tragedy of commons

adding page because upon reading this – what a million syllabuses can teach us:

in particular.. this:

Top articles? Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” and Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History.” And so on.

[i’m thinking ie: aaron would find this interesting/useful.. if he didn’t already know it.. in regard to manufacturing consent ness et al. yet too on the flip side..some assumed/presented uses i find disheartening.. ie using metrics discussed to teach better..]

so.. what follows convo with the piece..

Science  13 Dec 1968:
Vol. 162, Issue 3859, pp. 1243-1248
DOI: 10.1126/science.162.3859.1243


I would like to focus your attention not on the subject of the article (national security in a nuclear world) but on the kind of conclusion they reached, namely that there is no technical solution to the problem. An implicit and almost universal assumption of discussions published in professional and semipopular scientific journals is that the problem under discussion has a technical solution. A technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality.


In our day (though not in earlier times) technical solutions are always welcome. Because of previous failures in prophecy, it takes courage to assert that a desired technical solution is not possible.


the concern here is with the important concept of a class of human problems which can be called “no technical solution problems,” and, more specifically, with the identification and discussion of one of theses. …. not a null class, ie: no tech solution to tic tack toe……….My thesis is that the “population problem,” as conventionally conceived, is a member of this class


what shall we maximize

Population, as Malthus said, naturally tends to grow “geometrically,” or, as we would now say, exponentially. In a finite world this means that the per capita share of the world’s goods must steadily decrease. Is ours a finite world?

rather… energy… upcycling and using smaller ness

The second reason springs directly from biological facts. To live, any organism must have a source of energy (for example, food). This energy is utilized for two purposes: mere maintenance and work. For man, maintenance of life requires about 1600 kilocalories a day (“maintenance calories”). Anything that he does over and above merely staying alive will be defined as work, and is supported by “work calories” which he takes in. Work calories are used not only for what we call work in common speech; they are also required for all forms of enjoyment, from swimming and automobile racing to playing music and writing poetry. If our goal is to maximize population it is obvious what we must do: We must make the work calories per person approach as close to zero as possible. No gourmet meals, no vacations, no sports, no music, no literature, no art. … I think that everyone will grant, without argument or proof, that maximizing population does not maximize goods. Bentham’s goal is impossible.

upcycle ness.. wipes this thinking out… no..?

In reaching this conclusion I have made the usual assumption that it is the acquisition of energy that is the problem. The appearance of atomic energy has led some to question this assumption. However, given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation, as J. H. Fremlin has so wittily shown. The arithmetic signs in the analysis are, as it were, reversed; but Bentham’s goal is still unobtainable.

The optimum population is, then, less than the maximum. The difficulty of defining the optimum is enormous; so far as I know, no one has seriously tackled this problem. Reaching an acceptable and stable solution will surely require more than one generation of hard analytical work–and much persuasion.

and a ton if detox… from ie: the thinking above. ie: can’t use this kind of math on people.. on people energy…

we could do this better… cutting out waste.. built up from our manufactured consent/insecurity…


We want the maximum good per person; but what is good? To one person it is wilderness, to another it is ski lodges for thousands. To one it is estuaries to nourish ducks for hunters to shoot; to another it is factory land. Comparing one good with another is, we usually say, impossible because goods are incommensurable. Incommensurables cannot be compared.

and this.. perhaps is where the magic/exponentiation.. of fixed energy happens. we don’t know this yet.. because we haven’t let go.. enough.. yet

mona lisa smile compare law

Theoretically this may be true; but in real life incommensurables are commensurable. Only a criterion of judgment and a system of weighting are needed. In nature the criterion is survival. Is it better for a species to be small and hideable, or large and powerful? *Natural selection commensurates the incommensurables. The **compromise achieved depends on a natural weighting of the values of the variables.

who says this…? this is our manufactured mechanism for manufactured consent/insecurity…. ie:stats, measuring/predicting people things

*natural selection – ?

**compromise – indeed… because it’s not a natural weighting.

how do you measure anti fragility ness

like.. how do you hold onto… long enough to measure.. the things you can’t cling to.. w/o killing them/us… and so.. perpetuating the further studying/stat/ing of not us ness

Man must imitate this process. There is no doubt that in fact he already does, but unconsciously. It is when the hidden decisions are made explicit that the arguments begin. The problem for the years ahead is to work out an acceptable theory of *weighting.

*weighting – or to courageously determine that the weighting is irrelevant .. to living.. no?

Has any cultural group solved this practical problem at the present time, even on an intuitive level? One simple fact proves that none has: there is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero.

so – the measure is.. growth rate is zero .. two things perhaps .. 1\ wrong measure 2\ right measure ish .. but looking at growth ness all wrong… we could have zero waste..

We can make little progress in working toward optimum population size until we explicitly exorcize the spirit of Adam Smith ..The Wealth of Nations (1776) popularized the “invisible hand,” the idea that an individual who “intends only his own gain,” is, as it were, “led by an invisible hand to promote . . . the public interest” ..contributed to a dominant tendency of thought that has ever since interfered with positive action based on rational analysis, namely, the tendency to assume that decisions reached individually will, in fact, be the best decisions for an entire society. If this assumption is correct it justifies the continuance of our present policy of laissez-faire in reproduction. … we can assume that men will control their individual fecundity so as to produce the optimum population. If the assumption is not correct, we need to reexamine our individual freedoms to see which ones are defensible.

tragedy of freedom in a commons

The rebuttal to the invisible hand in population control is to be found in a scenario first sketched in a little-known pamphlet in 1833 by a mathematical amateur named William Forster Lloyd (1794-1852). We may well call it “the tragedy of the commons,” using the word “tragedy” as the philosopher Whitehead used it: “The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.” He then goes on to say, “This inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama.”


The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. ..Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes …long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.


Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.


The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers.

Education can counteract the natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed.

constantly as in 24/7.. by each alive mind..


In an approximate way, the logic of the commons has been understood for a long time, perhaps since the discovery of agriculture or the invention of private property in real estate.

agriculture and private property.. helped us understand the logic of the commons..? seems they are two particulars keeping us from understanding…


The National Parks present another instance of the working out of the tragedy of the commons. At present, they are open to all, without limit….

Plainly, we must soon cease to treat the parks as commons or they will be of no value to anyone.

not working.. because people aren’t free..

let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

for (blank)’s sake


In a reverse way, the tragedy of the commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in–sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air, and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight.


Indeed, our particular concept of private property, which deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth, favors pollution. …..The pollution problem is a consequence of population. ……. as population became denser, the natural chemical and biological recycling processes became overloaded, calling for a redefinition of property rights.

how to legislate temperance

Analysis of the pollution problem as a function of population density uncovers a not generally recognized principle of morality, namely: the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed


The great challenge facing us now is to invent the corrective feedbacks that are needed to keep custodians honest. We must find ways to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks.

freedom to breed is intolerable

However, let us not forget what Robert Louis Stevenson said: “The truth that is suppressed by friends is the readiest weapon of the enemy.” If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is promoted by the United Nations. We should also join with Kingsley Davis in attempting to get Planned Parenthood-World Population to see the error of its ways in embracing the same tragic ideal.


conscience is self-eliminating

The argument has here been stated in the context of the population problem, but it applies equally well to any instance in which society appeals to an individual exploiting a commons to restrain himself for the general good–by means of his conscience. To make such an appeal is to set up a selective system that works toward the elimination of conscience from the race.

 pathogenic effects of conscience

he senses that he has received two communications, and that they are contradictory: (i) (intended communication) “If you don’t do as we ask, we will openly condemn you for not acting like a responsible citizen”; (ii) (the unintended communication) “If you do behave as we ask, we will secretly condemn you for a simpleton who can be shamed into standing aside while the rest of us exploit the commons.”

Everyman then is caught in what Bateson has called a “double bind.” Bateson and his co-workers have made a plausible case for viewing the double bind as an important causative factor in the genesis of schizophrenia. The double bind may not always be so damaging, but it always endangers the mental health of anyone to whom it is applied. “A bad conscience,” said Nietzsche, “is a kind of illness.”

To conjure up a conscience in others is tempting to anyone who wishes to extend his control beyond the legal limits. Leaders at the highest level succumb to this temptation.


For centuries it was assumed without proof that guilt was a valuable, perhaps even an indispensable, ingredient of the civilized life. Now, in this post-Freudian world, we doubt it.

Paul Goodman speaks from the modern point of view when he says: “No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties”


Responsibility is a verbal counterfeit for a substantial quid pro quo. It is an attempt to get something for nothing.

If the word responsibility is to be used at all, I suggest that it be in the sense Charles Frankel uses it (20). “Responsibility,” says this philosopher, “is the product of definite social arrangements.” Notice that Frankel calls for social arrangements–not propaganda.

mutual coercion mutually agreed upon

The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion, of some sort.


The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.

To say that we mutually agree to coercion is not to say that we are required to enjoy it, or even to pretend we enjoy it. Who enjoys taxes?…..

we accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless. We institute and (grumblingly) support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons.


We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust–but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.



we can make a rational decision which will not involve the unworkable assumption that only perfect systems are tolerable.

recognition of necessity

Perhaps the simplest summary of this analysis of man’s population problems is this: the commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low-population density. As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.

ah.. jo freeman misunderstand.. et al..

today we can


Every new enclosure of the commons involves the infringement of somebody’s personal liberty. Infringements made in the distant past are accepted because no contemporary complains of a loss. It is the newly proposed infringements that we vigorously oppose; cries of “rights” and “freedom” fill the air. But what does “freedom” mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals. I believe it was Hegel who said, “Freedom is the recognition of necessity.”

The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. At the moment, to avoid hard decisions many of us are tempted to propagandize for conscience and responsible parenthood. The temptation must be resisted, because an appeal to independently acting consciences selects for the disappearance of all conscience in the long run, and an increase in anxiety in the short.

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”–and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.



wikipedia small

The tragedy of the commons is a term, probably coined by the Victorian economist William Forster Lloyd and later used by the ecologist Garrett Hardin, to denote a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole by depleting some common resource. The concept was based upon an essay written in 1833 by Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land in the British Isles. This became widely-known over a century later due to an article written by Garrett Hardin in 1968.

“Commons” in this sense has come to mean shared and unregulated resources such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, or even an office refrigerator; as distinct to the centuries-old use of the word “commons” when colloquially used to indicate formally-recognised common land in its collective sense.

The tragedy of the commons concept is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over global warming. It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology,game theory, politics, taxation and sociology.

lloyd’s pamphlet:

n 1833, the English economist William Forster Lloyd published a pamphlet which included an example of herders sharing a common parcel of land on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze. In English villages, shepherds had sometimes grazed their sheep in common areas, and sheep ate grass more severely than cows. He suggested overgrazing could result because for each additional sheep, a herder could receive benefits, while the group shared damage to the commons. If all herders made this individually rational economic decision, the common could be depleted or even destroyed, to the detriment of all.

hardin’s article:

Overall, Hardin argues against relying on conscience as a means of policing commons, suggesting that this favors selfish individuals – often known as free riders – over those who are more altruistic. In the context of avoiding over-exploitation of common resources, Hardin concludes by restating Hegel’s maxim (which was quoted by Engels), “freedom is the recognition of necessity.” He suggests that “freedom” completes the tragedy of the commons.

By recognizing resources as commons in the first place, and by recognizing that, as such, they require management, Hardin believes that humans “can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms.”

metaphoric meaning:

As a metaphor, the tragedy of the commons should not be taken too literally. The “tragedy” is not in the word’s conventional or theatric sense, nor a condemnation of the processes that lead to it. Similarly, Hardin’s use of “commons” has frequently been misunderstood, leading him to later remark that he should have titled his work “The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons”


The environmentalist Derrick Jensen claims the tragedy of the commons is used as propaganda for private ownership…. it should be called “the Tragedy of the Failure of the Commons”.

Political scientist Elinor Ostrom, who later won the Nobel Prize in economics, and others revisited Hardin’s work in 1999. They found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent or as difficult to solve as Hardin maintained, since locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves; when the commons is taken over by non-locals, those solutions can no longer be used.

Hardin’s work was also criticised as historically inaccurate in failing ….to distinguish between common property and open access resources. 


The commons dilemma

The commons dilemma is a specific class of social dilemma in which people’s short-term selfish interests are at odds with long-term group interests and the common good. In academia, a range of related terminology has also been used as shorthand for the theory or aspects of it, including resource dilemma,take-some dilemma, and common pool resource.

Commons dilemma researchers have studied conditions under which groups and communities are likely to under- or over-harvest common resources in both the laboratory and field. Research programs have concentrated on a number of motivational, strategic, and structural factors that might be conducive to management of commons.

Structural factors

Much research has focused on when and why people would like to structurally rearrange the commons to prevent a tragedy. Hardin stated in his analysis of the tragedy of the commons that “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” ……..some proposed solutions: appoint a leader to regulate access to the common. ; …..rewards and punishments …

Elinor Ostrom, ..One factor is the resource itself; resources with definable boundaries (e.g., land) can be preserved much more easily. A second factor is resource dependence; there must be a perceptible threat of resource depletion, and it must be difficult to find substitutes. The third is the presence of a community; small and stable populations with a thick social network and social norms promoting conservation do better. A final condition is that there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for overuse.



by David Sloan Wilson.. who worked w her.. not sure when it was written..


perhaps the real tragedy to commons.. enclosure.. any degree of it.. can’t have partial commons

ie: fb share by Michel


There is a falsehood of the self-interested individual, much loved by economists, that any action, will only be undertaken for pecuniary gain. It ignores that many actions are not for pecuniary gain, that it is not only what is traded, it is who trades with who, the social interaction.


from Cory Doctorow‘s walkaway:


tragedy of commons..   commons.. land that belongs to no one… everyone knows that the bastard (who’s sheep graze till just mud) is on the way, so they might asa well be that bastard. better that sheep belonging to a nice guy like you

the solution to the tragedy of the commons isn’t to get a cop to make sure sociopaths aren’t overgrazing the land, or shunning anyone who does it, turning him into a pariah. the solution is to let a robber-baron own the land that used to be everyone’s because once he’s running it for profit, he’ll take exquisite care to generate profit forever

that’s the tragedy of the commons? a fairy tale about giving public assets to rich people to run as personal empires because that way they’ll make sure they’re better managed than they would be if we just made up some rules?


a nother way

1 yr to try commons et al