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Glossary » commons problem

commons problem

a problem in group behavior where what is best for an individual will actually be harmful for the group as a whole.

If a village has a Commons area for grazing cattle then this Commons area can be a strong benefit to the community so long as everyone uses the Commons with restraint. However, individuals have the incentive to graze as many cattle as possible on the Commons as opposed to their on private property. If too many people send too many cattle to the Commons, the Commons is destroyed, and the whole village is worse off as a result. There are a couple straightforward solutions to the Commons problem: an appropriate fee can be charged for each head of cattle or a limit can be imposed to the number of cattle any individual may bring. These solutions are an appropriate starting point for solving problems of abuse in groupware.