Green Planet Blues: Environmental Politics from Stockholm to Tyoto

By Ken Conca; Geoffrey D. Dabelko et al. | Go to book overview

SUSAN J. BUCK


4
No Tragedy on the Commons

Introduction

In 1951, Josephine Tey published her classic detective story Daughter of Time. In this defense of Richard III, she coined the term Tonypandy, which is the regrettable situation which occurs when a historical event is reported and memorialized inaccurately but consistently until the resulting fiction is believed to be the truth. 1 History is not the only field in which Tonypandy occurs. A prime example of Tonypandy in the field of economics is the "tragedy of the commons."

Academics are often too facile in labeling an article as "seminal," but Garrett Hardin's 1968 article, "The Tragedy of the Commons," deserves the accolade. 2 The article has been reprinted over fifty times, 3 and entire books have been devoted to exploring the meaning and implications of Hardin's memorable title. 4 The phrase "tragedy of the commons" has slipped into common parlance at colleges and universities and is rapidly becoming public property. 5 Discussion of the inevitability of such a tragedy is the lawful prey of economists, sociologists, philosophers, and theologians. Certainly we cannot deny that the phenomenon exists: the ruination of a limited resource when confronted with unlimited access by an expanding population. Where, then, lies Tonypandy in the tragedy of the commons?

Although the tragedy of the commons may occur, that it regularly occurred on the common lands of medieval and post-medieval England is not true; the histor-

____________________
Originally published as Susan Jane Buck Cox, "No Tragedy on the Commons," in Environmental Ethics 7 (Spring 1985):49-61. Reprinted with permission.

-48-

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