243-1248

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