The tragedy of the commons

Written by Jared Diamond

One particular form of clashes of interest has become well know under the name "tragedy of the commons".  Consider a situation in which many consumers are harvesting a communally owned resource, such as fishermen catching fish in an area of the ocean, or herders grazing sheep o­n a communal pasture.  If everybody overharvests the resource, it will become depleted and thus decline or even disappear, and all of the consumers will suffer.  But as long as there is no effective regualtion of how much each consumer can harvest, then each consumer would be correct to reason, "If I don't catch that fish or let my sheep graze that grass, some other fisherman or herder will anyway, so it makes no sense for me to refrain from overfishing or orverharvesting."

Jared Diamond, Collapse, p.428.

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