Tragedy of the Commons

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A situation where individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest to do so.

The phrase comes from an article written by Garrett Hardin in 1968. Historically many English villages had "common land" that any resident could graze sheep on. As populations grew they would put more and more sheep on to the common land, until the pasture was destroyed. Each person was behaving rationally, they each realised that if they didn't add extra sheep their neighbours would anyway, however the net effect is to make everyone worse off.

This valuable metaphor can be employed to describe a wide number of situations to clients, for example when considering visitors to National Parks, the use of file storage space or the sending of spam email.

The situation has a lot in common with the Prisoners Dilemma and can be thought of in game theory terms.

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The following pages link to here: Game Theory, Metaphor, Prisoners dilemma

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