The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Tragedy of the Commons

  • Elinor Ostrom
Reference work entry


‘The tragedy of the commons’ arises when it is difficult and costly to exclude potential users from common-pool resources that yield finite flows of benefits, as a result of which those resources will be exhausted by rational, utility-maximizing individuals rather than conserved for the benefit of all. Pessimism about the possibility of users voluntarily cooperating to prevent overuse has led to widespread central control of common-pool resources. But such control has itself frequently resulted in resource overuse. In practice, especially where they can communicate, users often develop rules that limit resource use and conserve resources.


Collective action Common-pool resources Common property Free rider problem Hardin, G. Open-access resources Private property Social dilemmas State property Tragedy of the commons 

JEL Classifications

D7 H23 Q2 Q21 
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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elinor Ostrom
    • 1
  1. 1.