Re: The Tragedy of the Commons

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Jul 23 2001 - 12:14:46 MDT

On Mon, Jul 23, 2001 at 10:50:48AM -0700, Brian D Williams wrote:
> Well, everything looks different through the retrospectroscope, but
> I think Hardin's work is still extremely usefull.
> A bunch of years ago we started building a new communications room
> here. Politically it was decided that no one person (meaning me)
> would have any final authority as to what was done there.
> It evolved into a complete disaster, My boss quickly opted out of
> the plan and I got to build our own facilities. Now of course I get
> to completely rebuild the "commons" that got screwed up.

That part of Hardin's paper is of course entirely correct - commons seldom
work unless certain extra conditions are imposed (like accountability or
traceability). What I was disagreeing with was more his main thrust of the
paper, which was a centrally managed environment. Getting away from tragedy
of the commons situations is a good aim.

This is an area where I think both economics/game theory and social
psychology have much to offer. You have to tune the situation so that the
(perceived) best interest of the agents coincide with the collective best
interest, and ideally do it in the least coercive manner possible. When
creating institutions or software environments from scratch the
possibilities are far better than when retrofitting rules onto existing
institutions or systems.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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