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A Free Lunch in the Commons

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  • Matthew J. Kotchen
  • Stephen W. Salant

Abstract

We derive conditions under which cost-increasing measures – consistent with either regulatory constraints or fully expropriated taxes – can increase the profits of all agents active within a common-pool resource. This somewhat counterintuitive result is possible regardless of whether price is exogenously fixed or endogenously determined. Consumers are made no worse-off and, in the case of an endogenous price, can be made strictly better-off. The results simply require that total revenue be decreasing and convex in aggregate effort, which is an entirely reasonable condition, as we demonstrate in the context of a renewable natural resource. We also show that our results are robust to heterogeneity of agents and, under certain conditions, to costless entry and exit. Finally, we generalize the analysis to show its relation to earlier work on the effects of raising costs in a model of Cournot oligopoly.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15086.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
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Publication status: published as Kotchen, Matthew J. & Salant, Stephen W., 2011. "A free lunch in the commons," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 245-253, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15086

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  1. H. Scott Gordon, 1954. "The Economic Theory of a Common-Property Resource: The Fishery," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62, pages 124.
  2. Heintzelman, Martin D. & Salant, Stephen W. & Schott, Stephan, 2009. "Putting free-riding to work: A Partnership Solution to the common-property problem," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 57(3), pages 309-320, May.
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  6. Shapiro, Carl, 1989. "Theories of oligopoly behavior," Handbook of Industrial Organization, in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 6, pages 329-414 Elsevier.
  7. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Varian, Hal R, 1985. "When Are Nash Equilibria Independent of the Distribution of Agents' Characteristics?," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 715-18, October.
  8. Dixit, Avinash K, 1986. "Comparative Statics for Oligopoly," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 27(1), pages 107-22, February.
  9. Tarui, Nori & Mason, Charles F. & Polasky, Stephen & Ellis, Greg, 2008. "Cooperation in the commons with unobservable actions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 37-51, January.
  10. Chung, Tai-Yeong, 1996. " Rent-Seeking Contest When the Prize Increases with Aggregate Efforts," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 87(1-2), pages 55-66, April.
  11. Baumol,William J. & Oates,Wallace E., 1988. "The Theory of Environmental Policy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521311120.
  12. Baik, Kyung Hwan & Lee, Sanghack, 2001. "Strategic Groups and Rent Dissipation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(4), pages 672-84, October.
  13. Dasgupta,P. S. & Heal,G. M., 1985. "Economic Theory and Exhaustible Resources," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521297615.
  14. Karen Palmer & Wallace E. Oates & Paul R. Portney, 1995. "Tightening Environmental Standards: The Benefit-Cost or the No-Cost Paradigm?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 119-132, Fall.
  15. Cheung, Steven N S, 1970. "The Structure of a Contract and the Theory of a Non-exclusive Resource," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 49-70, April.
  16. Stephen Polasky & Nori Tarui & Gregory Ellis & Charles Mason, 2006. "Cooperation in the commons," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 29(1), pages 71-88, September.
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Cited by:
  1. Clémence Christin & Jean-Philippe Nicolai & Jerome Pouyet, 2013. "Pollution Permits, Imperfect Competition and Abatement Technologies," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 13/186, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
  2. McQuade, Timothy & Salant, Stephen W. & Winfree, Jason, 2010. "Markets with Untraceable Goods of Unknown Quality: A Market Failure Exacerbated by Globalization," Discussion Papers dp-09-31, Resources For the Future.
  3. Ansink, Erik & Bouma, Jetske, 2013. "Effective support for community resource management," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 94-103.
  4. Olivier Bos & Béatrice Roussillon & Paul Schweinzer, 2013. "Agreeing on Efficient Emissions Reduction," CESifo Working Paper Series 4345, CESifo Group Munich.

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