tragedy of the commons

Planet Earth as Desert Island: “Lord of the Flies” or “Gilligan’s Island”?

Or in more technical terms, the Tragedy of the Commons? Or its inverse?

Lord of the Flies is a memorable novel about a group of English schoolboys who are marooned on a desert island.  They quickly descend into savagery and violence. The book can be seen as a parable of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s view that human life in a state of nature is short, nasty, and brutish. But …


Everyday Christmas: The Gift of the Commons

Clean air. Clean water. We receive these public goods every day without payment.

Every day, we reach receive bountiful gifts in the form of what economists call public goods. I thought it might be worth reposting some Christmas Eve musings on that subject. After all, the holiday season is a time for watching the same old movies and hearing the same old carols as before, so why shouldn’t …


Tragedy of the Commons–California Drought-Style

State Farmers Planting New Almond Orchards Despite Critical Water Shortages

Traveling through California’s drought-striken San Joaquin Valley repeatedly over the past year, I’ve been surprised and disheartened to see that Valley farmers continue to convert their agricultural fields to newly-planted almond orchards.  (My anecdotal observations have been confirmed by various recent press accounts.)  This development is a striking, current example of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of …


Guest Blogger Ken Alex: Climate Science and Public Belief

Ken Alex is a Senior Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown and the Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.  The views expressed in this blog post are his own. In the book Collapse, Professor Jared Diamond asks, why do societies destroy themselves through disastrous decisions, even after they perceive the problem?  Why, for …


Mourning An Uncommon Student of the Commons

Elinor Ostrom, winner 0f the Nobel economics prize, died earlier today.  She is best known for her work on how groups manage common resources such as fisheries.  The “tragedy of the commons” is a theory that these common resources will inevitably be destroyed unless they are privatized or regulated by governments.  Professor Ostrom showed that …


Can Six-year-olds Understand the Tragedy of the Commons?

Maybe not.  But perhaps eight-year-olds can. Last Wednesday morning, I showed up for my weekly library volunteering at my daughter’s first grade class.  School cutbacks meant that the librarian wasn’t there, so the teacher, another parent and I had to make do.  The display was about Earth Day, since I had to find a book to read …


The Triumph of the Commons

Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics today, along with  Oliver Williamson here at Berkeley.  To understand why her work is relevant to environmental law, you have to first know about the “tragedy of the commons.” Many medieval and early modern villages had a “commons” where all of the peasants were entitled to …