29 pages 58 minutes read

Garrett James Hardin

The Tragedy of the Commons

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1968

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Literary Devices


The single most important thing to come from Hardin’s article is its title. Hardin borrowed an old, well-understood economic idea first presented by William Forster Lloyd in 1833, which shows that an unregulated common area often becomes overused to the point of failure because users each get more from abusing the resource than they pay in the cost of the abuse. Hardin’s article named this phenomenon “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which quickly was adopted by economists and environmentalists as a catchword for the overuse and pollution of common resources. The title so succinctly encapsulates Hardin’s argument that, ever after, it has brought to mind the problem of environmental misuse and the implication that the solution requires regulation of common resources. 


The author essentially makes a series of arguments in support of a scientific thesis, namely, that the world’s human population is growing too quickly to be supported by an overly stressed environment, and that this growth should be halted by political means. The main points in support of that thesis are, first, that the growth rate of humanity is exponential and bound to overwhelm the Earth’s ecosystems; second, that common resources, such as air and water, when used in an unregulated manner by a growing population, will collapse and cause a mass catastrophe; third, that previous attempts to slow population growth, such as appeals to