January 15, 2008

Cowen Highlight forChapters 1-5

Cowen Highlight Chapters 1-5

During my reading of the first 5 chapters of Tyler Cowen’s book, “Discover Your Inner Economist” I was interested by the phrase “The Tragedy of the Commons.” I feel this term is worth remembering because it can be applied to a wide range of studies including: economics, evolutionary psychology, game theory, politics, and sociology.

Cowen used this term to describe what has happened to some famous pieces of art. He references James Twitchell’s list of over exposed artwork: “The Mona Lisa”, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, Michelangelo’s “David”, Whistler’s “Mother” and Munch’s “Scream”. I agree with Cowen and Twitchell that these pieces are too familiar. Cowen calls this the “The Tragedy of the Commons”. This term “The Tragedy of the Commons” has been dated all the way back to Aristotle. Cowen describes the term as what occurs when individual actions, taken together, destroy the value of an asset or resource. Cowen’s example really shows how the popularity and mass reproduction of these artworks have made them ordinary, opposed to being considered priceless, which is what made them popular in the first place.

“The Tragedy of the Commons” can also be applied to ecology. I recently read an article on WashingtonPost.com stating that if the current rate of over fishing and pollution continue there will be no fish or seafood species left by the year 2048. This does not surprise me with the popularity of seafood and the ever evolving problem of pollution. Seafood is often considered a heart healthy alternative to more traditional sources of protein and it is also greatly consumed across the world. Ocean pollution is widely known as a serious problem and this example is one of many, although maybe not the most important, that will directly impact everyone in the world.

“The Tragedy of the Commons” can be applied all over. Although Cowen uses this term to explain matters of attention after overexposure, it can also relate to more pressing and serious issues we all face. By understanding the meaning we might be able to understand the ironic and sometimes devastating outcomes of our own actions.

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