The Banality of the Commons: Efficiency Arguments Against Common Ownership Before Hardin
The Tragedy of the Commons tends to be remembered today as the canonical statement of the idea that commonly-owned resources will be overused. But this idea was well known for centuries before Hardin wrote. Hardin acknowledged that he got the example of cattle in a common field from the early nineteenth century economist William Forster Lloyd, and by Lloyd’s time the idea was already familiar and was already being applied to the analysis of overpopulation, Hardin’s primary concern. This paper will trace the history of the idea that common ownership is inefficient, and will suggest why The Tragedy of the Commons nevertheless quickly attained its canonical status.