Zhosan Examines “Tragedy of the Commons”

Dmytro Zhosan, associate professor of Business and Economics at Ripon College, and co-author Roy Gardner (late Professor of Economics at Indiana University), examine different factors that can help avoid tragedy of the commons in a new article published in Environment and Development Economics.

Dmytro Zhosan

Assistant Professor Dmytro Zhosan

In the article, “Problems of the commons: group behavior, cooperation and sanctioning in a two harbor experiment,” Zhosan and Gardner analyze individual and group behavior in an experimental commons featuring undergraduate students and professionals working in the Maine lobster and groundfish industries.

Different factors that can help avoid the tragedy of the commons are studied in four experimental settings: separation of a larger commons into smaller commons (two harbors), knowledge/experience available to appropriators, communication within appropriator groups and the possibility of formal and informal sanctioning of group members.

The authors find that group size, communication, geographic separation and subjects’ ability to solve the coordination game caused by this separation all contribute to appropriation efficiency on the commons, or the alignment of personal gains with social contributions.

The results of this paper were used in writing a chapter included in the book, “Analyzing Global Environmental Issues: Theoretical and Experimental Applications and their Policy Implications” (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, edited by Ariel Dinar and Amnon Rapoport, 2013). The chapter provides arguments in support of the importance of co-management between governments and appropriators as one of the tools in avoiding the tragedy of the commons. The book is expected to be published within the next couple of months.

The tragedy of the commons has been a social dilemma studied by academicians across a variety of fields. The term was first coined in a 1968 Science journal article penned by ecologist Garrett Hardin who defined it as “the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests.”


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