Tragedy of the Commons essay

Topics: Tragedy of the commons, Elinor Ostrom, Rational choice theory Pages: 3 (1590 words) Published: January 14, 2015
Do the concepts of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and the problem of ‘collective action’ help you to understand what politics is essentially about? Your answer should include a statement of your understanding of the two concepts and examples to support your argument.

The concepts of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and of ‘collective action’ are ones which are widely discussed in politics. The central issue of debate in this area is whether humans are by nature selfish or act for the common good. This essay shall explore whether these two concepts help define the true meaning of politics. In The Tragedy of the Commons, Garret Hardin refers to Malthus’ view that if the population of the world continues to increase, there will be a shortage of food since “A finite world can only support a finite population” – Malthus calls this the “evils of scarcity”. In describing the Tragedy of the Commons itself, Hardin uses the example of an open pasture which is available for everybody to use. As each herdsman is a rational being, he seeks to maximise his profits, and will do so by placing as many animals as he can on the commons. Although this will benefit him as an individual, if there are too many animals the land will be overgrazed, thus having a negative impact upon all of the herdsmen. For Hardin, this is the tragedy. That “Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit – in a world that is limited.” It is this assertion that caused Hardin to believe that “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”. A well-known example of the tragedy of the commons today is the overfishing of the seas. This has been the result of the greed amongst fishersthe pursuit by fishermen to maximise their profits by catching as many fish as possible. The unfortunate result of this however, is the serious decline in the numbers of fish, with some even being close to extinction. A UN report found that over 70% of the world’s fish are either “depleted or fully...


Bibliography: Malthus
The Logic of Collective Action, Public Goods and the theory of Groups. Mancur Olson
Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Actions. Elinor Ostrom. Cambridge University Press. 29th Printing. 2011.
The Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith. Wordsworth Editions 2012
The Tragedy of the Commons. Garrett Hardin. Science #13, December 1968
Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Co-operation. Mark Pagel. Penguin 2012
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