The Tragedy of the Commons

There are a number of solutions for the tragedy of the commons as the situation in which a shared limited resource is overexploited by individuals who consult only their short-term self-interests. In spite of their natural desire to appropriate more goods, different people may have different temperaments and views and show more or less interest in property and common resources. In my opinion, taking into account the cultural and psychological diversity, the tragedy of the commons cannot be regarded as unavoidable. The historical experience shows that it can be prevented through government regulation, customs and traditions which are as effective for handling the problem as market solutions, and privatization of the land is necessary only for empowering the owners.

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Human willingness to extend their private possessions by means of benefiting from labor of others or appropriating the common resources was acknowledged by most theoreticians, results in the tragedy of the commons and requires imposing measures for protecting and preserving the valuable resources. According to Blackstone’s definition of property as the greatest attraction of the humanity, people’s short-term self-interest in appropriating new products mostly prevails over rationale in using the common resources. Still, depending upon the level of their cultural development and local traditions, people may have different attitudes to using common resources.

I agree with Rousseau’s arguments concerning property as the source of inequality based on people’s inability to appropriate common goods for satisfying their natural needs only (Ellickson, Carol and Ackerman 346). In 1968 the term of the tragedy of the commons was coined by Garrett Hardin who considered government regulation of consumption as the most effective solution for the existing problem (Laxminarayan and Malani 141). However, the appropriateness of the term tragedy becomes doubtful after recognizing the fact that the government regulations, customs, traditions and privatization can be equally effective for handling this problem.

Numerous examples from the historical experience have demonstrated the feasibility of the government policies, national traditions and privatization for preserving the commonly held resources. The European settlement of North America can be regarded as an example supporting the claim that national traditions of population can be helpful for preserving the common resources. The overexploitation of the resources which have been preserved by Indigenous population over centuries shows how effective can be cultural components for subduing the human willingness to appropriate the common resources.

The rich natural resources were the main cause which attracted the British Crown to New Zealand and preconditioned the Maori’s experience with the British. Converting the greatest part of the New Zealand lands from common property into the private possession of the British owners did not have any positive consequences for the consumption of resources. The experience of Maine lobster industry where lobster gangs were organized for preserving the fish population shows how helpful the unofficial measures can be for preserving the resources. “Social and organizational factors of the lobster fishery should make it relatively easy to enforce rules once they are in place” (Acheson 217).

On the one hand, the experience of lobster gangs has demonstrated that the prevalence of the desire to obtain property can be subdued by the rationale for preserving the resources which are commonly used. On the other hand, these unofficial organizations had a positive impact upon the distribution of resources and helped in regulating the distribution of common property. Another example of importance of local traditions for preserving the common resources is the closing of the Southern range during which the citizens were deprived of the right for settling this issue on the local level. Thus, it can be stated that the examples from the historical experience show that local customs and government regulation can be as effective for protecting the resources as their privatization.

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Acknowledging the attractiveness of property in general and common resources in particular and taking into account the phenomenon of cultural diversity, it can be concluded that the problem of managing the common resources exists but can be handled and, in my opinion, cannot be defined as an unavoidable tragedy. The equal effectiveness of traditions, regulations and market measures for settling the issue of reasonable use of common resources proves inappropriateness of the term of the tragedy of the commons for identifying the situation in which people are guided by their self-interests in exploiting the resources at their discretion.

Works Cited

Acheson, James. Capturing the Commons: Devising Institutions to Manage the Maine Lobster. University Press of New England, 2003. Print.

Ellickson, Robert, Rose Carol and Bruce Ackerman. Perspectives on Property Law. Aspen Law and Business, 2002. Print.

Laxminarayan, Ramanan and Anup Malani. Extending the Cure: Policy Responses to the Growing Threat of Antibiotic Resistance. Washington: Resources for the Future Publishing, 2007. Print.

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