Don’t Contribute to the Tragedy of the Commons

Restocked toilet roll

The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action.

Garrett Hardin (1968) coined the term “The Tragedy of the Commons” (Science 162 (3859), p1243-1248. Garrett Hardin, Dec 13, 1968) in his discussion on population control. He provided the example of farmers allowing their cattle to graze on a common pasture. As each farmer, to their own benefit, increases the number of cattle, the land exceeds its carrying capacity and leads to the “ruin” of all, resulting in the “tragedy of the commons”.

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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) panic buying of toilet paper, sanitizers, disposable masks, food, water and even cleaning supplies vividly illustrates the ‘tragedy of the commons’ in current context.

It’s sensible to have a two-week supply of medication, sanitary items and food, but to buy loads and loads of things, nonperishables and some perishable over a short span is truly a tragedy. It is understood that every individual has a degree of risk that they cannot bypass but buying up everything on the shelf is not risk hedging, it’s hoarding.

You can stock up without panicking. You can prepare without panic buying.

More than enough bread to go around

As empty shelves and sprawled shopping carts spread across our social media pages, one must wonder what has inflated people’s sense of threat to this extent. Honestly, it’s not necessary. Just be rational. Stay calm and remember other people need supplies, too. Don’t hoard, stores are being restocked. There will be spot shortages caused by panic buying so stop doing it. Use more common sense!

Each time there is a scheduled press conference of a Minister or the Prime Minister, people dash to the grocery nearby to panic buy. Stop doing it and remain rational. We won’t die of hunger as yet and possibly the worst that we’ll encounter is that we can’t get a certain brand of items that we are accustomed to buying.

Remember that only one person – the head of the family – would be allowed to go out to get basic necessities or medication. Practice social distancing at the grocery store, buy what you need and don’t touch anything that you don’t intend to buy. Remove your mask, place it into a separate bag, and throw it into the garbage bin after use. Take a shower once you’re home and put your clothing to wash. Follow the given guides to keep your family safe and to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.