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The tragedy of the commons is a theory that states that unmanaged common natural resources are threatened with overexploitation by their users. Originating from the 1960s, the theory describes basic mechanisms responsible for this social dilemma. The tragedy of the commons is applicable to the use of a number of common-pool resources, such as fisheries, firewood, or water supply. Exploitation of finite natural resources frequently results in severe conflicts between user groups around the world.

To further explain the tragedy of the commons, this entry discusses it in relation to economic theory—market failures and solutions to such failures. Next, the origins, mechanisms, and constraints of the theory of the commons are discussed. The entry concludes with a brief look at avoiding conflicts with regard to ...

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