Tragedy of the Commons

Discipline: Political Science

An illustration of game theory.

The tragedy of the commons is an illustration of how the rational pursuit of individual advantage appears to lead to solutions which are in the best interests of neither individuals nor the community as a whole.

A group of peasants is assumed to have grazing rights, but if each peasant puts his cattle on the common seven days a week the pasture will be exhausted and the cattle will starve. If everyone would voluntarily limit themselves to four days a week, there would be enough. But if everyone limits their use, then the self-interested individual has no reason to limit his. If everyone does not limit their use, he has even less reason. So the commons are destroyed.

Source:
Christopher Hood, Administrative Analysis (Brighton, 1986)

Also see:

· chicken
· prisoner's dilemma
· zero-sum

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