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LinuxWorld: The Cornucopia of the Commons

Oct 18, 2003, 05:30 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Nowak)

"In 1968, Garret Hardin wrote a seminal paper that ran in Science Magazine called 'The Tragedy of the Commons.' Hardin defined the commons as a place where multiple people are each endowed with the privilege to use a given resource, and no one has the right to exclude another. Think of a pasture where many farmers can graze their animals. When multiple users have such privileges of use, each user benefits directly from using the resource (one more cow in a farmer's herd benefits that farmer directly) but the cost of each person's use is borne by all users (the increased use that one cow puts on the pasture affects all users of the pasture).

"The result is that each user has an incentive to use the common resource more, and less incentive to curb their use of the resource. The resource is thus prone to overuse and, over time, it degrades--a tragedy of the commons. The idea of a 'tragedy of the commons' can be applied to a wide variety of issues including things like air and water pollution, individual consumption choices, and--Hardin's main target--population growth..."

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