Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Fifty Years of Debate on Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons – A Reflection

Hasan, Lubna (2020): Fifty Years of Debate on Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons – A Reflection.


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This paper critically reviews Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons”. Hardin’s thesis about the impossibility of collective action for achieving mutually beneficial outcomes in a group setting has divided the scholarly community since its publication in 1968, while its most perennial object being the communal management of resources, which was banned on account of being inherently inefficient. This paper argues that much of the criticism against common property regimes stems from incorrect modeling of a common property situation, and misunderstandings about the terms and their wrong usage. Specifically, models of collective action - in particular, Hardin’s tragedy of the Commons, but also Olson’s Logic of Collective Action, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is used as a critique against common property regimes, are not based on an accurate depiction of reality and many of their assumptions are untrue. The purpose is to drive home the point that common property regimes are not inherently inferior types of regimes; and causes of success, and of failures, of these regimes lie elsewhere. Secondly, both public [and also private] management of natural resources has not had universal success. It is time to think out of the usual ‘either public or private’ dichotomy. Combining elements of both public and communal management in a pragmatic way is necessary. It is time to give co-management a serious thought.

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