Tragedy of the Commons

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Assignment 1

Tragedy of the Commons

Learning about the tragedy of the commons is as depressing as the title suggests. From the class activity, I gained some insights on the interactions within a community when they are given a finite amount of resources to share. Hardin shed some light on the issue, where he summarized that each time a commons is “enclosed” upon, it only leads to the “infringement of someone else’s personal liberty”.1 In the end, with the population size and demand for common resources increasing faster than the amount of resources available, it only leads to the inevitable outcome of insufficient resources to go around. For the class activity, every group of 3-4 players was given a plate of 20 “fishes”. The game was to last for 5 rounds, which represented 5 years of fishing seasons. The fish were our livestock, and for every round, each player requires 1 fish to avoid starvation, 2 fish to be fed comfortably, and any additional fishes could be sold as profit. If the player received 0 fish in that round, the player was out of the game. Each round was to last for 30 seconds for players to fish for as many fishes as they want without communicating with each other. At the end of each round, the fishes left in the plate would reproduce and hence double the number. The table below is a summary of the game’s proceedings.

Round| Joan| Jacqueline| Sue-Ann| Number of fishes remaining| 1| 3| 2| 2| 13|
2| 3| 3| 3| 11|
3| 3| 3| 4| 10|
4| 3| 4| 3| 10|
5| 6| 7| 7| 0|
Total number of fishes in the pond| |

When the first round began, I was torn between overfishing for myself so as to make a profit, or to take what is sufficient. I decided that my response would depend on the level of aggressiveness of the other players. If they were to take as many as possible, I would follow suit, as I would not want to lose out. As everyone only took 2 fishes, I took 3 fishes just in case I needed to make a profit. At the end of the round, all players had sufficient fish to avoid starvation. However, I felt that I had “over-fished” in relation to my group players and felt guilty for doing so. Upon reflection, in real life, it seems as if overfishing is the norm because most people would want the best outcome for themselves, or rather, to ensure that they are not in a worse position than the rest. I feel that this mentality is rather rampant in Singapore. This can be exemplified by how most parents would queue up for hours or rush to ensure that their child has a spot in a good primary school, by how some MRT commuters rush into the compartment before the passengers exit just so they can get a seat. The idea of “at least having something that is better than the rest” is what compels most Singaporeans to be more “kiasu” in their actions. As the fishing game continued for rounds 2-4, we continued to take what was just enough for everybody to make a profit. We left at least 10 fish in the pool, knowing that the number of fish would double and that such actions can maximize the total utility of our pool. Hence, nobody took too many fish, and although the profits from each round were not excessive, at least we felt we were maximizing our chances for long-term survival. I felt rather satisfied as I felt that we were growing in tandem with the community. In reality, I feel that such behaviour is rarely reflected in the real world. Most of the time, society tends to reward and recognize those with the “most”, and this eventually encourages a dog-eat-dog culture where one has to eat or be eaten. Singapore is a meritocratic society that rewards people on their performance, and hence those who are the best are always well rewarded in our society. This leads to a highly competitive environment, whether it is at the workplace or in schools. As only the best are recognized, this leaves no room for people to perform “just sufficiently”. In the real world, if Singapore were to play the fishing...
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