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The Tragedy of the Commons

To get a break from Donald Trump at Davos I've been learning about the "tragedy of the commons". It's an idea coined in the 19th century and revived by ecologist Garrett Hardin fifty years ago.

The concept originally referred to the over-grazing of common land. Farmers' rational self-interest inevitably lead to their putting too much livestock on commons. Which were then trashed. The animals then starved. While society believes in the freedom of the commons, individuals will pursue their own best short term interests. These are contrary to the common good. In the long term, everyone loses. Depressing stuff, and of course applicable in all sorts of areas. There's fossil fuels, deforestation, traffic congestion, antibiotic use in animals, over-fishing, etc etc etc. More recently, social media has, inevitably, faced the same problem. The interesting thing is that now - for the first time in human history - we are beginning to understand this principle. And when we understand the environmental consequences of our actions we can change our own lifestyles to mitigate or negate them. We can vote for politicians who use stick and carrot to get people and corporates to act for the common good. By definition, though, it's a tough ask in a democracy. Mr Trump is living proof of that.