Tragedy Of The Commons Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Business - Management Type: Essay Paper: #78767069 Related Topics: Fossil Fuel, Interest Groups, Sustainability, Status Quo
Excerpt from Essay :

Tragedy of the commons refers to a situation where each individual, when engaged in profit-maximizing behavior, causes overall damage to common property. The principle reflects two ideas. The first is the economic idea of profit maximization, wherein it is held that in general each individual will seek to maximize their own outcomes. The second idea is that in doing so individuals will generally exploit common property. Indeed, transactions between individuals are largely a zero sum game of swapping different types of benefits, but the only real growth comes from increased exploitation of common property.

There are a lot of examples of tragedy of the commons. A good one is the exploitation of fossil fuel resources. These are common to the people of the world, but each person seeks to maximize his or her outcomes, and this results in high levels of consumption. Fossil fuels make an obvious example because they are not renewable, so they only diminish as they are exploited. I have looked at water, however, and that is a different matter. There are examples in the U.S. -- I recently read about Lake Mead -- where this common property's usage is being maximized by all who have access to it. The result is that the overall maximization of the lake is at an unsustainable level.

At this point, nothing is being done. The status quo is exactly why the problem exists, and because each jurisdiction wants to see its own advantage maximized, there is little political will to sacrifice individual prosperity for the benefit of the commons. This is an illustration of the tragedy of commons -- it wouldn't be a tragedy if something was being done to address the problem.

Phase 4 Individual Project

The paper does not really explain the common pooling approach very well. Indeed, it makes a few points that seem to counter the underlying logic of any sort of collective action. First, the statement that record harvests indicate sustainable management makes no intuitive sense -- sustainability comes from exploiting less of the world's resources, not more. Indeed, it is clear that lobsters are not as abundant as they once were, which hardly makes the case for this being a sustainable fishery. Second, the author admits this Maine program is successful because there is a large resource pool of lobsters. Tragedy of the commons doesn't really occur until there are insufficient resources to ensure sustainable harvest. I understand that maybe they have done some things to manage their fishery, but I'm not seeing a genuinely enlightened approach to sustainable fishing -- given scarce resources what safeguards does the author describe that would prevent tragedy of the commons from occurring?

Anyway, I don't really understand all the convoluted "Zone E, Zone G" minutiae, which makes the argument hard to follow here. I assume it makes sense for fishermen who have some prior exposure to these systems.

Ostrom's eight design principles are at the heart of the article, and the author seeks to make the case that the Maine lobster fishery conforms to these principles. Not all of the principles are outlined. One that has been outlined is that collective action can only occur when boundaries are defined -- well this runs in contrary to collective cultures. Presumably the implication here -- as the author noted -- is that when people who are highly individualistic in nature attempt collectivism they need these boundaries. I doubt an African or Native American needs his own dedicated patch of water to make collectivism work. Another of Ostrom's eight design principles is that there should be formal cooperation at an interstate level. We'll presume "interstate" just reflects cooperation between two or more interest groups. In this situation, it might be the states. The author notes that the lobster industry does not conform to this principle, as lobstermen from different states may be subject to different rules.

The third principle calls for broad participation of stakeholders. This appears to be the...


Because fishermen from another zone cannot vote on another zone, this is arguably not even collective, and the commons are easy to exploit if each zone maximizes its take. The author specifically notes that each zone votes in its own best interest., a precursor for the tragedy of the commons, and that the natural check of external stakeholders is not invited to the vote.

The author does argue that the layers of management and local-level resource pooling represent collectivism, and that seems to be a reasonable claim. It doesn't have anything to do with sustainability, however. But having only really checked the box on one of Ostrom's collective action principles, the Maine lobster industry does not appear to be collective action at all. It is multiple individual profit-maximizing bodies, and the author notes instances where they work against each other and the necessity of a conflict-resolution regime. As someone from a much more collective culture, I would not call this collective at all, and the author has therefore failed to make the case.

This leaves much room to make this process better, though one would need to define "better." If "better" is genuinely sustainable, I think we have seen that legislation and governance from an overarching body is much more effective than trusting individual profit-maximizing bodies to manage a resource effectively. If "better" is something else, then a different approach can be taken. Maine lobster fishermen seem to have benefitted from having a few rules that discourage self-destruction of the resource, and the abundance of this resource has thus far prevented a full-blown tragedy of the commons, but there are fewer lobsters than their used to be and the author never really made the case that this industry is truly either sustainable or collective. Thus, if the idea is to make this industry either of these things, there's a lot of work to be done.

Phase 4, Discussion Board 2

Agency theory reflects the idea that managers of a company are agents of the shareholders. They must therefore act in a manner that represents the shareholders' best interests. Agency theory is most relevant when the interests of the managers and the interests of the shareholders are not aligned -- the managers should opt to maximize value for shareholders, not themselves.

Resource dependency theory and stewardship theory reflect that the firm is dependent on external factors, and for managers to increase shareholder wealth they should focus effort on reducing that dependence (Hillman, Withers & Collins, 2009). For action research, this is an interesting theory to keep in the back of your head, but it doesn't have the same relevance as agency theory and stakeholder, which very clearly frame strategy. Resource dependence theory speculates about optimal responses, but research has not shown these prescriptions to be the key to success.

Stakeholder theory evolved as a response to agency theory, noting that there are other stakeholders of an enterprise, not just shareholders. If the shareholders put up passive capital, other stakeholders might put up other assets that help the organization to run. The principle here is that managers might be agents of the shareholders, but they are agents of other stakeholders as well, and need to take into consideration the needs of these other stakeholders.

Agency theory makes things simple for managers, but it does not accurately reflect the interests of the organization. Stakeholder theory is much more comprehensive in this regard, even if it brings up more complex decisions that are more difficult to resolve.

Phase 4, Discussion Board 3

There are probably no areas of environmental policy that can be left to voluntary measures. In some instances, it has been demonstrated than an educated and enlightened society can be convinced through education and…

Sources Used in Documents:


Coombs, M. (no date). Lobstering and common pool resource management in Maine. Grassroots Economic Organizing. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from

Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science. Vol. 162 (3859) 1243-1248.

Hillman, A., Withers, M. & Collins, B. (2009). Resource dependence theory: A review. Journal of Management. Vol. 35 (6) 1404-1427.

Cite this Document:

"Tragedy Of The Commons" (2014, July 26) Retrieved May 7, 2021, from

"Tragedy Of The Commons" 26 July 2014. Web.7 May. 2021. <>

"Tragedy Of The Commons", 26 July 2014, Accessed.7 May. 2021,

Related Documents
Tragedy of the Commons
Words: 1165 Length: 4 Pages Topic: Transportation - Environmental Issues Paper #: 90326041

Tragedy of the Commons Few people would deny that overpopulation is a major problem. Even sparsely populated nations feel the brunt of the overpopulation problem because overpopulation affects the environment, politics, and the global market economy. The world currently holds six billion plus individual human beings, an unprecedented number. Rainforests are being cut down and soil depleted of their natural nutritive qualities in an attempt to please human appetites and keep

Tragedy of the Commons and
Words: 670 Length: 2 Pages Topic: Business Paper #: 60043632

The world's oceans are over-fished. It takes more land resources to bring animals to slaughter than it does to grow vegetables that could feed the world. What may be pleasurable, or even good for the individual is not necessarily what is good for the 'common' -- for the majority of the people who will have to live on a planet being depleted of natural resources. This is also true

Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Words: 1106 Length: 4 Pages Topic: Government Paper #: 13259067

" To quote the Encyclopedia of World Biography's entry on Thomas Paine (2004) "his contributions included an attack on slavery and the slave trade. His literary eloquence received recognition with the appearance of his 79-page pamphlet titled Common Sense (1776). Here was a powerful exhortation for immediate independence. Americans had been quarreling with Parliament; Paine now redirected their case toward monarchy and to George III himself -- a 'hardened, sullen tempered

Tragedy and Comedy the Theater
Words: 1496 Length: 4 Pages Topic: Physics Paper #: 20805307

Then comedy disappeared when the Roman Empire collapsed. Nonetheless, the moulds for its future development had been cast. Greek comedies were rediscovered during the Renaissance, the point of origin of comedy as we know it today. Furthermore, the Renaissance brought two major developments to the comedy: the commedia dell'arte, and plot developments and defined archetypal characters (Storey: 407). "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is what theoreticians may call a classical

Tragedy Explored in Oedipus Rex
Words: 2137 Length: 7 Pages Topic: Literature Paper #: 86597780

Nevertheless, it was his curiosity that made him popular and it would only make sense that it would be his downfall as well. This very human aspect of the king allows us to relate to him and a persona level. The final tragic move in the play occurs as Oedipus chooses to leave his Thebes. His attempt to rid the city of contamination is brave. He realizes his failure and

Tragedy and the Common Man, He Contemplates
Words: 459 Length: 1 Pages Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy Paper #: 6014917

Tragedy and the Common Man," he contemplates the idea that only the wealthy, noble characters can fully understand tragedy, and therefore appreciate it. That thought is not a reflection of his own opinion, as Miller argues the case of tragedy and the common, working class man - for tragedy knows no income boundaries, but rather that this person would "lay down his secure one thing - his sense