The tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons is an economics theory, according to which individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, behave contrary to the whole group’s long-term best interests by depleting some common resource. The concept is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over climate change. “Commons” can include the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, national parks, the office refrigerator, and any other shared resources such as the world wide web. The tragedy of the commons has particular relevance in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation, and sociology. Some also see the “tragedy” as an example of emergent behavior, the outcome of individual interactions in a complex system.