Tragedy of the Commons: The Meaning of the Metaphor

Science and Society 60 (3):290 - 306 (1996)
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The tragedy of the commons has been an influential metaphor in the environmental movement, not only referring to the misappropriation of common property resources by private producers, but also incorporating a variety of other issues into the metaphorical commons. Criticisms of the thesis have concentrated on the facts of how humans manage classical common property resources in the real world. Yet the most provocative aspects of the metaphor are associated with its more general usage for resources not usually thought of as manageable common property resources. A full analysis of the tragedy of the commons reveals important political insights into the environmental consequences of capitalism, especially the tendency for externalization of many production costs, suggesting that a more appropriate title for the thesis might be the tragedy of the privately owned sheep.



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