A Tragedy of the Commons

The loss of efficacy of antibiotics and other antimicrobials worldwide can be understood as a “tragedy of the commons.”

A tragedy of the commons occurs when people in a community squander a limited, shared resource, as each actor pursues her own short-term self-interest by exploiting the resource for private benefit. No one wants the common resource to be exhausted. Yet the group’s collective behaviour leads to precisely this result. This concept has been applied, for example, to the collapse of fisheries due to overfishing. The overuse and misuse of antimicrobial drugs worldwide show a similar pattern.