The “commons of the mind” must be preserved, says James Boyle of Duke Law School, on the 50th anniversary of “The tragedy of the commons”
“THE ONLY way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed.” This ominous sentence comes not from China’s one-child policy but from one of the 20th century’s most influential—and misunderstood—essays in economics. “The tragedy of the commons”, by Garrett Hardin, marks its 50th anniversary on December 13th.
The article, published in the journal Science, was a neo-Malthusian jeremiad about uncontrolled population growth. But it is remembered for the image that the title conjures up and for the anecdotes that Hardin used. The idea behind it is as simple as it is profound: a resource freely available to all will be used inefficiently. An actual common will inevitably be overgrazed. Who would restrict their cattle if other herders may not follow suit?