The tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons


Written in the late 1960s, this paper suggests that over population is a major challenge for continued human well-being, and especially for the management of commons. It uses examples of over-grazing in common lands and pollution management to argue that individuals are likely to look out for their own interest and continue to use common resources or pollute them acting as though they were available infinitely. While this tendency does not have negative consequences when the population is low, it can make resource management more challenging as the population increases.

Research goals & methods

The author draws on arguments made across several disciplines including economics, mathematics, and ecology to support his conclusions. 

Conclusions & takeaways

The author suggests that a social arrangement which includes some form of coercion is best to inculcate a sense of responsibility among otherwise irresponsible resource users. He points out that we started by abandoning common farm land through the creation of enclosures, and then placed restrictions on waste disposal in common areas, and so some form of coercion has worked in regulating common lands. He ends by reasserting the need to control population as the biggest necessity of the times.


Hardin G. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science. 1968;162(3859):1243 - 1248. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243.


  • University of California, Santa Barbara