Tag Archives: Tragedy of the commons

The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas

By David Sloan Wilson – As an evolutionary biologist who received my PhD in 1975, I grew up with Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in Science magazine in 1968. His parable of villagers adding too many cows to their common pasture captured the essence of the problem that my thesis research was designed to solve.

The farmer who added an extra cow gained an advantage over other farmers in his village but it also led to an overgrazed pasture. The biological world is full of similar examples in which individuals who behave for the good of their groups lose out in the struggle for existence with more self-serving individuals, resulting in overexploited resources and other tragedies of non-cooperation.

Is the so-called tragedy of the commons ever averted in the biological world and might this possibility provide solutions for our own species?

Evolutionary theory’s individualistic turn coincided with individualistic turns in other areas of thought. Economics in the postwar decades was dominated by rational choice theory, which used individual self-interest as a grand explanatory principle. The social sciences were dominated by a position known as methodological individualism, which treated all social phenomena as reducible to individual-level phenomena, as if groups were not legitimate units of analysis in their own right. And UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became notorious for saying during a speech in 1987 that “there is no such thing as society; only individuals and families.” It was as if the entire culture had become individualistic and the formal scientific theories were obediently following suit. more>

The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas


Adaptation and Natural Selection, Author: George C. Williams.
On the Origin of Species, Author: Charles Darwin.
The Major Transitions of Life, Authors: John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry.
The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language, Authors: John Maynard Smith.
Governing the Commons, Author: Elinor Ostrom.

By David Sloan Wilson – Starting with Elinor Ostrom’s thesis research on how a group of stakeholders in southern California cobbled together a system for managing their water table, and culminating in her worldwide study of common-pool resource (CPR) groups, the message of her work was that groups are capable of avoiding the tragedy of the commons without requiring top-down regulation, at least if certain conditions are met.

She summarized the conditions in the form of eight core design principles:

  1. Clearly defined boundaries;
  2. Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs;
  3. Collective choice arrangements;
  4. Monitoring;
  5. Graduated sanctions;
  6. Fast and fair conflict resolution;
  7. Local autonomy;
  8. Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance).

This work was so groundbreaking that Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009.”

Hunter-gatherer societies are famously egalitarian, not because everyone is nice, but because members of a group can collectively suppress bullying and other self-aggrandizing behaviors within their ranks – the defining criterion of a major evolutionary transition. With disruptive competition within groups held largely in check, succeeding as a group became the main selective force in human evolution. more> https://goo.gl/EXln9r

Tragedy of Internet Commons

By George Mattathil – The logical structure of the conflicting area is shown in Internet Commons Architecture. The conflict arises due to the multiplicity of ownership, and lack of commonly accepted sustainable practices.

Unlike the medieval grasslands, different parts of the Internet Commons are owned by different parties. The Internet Commons Architecture is one instance of a simplified logical representation of connections in a data center that is shared. more>

Chalk Talk: Tragedy of the Commons

NSF – [VIDEO] Part 1 · Part 2
The tragedy of the commons says that self interest and competition can cause people to ruin a shared resource. If people ruin what they share, sometimes the best avenue is to have them not share. Research supported by the National Science Foundation has shown that privatization, cooperation and regulation can all work to protect commons, but only if proper enforcement exists. more> http://tinyurl.com/7pcqubf