Neoliberalism, genre and "The Tragedy of the Commons"

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In December 1968, the journal Science published "The Tragedy of the Commons", a slender tract by the ecologist and geneticist Garrett Hardin that would become one of the twentieth century's most influential essays. Hardin's thinking resonated in particular with policy-makers at the IMF, the World Bank, conservative think tanks and kindred neoliberal institutions advocating so-called trickle down economics, structural adjustment, austerity measures, government shrinkage and the privatization of resources. Although Hardin's paramount, Malthusian concern was with "overbreeding", it is his general critique of the commons that has had a far more lasting impact. He memorably encapsulated that critique in a parable that represented the commons as unprofitable and unsustainable, inimical to both the collective and the individual good (Ehrlich 1971). According to this brief parable, a herdsman faced with the temptations of a common pasture will instinctively overload it with his livestock. As each greed-driven individual strives to maximize the resource for personal gain, the commons collapses to the detriment of all. Together, Hardin's pithy essay title and succinct parable have helped vindicate a neoliberal rescue narrative whereby privatization through enclosure, dispossession and resource capture is deemed necessary for averting tragedy.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationWhat postcolonial theory doesn't say
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781135096113
ISBN (Print)9780203796740
StatePublished - Aug 11 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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