In 1968, Garrett Hardin, a professor of Human Ecology at University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote an influential article for the journal Science that described a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen. Prof. Hardin titled this dilemma and his article the “Tragedy of the Commons.” The current situation at this country’s busiest airports, a shared resource, is a graphic example of the Tragedy of the Commons.
In Prof. Hardin’s article, the central theme is that herders share a common parcel of land, i.e., the commons, on which they are all entitled to let their cattle graze. It is in each herder’s interest to put as many cattle as possible onto the commons, even if it is damaged as a result. The herder receives all of the benefits from the additional cattle, but damage to the commons is shared by the entire group. If all the herders make this individually rational decision, however, the commons is destroyed.
A parallel can be drawn to the sttructure of the United States air transportation system with respect to congestion management. It is in the each airline’s interest to schedule as many flights as possible during the busiest time of day, even if those flights are substantially delayed as a result thereby overloading the airspace system and the airport, taxing customers’ patience, and damaging the airline’s reputation. Each of the airlines receives benefits from the additional flights, but the damage to the airport, the airspace system and the airlines is shared by the entire group. Continue Reading The “Tragedy of the Commons” and Airport Congestion Management