“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” That is, if all men were angels. But in a world in which all resources are limited, a single nonangel in the common spoils the environment for all. James Madison said in 1788
Professor. Sen as usual was preparing for his lectures when Kumar entered his cabin. Kumar was one of those studious, curious, committed students in the class. Kumar and some of his classmates regularly visit the Professors cabin and discuss matters relating to Economy, Policy and issues related to current affairs. Kumar was accompanied by some of his friends.
Yes, Kumar tell me what is the question you have today said the Professor with a smile. Kumar who was caught up in heavy cold and cough was about to answer before which the professor asked him, Kumar by any chance you had gone to Delhi.
Kumar was surprised, sir how did you find it. No magic replied the Professor, you dry cough is enough of proof and I could see your dusty face despite many attempts to clean your face. Other students laughed at him.
Sir, that was a horrible experience, I could not go out. I wanted to visit many places said Kumar.
Sir why is this so asked Kumar. Prof. Sen replied, Kumar, for this you should understand the concept, background and impact of Tragedy of commons.
Every student looked at the Professor eagerly. One of the students Raj, asked, was it such a tragic story, like what happens in movies and college campus. Everyone laughed at him.
No, Raj, it is a concept, The tragedy of the commons is a term used to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.
For example, a parallel was drawn recently between the tragedy of the commons and the competing behaviour of parasites that through acting selfishly eventually diminish or destroy their common host
Ok, said Raj, who was expecting an interesting story.
The concept and phrase originated in an essay written in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land (also known as a "common") in the British Isles. The concept became widely known over a century later due to an article written by the American ecologist and philosopher Garrett Hardin in 1968. In this modern economic context, commons
is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere
, rivers, fish stocks
and many more resources.
The 'tragedy of the commons' is often cited in connection with sustainable development, economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over global warming. It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics
, evolutionarypsychology, anthropology
, gametheory, politics
,continued the professor.
According to Prof. Garret Hardin
, who quotes the famous angels and non angels theory of James Madison, the spoilage process comes in two stages. First, the non angel gains from his “competitive advantage” (pursuing his/her own interest at the expense of others) over the angels. Then, as the once noble angels realise that they are losing out, some of them renounce their angelic behaviour. They try to get the share out of the commons before competitors do. Thus, an unmanaged common in the world of limited material wealth and unlimited desires inevitably ends in ruin. Inevitability justifies epithet tragedy.
True, said Raj one of the student said, the way we manage our public spaces is a classic example. Yes, said Prof. Sen, experts quote various examples
such as Air pollution, Water pollution and crisis, burning of crops, fossil fuels, mining, bad roads, littering in public spaces such as parks, recreation areas, and public restrooms most of them are due to our disrespect to the common resources.
Sir, is it tragedy of commons or tragedy by commons asked Kumar. Prof.Sen smiled and answered, Kumar, it is a tragedy caused by them to their own self. As, we discussed earlier, over a period of time the angels type common people also change their attitude and become non angels and as mentioned by Garret, an unmanaged common in the world of limited material wealth and unlimited desires inevitably ends in ruin.
Sir, why should we always blame the public asked Raj. Well, answered Prof.Sen, there are many economic theories which debate on this issue. Can you explain asked Leena.
Ok. Continued the professor,
According to literature, William Forster Lloyd
, professor at Oxford, in 1832, noted that while the common land in English villages was often barren and infertile, privately owned, fenced pastures were just the opposite: they were often lush and fertile. Forester concluded that the farmer, like the rest of us, does not take the losses of the community as seriously as his personal losses. The prudent man, he wrote, determines his conduct by comparing his present pleasure to future suffering, and his present sacrifice to his future benefits.
Many economist including Garret, favoured the existence strong private property rules
minimizes this tragedy. Thus, one of the solutions for this problem is to convert common good into private property, giving the new owner an incentive to enforce its sustainability.
However, Prof. Sen continued, Political scientist Elinor Ostrom,
who was awarded 2009's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for her work on the issue, and others differed from Prof. Hardin's views. Elinor Ostrom, and her colleagues looked at how real-world communities manage communal resources
, such as fisheries, land irrigation systems, and farmlands, and they identified a number of factors conducive to successful resource management. They found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent or as difficult to solve as Hardin maintained, since locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves. For example, it was found that a common in the Swiss Alps has been run by a collective of farmers there to their mutual and individual benefit since 1517, in spite of the farmers also having access to their own farmland. In general, it is in the users of a commons interests to keep the common running and solutions are often invented by the users for maintaining them at optimum efficiency. Similarly, geographer Douglas L. Johnson remarks that many nomadic pastoralist societies of Africa and the Middle East in fact "balanced local stocking ratios against seasonal rangeland conditions in ways that were ecologically sound", reflecting a desire for lower risk rather than higher profit
That is nice to hear said Kumar, so the problem can be tackled by any private parties or public by themselves.
But, this needs a good support from government, I think said Raj with caution. He did not want to be caught on a wrong foot this time and become laughing stock.
Students as usual looked at him with smile.
Prof.Sen continued, yes Raj is right,
may be necessary to support community or private sector participation for creating the above conditions.
How is this possible Sir, asked Leena.
Prof.Sen answered, for example, governmental regulations can limit the amount of a common good that is available for use by any individual. The government can bring stricter permit norms for economic activities including mining, fishing, hunting, livestock raising and timber extraction are examples of this approach. Similarly, limits to pollution are examples of governmental intervention on behalf of the commons. This idea is used by the United Nations Moon Treaty, Outer Space Treaty and Law of the Sea Treaty as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Convention
which involves the international law principle that designates some areas or resources the Common Heritage of Mankind.
works when the person who owns the property (or rights of access to that property) pays the full price of its exploitation. As discussed earlier negative externalities
(negative results, such as air or water pollution, that was created by the individuals but affects all) is often a feature driving the tragedy of the commons. Internalizing the externalities, in other words ensuring that the users of resource pay for all of the consequences of its use can provide an alternate solution between privatization and regulation. One example is fuel taxes which are intended to include both the cost of road maintenance and of air pollution. This solution can provide the flexibility of privatization while minimizing the amount of government oversight and overhead that is needed. However, Prof.Sen continued, many environmentalists criticize that the tragedy of the commons is used as propaganda for private ownership. They claim that it has been used by the investors to control the "common resources" of third world and indigenous people worldwide.
Sir, can you explain this concept of externalities asked Santosh, another student.
Well, Prof. Sen replied, Externalities occur when one person’s action affects other persons well - being and the relevant costs and benefits are not reflected in market prices.
A positive externality
arises when the public/society, citizens, at large benefit as a result of Public good work by the Government. For example, construction of new road to a village, bridge, providing free or subsidized education to poor children, public safety and so on. These results overall benefit to the society.
A negative externality
arises when the costs that pollution imposes on others. For example, manufacturing that results in air pollution imposes costs on the whole society. A negative externality occurs when an individual or firm making a decision does not have to pay the full cost of the decision. If a good has a negative externality, then the cost to society is greater than the cost consumer is paying for it. Since consumers make a decision based on where their marginal cost equals their marginal benefit, and since they don't take into account the cost of the negative externality, negative externalities result in market inefficiencies unless proper action is taken.
The Professor continued, the Tragedy of Commons is a specific case of creation negative externality. In general in negative externality, we discuss about how an individual or firm in the society benefits at the cost of public or Society. Here in Tragedy of Commons, we face the challenge of how collectively the public due to their self interest abuses the limited resources and in turn cause harm to themselves or Society at large.
Sir, the media says that the problem in Delhi is severe, said Kumar coughing and closing his mouth.
Prof.Sen replied, well we are already paying big cost
for this problem