Thoughts on environmental and energy economics and policy
About the name:
“Common Tragedies” is a play on the Tragedy of the Commons (ToC), a social trap first formally described by William Forster Lloyd in 1883 and popularized in a 1968 Science essay by Gareth Hardin. A ToC is likely to occur where a good is rival, but non-excludable, i.e., it is finite, but anyone can use it. The classic example is the grazing commons in a medieval village. When a herder grazes an animal on the commons, he collects the full benefit of his action but incurs only a fraction of the cost. Thus, no individual herder has incentive to restrain his grazing activities. The result is a socially suboptimal management of society’s scarce resources, experienced in this example as a shortage of land to graze on. The ToC is central to many contemporary environmental issues; climate change and overfishing are particularly germane examples.
“For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few.”
“They devote a very small fraction of time to the consideration of any public object, most of it to the prosecution of their own objects. Meanwhile each fancies that no harm will come to his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.”
–Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War.