Comedy of the commons

Comedy of the commons

In the Comedy of the Commons, the opposite results of the tragedy of the commons effect are witnessed. That is, individuals contributing knowledge and content for the good of the community rather than extracting resources for their own personal gain. Examples of this are free and open source software and WorldHeritage. This phenomenon is linked to "viral" effects and increases in prominence as individuals contribute altruistically and for social gain. The term appears to have originated in any essay by Carol M Rose in 1986. The phenomenon is sometimes called the inverse commons as well as "comedy of the commons"[1] and the "cornucopia of the commons."[2]

In this case commons is a general term referring to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.

Tragedy, comedy and triumph

The "comedy" is one of four outcomes:
Private ownership Common ownership
Bad outcome/tragedy Tragedy of the anticommons Tragedy of the commons
Good outcome/cornucopia Successful capitalism Comedy of the commons

Triumph of the commons

The original essay "tragedy of the commons" by Garrett Hardin, who coined the term, has been citicised by Susan Jane Buck Cox who argues that the common land example used to argue this economic concept is on very weak historical ground, and misrepresents what she terms the "triumph of the commons"; the successful common usage of land for many centuries. She argues that social changes and agricultural innovation led to the demise of the commons; not the behaviour of the commoners. [3]

The prevalent outcome depends on the details of the situation. The inverse commons outcome is likely when the cost of the contribution is much less than its value over time. Information has this property. For example, it costs very little for a WorldHeritage contributor to enter knowledge from their experience into WorldHeritage's servers, and very little for WorldHeritage to serve that information over and over again to readers, generating great value over time. Unlike the pasture of a physical commons, information isn't degraded by use. Thus the value of WorldHeritage increases over time, attracting more readers of whom some become contributors, forming a virtuous cycle.[4][5][6]

See also


  1. ^ Rose, Carol M. (1986). "The Comedy of the Commons: Commerce, Custom, and Inherently Public Property". Faculty Scholarship Series: Paper 1828. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Susan Jane Buck Cox - "No tragedy on the Commons" Journal of Environmental Ethics, Vol 7, Spring 1985 [1]
  4. ^ Broughton, John. (On-line editable ed.).  
  5. ^ Gulley, Ned. "In Praise of Tweaking: A Wiki-like Programming Contest". Retrieved December 27, 2011. 
  6. ^ "In praise of WorldHeritage: Wiki birthday to you: A celebration of an astonishing achievement, and a few worries". The Economist. Jan 13, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.