Garrett Hardin

Garrett James Hardin (April 21, 1915 – September 14, 2003) was an American ecologist and philosopher who warned of the dangers of human overpopulation. His exposition of the tragedy of the commons, in a famous 1968 paper in Science,[1] called attention to "the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment".[2] He is also known for Hardin's First Law of Human Ecology: "We can never do merely one thing. Any intrusion into nature has numerous effects, many of which are unpredictable."[3]:112

Garrett Hardin
Garrett Hardin
Garrett Hardin (1986)
Garrett James Hardin

April 21, 1915
DiedSeptember 14, 2003 (aged 88)
Known forThe Tragedy of the Commons (essay)
Scientific career


Hardin received a B.S. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1936 and a PhD in microbiology from Stanford University in 1941 where his dissertation research addressed symbiosis among microorganisms.[4] Moving to the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1946, he served there as Professor of Human Ecology from 1963 until his (nominal) retirement in 1978. He was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.

Major works and positions

A major focus of his career, and one to which he returned repeatedly, was the issue of human overpopulation. This led to writings on controversial subjects such as advocating abortion rights,[5] which earned him criticism from the political right, and advocating eugenics by forced sterilization, and strict limits to non-western immigration, which earned him criticism from the political left. In his essays, he also tackled subjects such as conservation[6] and creationism.[7]

Neomalthusian approach and "Tragedy of the commons"

In 1968, Hardin applied his conceptual model developed in his essay "The tragedy of the commons" to human population growth, the use of the Earth's natural resources, and the welfare state.[1] His essay cited an 1833 pamphlet by the English economist William Forster Lloyd which included an example of herders sharing a common parcel of land, which would lead to overgrazing.

Hardin blamed the welfare state for allowing the tragedy of the commons; where the state provides for children and supports over-breeding as a fundamental human right, Malthusian catastrophe is inevitable. Hardin stated in his analysis of the tragedy of the commons that "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."[1]:1244 Environmental historians Joachim Radkau, Alfred Thomas Grove and Oliver Rackham criticized Hardin "as an American with no notion at all how Commons actually work".[8]

In addition, Hardin's pessimistic outlook was subsequently contradicted by Elinor Ostrom's later work on success of co-operative structures like the management of common land,[9] for which she shared the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Oliver E. Williamson. In contrast to Hardin, they stated neither commons or "Allmende" in the generic nor classical meaning are bound to fail; to the contrary "the wealth of the commons" has gained renewed interest in the scientific community.[10] Hardin's work was also criticized[11] as historically inaccurate in failing to account for the demographic transition, and for failing to distinguish between common property and open access resources.[12][13]

Despite the criticisms, the theory has nonetheless been influential.[14]

Living Within Limits

In 1993, Garrett Hardin published Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, which he described at the time as a summation of all his previous works. The book won the 1993 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. In the book, he argues that the natural sciences are grounded in the concept of limits (such as the speed of light), while social sciences, such as economics, are grounded in concepts that have no limits (such as the widespread "infinite-Earth" economic models). He notes that most of the more notable scientific (as opposed to political) debates concerning ecological economics are between natural scientists, such as Paul R. Ehrlich, and economists, such as Julian Simon, one of Ehrlich's most well known and vocal detractors. A strong theme throughout the book is that economics, as a discipline, can be as much about mythology and ideology as it is about real science.

Hardin goes on to label those who reflexively argue for growth as "growthmaniacs",[15] and argues against the institutional faith in exponential growth on a finite planet. Typical of Hardin's writing style, he illustrates exponential growth by way of a Biblical metaphor.[16] Using compound interest, or "usury", he starts from the infamous "thirty pieces of silver" and, using 5% compounded interest, finds that after around 2,000 years, "every man, woman, and child would be entitled to only (!) 160,000 earth-masses of gold". As a consequence, he argues that any economy based on long-term compound interest must eventually fail due to the physical and mathematical impossibility of long-term exponential growth on a finite planet.[17] Hardin writes, "At this late date millions of people believe in the fertility of money with an ardor seldom accorded to traditional religious doctrines".[17]:67 He argues that, contrary to some socially-motivated claims, population growth is also exponential growth, therefore even a little would be disastrous anywhere in the world, and that even the richest nations are not immune.

Personal life

Participation in death-with-dignity movement and suicide

Hardin, who suffered from a heart disorder and the aftermath of childhood poliomyelitis,[18] and his wife, Jane, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, were members of End-of-Life Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society.

Believing in individuals' choice of when to die, they committed suicide in their Santa Barbara home in September 2003, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. He was 88 and she was 81.[19]

Association with white nationalism

Hardin caused controversy for his support of anti-immigrant causes during his lifetime and possible connections to the white nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that Hardin served on the board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Social Contract Press and co-founded the anti-immigration Californians for Population Stabilization and The Environmental Fund, which according to the SPLC "served to lobby Congress for nativist and isolationist policies."[20]

In 1994, he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence",[21] an editorial written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal, which declared the consensus of the signing scholars on issues related to race and intelligence following the publication of the book The Bell Curve. It claimed that the average IQ among the African-American population was only 85.[20]

Hardin's last book The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia (1999), a warning about the threat of overpopulation to the Earth's sustainable economic future, called for coercive constraints on "unqualified reproductive rights" and argued that affirmative action is a form of racism.



  • 1965, Nature and Man's Fate New American Library. ISBN 0-451-61170-5
  • 1972, Exploring new ethics for survival: the voyage of the spaceship Beagle Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-30268-6
  • 1973, Stalking the Wild Taboo W. Kaufmann. ISBN 0-913232-03-3
  • 1974, Mandatory Motherhood: The True Meaning of 'Right to Life' Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-2177-6
  • 1977, The Limits of Altruism: an Ecologist's view of Survival Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33435-7
  • 1980, Promethean Ethics: Living With Death, Competition, and Triage University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95717-4
  • 1982, Naked Emperors: Essays of a Taboo-Stalker William Kaufmann, Inc. ISBN 0-86576-032-2
  • 1985, Filters Against Folly, How to Survive despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-80410-X
  • 1993, Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509385-2
  • 1999, The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512274-7

Selected journal articles

Chapters in books

  • 1993. The entire text of Garrett Hardin's Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, Chapter Eight, Growth: Real and Spurious Reprinted at, by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc
  • 1991. "Paramount positions in ecological economics." In Costanza, R. (editor) Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-07562-6
  • 1991. "The tragedy of the 'Unmanaged' commons – population and the disguises of providence." In: R. V. Andelson, (editor), Commons Without Tragedy, London: Shepheard-Walwyn, pp. 162–185. ISBN 0-389-20958-9 (U.S.)


  • Hardin's 1993 book Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, received the 1993 Award in Science from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hardin, G (1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science. 162 (3859): 1243–1248. Bibcode:1968Sci...162.1243H. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID 5699198.
  2. ^ Lavietes, Stuart (October 28, 2003). "Garrett Hardin, 88, Ecologist Who Warned About Excesses". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  3. ^ Miller, George Tyler (1993). Environmental Science: Sustaining the Earth. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 9780534178086.
  4. ^ Hardin, Garrett (July 1, 1944). "Symbiosis of Paramecium and Oikomonas". Ecology. 25 (3): 304–311. doi:10.2307/1931278. ISSN 1939-9170. JSTOR 1931278.
  5. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1973). "Chapter 1: I Become an Abortionist". Stalking the Wild Taboo. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 3–9. ISBN 978-0-913232-03-3.
  6. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1982). "Chapter 22: Conservation's Secret Question". Naked Emperors. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 190–195. ISBN 978-0-86576-032-5.
  7. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1982). "Chapter 7: "Scientific Creationism" — Marketing Deception as Truth". Naked Emperors. William Kaufmann, Inc. pp. 49–57. ISBN 978-0-86576-032-5.
  8. ^ Radkau, Joachim (2008). Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-521-85129-9. Radkau cites Grove and Rackham, The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History.
  9. ^ Araral, E. (2014). "Ostrom, Hardin and the commons: A critical appreciation and a revisionist view". Environmental Science & Policy. 36: 11–23. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2013.07.011.
  10. ^ Bollier, David; Helfrich, Silke, eds. (2014). The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State. Levellers Press. ISBN 978-1-937146-14-6.
  11. ^ Dasgupta, Partha (2001). Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199247882.
  12. ^ Ciriacy-Wantrup, S.V.; Bishop, R.C. (October 1975). "'Common Property' as a Concept in Natural Resources Policy" (PDF). Natural Resources Journal. 15: 713–727. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  13. ^ Cox, Susan Jane Buck (Spring 1985). "No tragedy of the commons" (PDF). Journal of Environmental Ethics. 7 (1): 49–61. doi:10.5840/enviroethics1985716. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  14. ^ De robertis, Michelle, et al, "issue_id":411307,"view":"articleBrowser","article_id":"2793834"} "The Tragedy of the Commons of the Urban (and Suburban) Arterial", ITE Journal, Volume: 87 Issue Number: 6, November 2017
  15. ^ Stalking the Wild Taboo – Stalkers: Hardin: Book Review Archived November 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1993). "Living Within Limits, Chapter 8" (PDF). Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  17. ^ a b Hardin, Garrett (1993). Living Within Limits. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198024033. "Chapter 8. Growth Real and Spurious" available online at Garrett Hardin Society.
  18. ^ Uh, not sure what to put here. Personal acquaintance? Keynote Address 'We must learn again for ourselves what we have inherited', Wilderness Conference, SF, 1970, or perhaps *A 110. The economics of wilderness. Natural History, 78(6):20-27. 1969.
  19. ^ Steepleton, Scott (September 19, 2003). "Pioneering professor, wife die in apparent double suicide". Santa Barbara News-Press. Retrieved September 28, 2007.
  20. ^ a b "Garrett Hardin". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  21. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (PDF). Wall Street Journal. p. A18. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  22. ^ "Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science – List of Previous Winners". The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Retrieved December 6, 2010.

Further reading

External links

CC–PP game

The Commonize Costs–Privatize Profits Game (or CC–PP Game) is a concept developed by the ecologist Garrett Hardin to describe a "game" (in the game theory sense) widely played in matters of resource allocation. The concept is Hardin’s interpretation of the closely related phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons, and is referred to in political discourse as "privatizing profits and socializing losses."

The CC–PP Game originally appeared in Hardin’s book titled Filters against Folly: How To Survive Despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent which was published in 1986.Players of the CC–PP Game aim to commonize the costs (or externalities) generated by their activities across the wider community, while privatizing all profits (financial or otherwise) to themselves. The individual does not broadcast that they are playing the game in order to continue profiting.Hardin related the CC–PP Game to ecological problems such mining, groundwater overdraft, cattle ranching and other actions that cause the depletion of natural resources or an increase in pollution.

Common heritage of mankind

Common heritage of mankind (also termed the common heritage of humanity, common heritage of humankind or common heritage principle) is a principle of international law that holds that defined territorial areas and elements of humanity's common heritage (cultural and natural) should be held in trust for future generations and be protected from exploitation by individual nation states or corporations.


The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values (social practice) employed for a governance mechanism.

Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates .

Competitive exclusion principle

In ecology, the competitive exclusion principle, sometimes referred to as Gause's law, is a proposition named for Georgy Gause that two species competing for the same limiting resource cannot coexist at constant population values. When one species has even the slightest advantage over another, the one with the advantage will dominate in the long term. This leads either to the extinction of the weaker competitor or to an evolutionary or behavioral shift toward a different ecological niche. The principle has been paraphrased in the maxim "complete competitors cannot coexist".

Customary land

Customary land is land which is owned by indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs, as opposed to statutory tenure usually introduced during the colonial periods. Common ownership is one form of customary land ownership.

Since the late 20th century, statutory recognition and protection of indigenous and community land rights continues to be a major challenge. The gap between formally recognized and customarily held and managed land is a significant source of underdevelopment, conflict, and environmental degradation.In the Malawi Land Act of 1965, "Customary Land" is defined as "all land which is held, occupied or used under customary law, but does not include any public land". In most countries of the Pacific islands, customary land remains the dominant land tenure form. Distinct customary systems of tenure have evolved on different islands and areas within the Pacific region. In any country there may be many different types of customary tenure.The amount of customary land ownership out of the total land area of Pacific island nations is the following: 97% in Papua New Guinea, 90% in Vanuatu, 88% in Fiji, 87% in the Solomon Islands, and 81% in Samoa.

Deaths in September 2003

The following is a list of notable deaths in September 2003.

Entries for each day are listed alphabetically by surname. A typical entry lists information in the following sequence:

Name, age, country of citizenship at birth, subsequent country of citizenship (if applicable), reason for notability, cause of death (if known), and reference.

George Lotrell Timanus

George Lotrell Timanus (January 31, 1892 – June 1981) was a physician who performed illegal abortions in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. area from 1920 to 1951.Timanus and one other abortion provider performed an estimated 90% criminal abortions in Baltimore.In 1950, Timanus used his criminal trial to challenge the abortion laws in the United States, as Aleck Bourne had done in the UK. However, his trial and that of another doctor, Edgar Keemer, were not understood as challenges by the public, and Timanus and Keemer did not recruit other doctors or patients to their cause in a way that might have built a movement or sparked national conversation. He was fined $5,000, sentenced to six months in jail, and barred from further practice of medicine.Timanus participated in the Planned Parenthood Conference on Abortion in America in 1955. He gave a detailed breakdown of his patients, of whom he kept meticulous records, noting that of 5,200 women on whom he had performed abortions, only two had died. As Garrett Hardin noted, this 0.04% rate, in the days before antibiotics, was not only far lower than the mortality rate for women carrying to term at the time, but still only half the maternal mortality rate a generation later. At the conference, Timanus also lamented that of the 353 doctors who referred patients to him—some of them, Timanus claimed, with letters recommending abortion—none stood up to testify for him when he was arrested.Timanus asked referring doctors to make a written statement that the abortion was necessary because her life would otherwise be jeopardized.The breakdown of Timanus' patients was as follows:

Age 12 - 15: 17

Age 16 - 20: 688

Age 21 - 25: 1,834

Age 26 - 30: 1,268

Age 31 - 40: 1,312

Age 41+: 91

Single: 1,830

Married: 2,773

Widowed/Divorced/Separated: 607

Physicians: 7

Wives of physicians: 58

Nurses: 270Mary Calderone, then Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, noted that Timanus "certainly seemed to be very competent and professional."

Hardin (surname)

Hardin is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Charles Henry Hardin (1820–1892), co-founder of Beta Theta Pi fraternity

Clifford M. Hardin, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

DeVon Hardin, American basketball player

Garrett Hardin (1915–2003), American ecologist

George A. Hardin (1832–1901), New York lawyer and politician

Glen Hardin, American musician/piano player

Glenn Hardin (1910–1975), American athlete

Jerry Hardin, American actor

Jim Hardin (1943–1991), American baseball player

Jo Hardin, American statistician

John Hardin (1753–1792), Continental Army officer in the American Revolutionary War

John J. Hardin (1810–1847), U.S. Representative from Illinois

John Wesley Hardin (1853–1895), outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West

Julia Hardin, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player

Louis T. Hardin (1916–1999), American musician known as Moondog

Martin Davis Hardin (1837–1923), Union Army general in the American Civil War

Martin D. Hardin (1780–1823), U.S. Senator from Kentucky

Melora Hardin, American actress

Paul Hardin Jr. (1903–1996), bishop of The Methodist Church (USA)

Rusty Hardin, American attorney

Salvor Hardin, fictional character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series

Terri Hardin, American puppeteer

Tim Hardin (1941–1980), American folk musician and composer

Ty Hardin (1930-2017), American actor

John Baden

John A. Baden is founder and chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) based in Bozeman, Montana.

In 1977 Baden co-authored Managing the Commons with Garrett Hardin, the author of the essay "The Tragedy of the Commons". The book, which is currently out of print, is a collection of articles exploring the themes raised in Hardin's original essay.

Lifeboat ethics

Lifeboat ethics is a metaphor for resource distribution proposed by the ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1974.Hardin's metaphor describes a lifeboat bearing 50 people, with room for ten more. The lifeboat is in an ocean surrounded by a hundred swimmers. The "ethics" of the situation stem from the dilemma of whether (and under what circumstances) swimmers should be taken aboard the lifeboat.

Hardin compared the lifeboat metaphor to the Spaceship Earth model of resource distribution, which he criticizes by asserting that a spaceship would be directed by a single leader – a captain – which the Earth lacks. Hardin asserts that the spaceship model leads to the tragedy of the commons. In contrast, the lifeboat metaphor presents individual lifeboats as rich nations and the swimmers as poor nations.

Other issues which can be raised include:

Is it acceptable to deny an obviously dying passenger food and water to save it for others with a better chance to make it?

Is it acceptable to jettison the dying passenger (knowing they will die within minutes) to make room for someone else?

If food is low:

is cannibalism of corpses acceptable after they die?

is it acceptable, if it is certain they are going to die in a day or two, to murder them to preserve resources or to let someone on the boat?

is it acceptable, if it is certain they are going to die in a day or two, to murder them in order to commit cannibalism of their corpse where this will allow the survivors to survive for several additional weeks?The third point regarding low supply of food had happened in reality before. A British court, in the ruling of R v Dudley and Stephens ruled that necessity is not a defense of murder.

Lifeboat ethics is closely related to environmental ethics, utilitarianism, and issues of resource depletion. Hardin uses lifeboat ethics to question policies such as foreign aid, immigration, and food banks.

List of ecologists

This is a list of ecologists who have pages on Wikipedia, in alphabetical order by surname.


Overgrazing occurs when plants are exposed to intensive grazing for extended periods of time, or without sufficient recovery periods. It can be caused by either livestock in poorly managed agricultural applications, game reserves, or nature reserves. It can also be caused by immobile, travel restricted populations of native or non-native wild animals. However, "overgrazing" is a controversial concept, based on equilibrium system theory.

It reduces the usefulness, productivity, and biodiversity of the land and is one cause of desertification and erosion. Overgrazing is also seen as a cause of the spread of invasive species of non-native plants and of weeds. It is caused by nomadic grazers in huge populations of travel herds, such as the American bison of the Great Plains, or migratory Wildebeests of the African savannas, or by holistic planned grazing.

Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science

The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science is given annually by the Phi Beta Kappa Society to authors of significant books in the fields of science and mathematics. The award was first given in 1959 to anthropologist Loren Eiseley.


In economics, a shortage or excess demand is a situation in which the demand for a product or service exceeds its supply in a market. It is the opposite of an excess supply (surplus).

Social Contract Press

The Social Contract Press (SCP) is an American publisher of anti-immigration literature. It was founded by John Tanton and is headed by Wayne Lutton. It publishes the quarterly Social Contract journal, as well as reprints and new works.

Social Contract Press has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group, and by The Guardian as "racist". It reprinted Jean Raspail's 1973 racist fantasy novel The Camp of the Saints. In 1996, editor Lutton described the book as a warning to white Americans, who he claimed were the "real Americans". According to SPLC, the novel was one of several racist works published by the company.Social Contract Press's staff overlaps with, and has promoted, white nationalist and white supremacist organizations such as VDARE, FAIR, Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies, American Renaissance, and the Council of Conservative Citizens.

St. Matthew Island

St. Matthew Island is a remote island in the Bering Sea in Alaska, 295 km (183 mi) WNW of Nunivak Island. The island has a land area of 137.857 sq mi (357.05 km2), making it the 43rd largest island in the United States. Its most southerly point is Cape Upright which features cliff faces which exceed 1,000 feet (300 m). Similar heights are found at Glory of Russia Cape on the north, and the highest point, 1,476 feet (450 m) above sea level, lies south from the island center.

There is a small island off its northwestern point called Hall Island. The 3.1 miles (5.0 km) wide sound between both islands is called Sarichef Strait. A small rocky islet called Pinnacle Rock lies 9.3 miles (15.0 km) to the south of Saint Matthew Island. The entire island's natural scenery and wildlife is protected as it is part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

The United States Coast Guard maintained a manned LORAN station on the island during the 1940s.

Tangible property

Tangible property in law is, literally, anything which can be touched, and includes both real property and personal property (or moveable property), and stands in distinction to intangible property.In English law and some Commonwealth legal systems, items of tangible property are referred to as choses in possession (or a chose in possession in the singular). However, some property, despite being physical in nature, is classified in many legal systems as intangible property rather than tangible property because the rights associated with the physical item are of far greater significance than the physical properties. Principally, these are documentary intangibles. For example, a promissory note is a piece of paper that can be touched, but the real significance is not the physical paper, but the legal rights which the paper confers, and hence the promissory note is defined by the legal debt rather than the physical attributes.A unique category of property is money, which in some legal systems is treated as tangible property and in others as intangible property. Whilst most countries legal tender is expressed in the form of intangible property ("The Treasury of Country X hereby promises to pay to the bearer on demand...."), in practice banknotes are now rarely ever redeemed in any country, which has led to banknotes and coins being classified as tangible property in most modern legal systems.

Tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons is a term used in environmental science 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. The concept 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 Great Britain and Ireland. The concept became widely known as the "tragedy of the commons" 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, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, roads and highways, or even an office refrigerator.

It has been argued that the very term "tragedy of the commons" is a misnomer since "the commons" referred to land resources with rights jointly owned by members of a community, and no individual outside the community had any access to the resource. However, the term is now used in social science and economics when describing a problem where all individuals have equal and open access to a resource. Hence, "tragedy of open access regimes" or simply "the open access problem" are more apt terms.The "tragedy of the commons" is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing 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, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation and sociology.

Although common resource systems have been known to collapse due to overuse (such as in over-fishing), many examples have existed and still do exist where members of a community with access to a common resource co-operate or regulate to exploit those resources prudently without collapse. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for demonstrating exactly this concept in her book Governing the Commons, which included examples of how local communities were able to do this without top-down regulations.

Tyranny of small decisions

The tyranny of small decisions is a phenomenon explored in an essay of the same name, published in 1966 by the American economist Alfred E. Kahn. The article describes a situation in which a number of decisions, individually small in size and time perspective, cumulatively result in an outcome which is not optimal nor desired. It is a situation where a series of small, individually rational decisions can negatively change the context of subsequent choices, even to the point where desired alternatives are irreversibly destroyed. Kahn described the problem as a common issue in market economics which can lead to market failure. The concept has since been extended to areas other than economic ones, such as environmental degradation, political elections and health outcomes.A classic example of the tyranny of small decisions is the tragedy of the commons, described by Garrett Hardin in 1968 as a situation where a number of herders graze cows on a commons. The herders each act independently in what they perceive to be their own rational self-interest, ultimately depleting their shared limited resource, even though it is clear that it is not in any herder's long-term interest for this to happen.

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