The Tragedy of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – Hardin vs. The Property Rights Theorists

The Tragedy of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – Hardin vs. The Property Rights Theorists

Jonathan Karpoff

Series number :

Serial Number: 
750/2021

Date posted :

April 21 2021

Last revised :

July 13 2021
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Keywords

  • property rights • 
  • commons • 
  • non-exclusivity • 
  • Externalities • 
  • Environment • 
  • fisheries

Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (Hardin, 1968) is widely influential but conceptually flawed. Hardin characterizes the commons problem as arising from the exercise of free will in a world with limited carrying capacity.

Hardin’s solutions to this problem emphasize coercive policies, including traditional command-and-control environmental and natural resource regulations. In contrast, the property rights literature that preceded Hardin – especially Gordon (1954), Scott (1955), Coase (1960), Alchian (1965), and Demsetz (1967) – shows that the commons problem arises from non-exclusive use rights. Non-exclusivity is part of a broader class of restrictions on private ownership, any of which fosters dissipative rent seeking. The property rights literature focuses on value creation rather than just the physical exhaustion of the commonly owned resource. It is therefore more general, and highlights solutions that are less coercive and dissipative, than the more widely known views espoused by Hardin.

Published in

Published in: 
Publication Title: 
Journal of Law and Economics (Forthcoming)

Authors