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The tragedy of the commons: property rights and markets as solutions to resource and environmental problems

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  • Libecap, Gary D.

Abstract

In one way or another, all environmental and natural resource problems associated with overexploitation or under provision of public goods, arise from incompletely defined and enforced property rights. As a result private decision makers do not consider or internalize social benefits and costs in their production or investment actions. The gap between private and social net returns results in externalities – harmful effects on third parties: overfishing, excessive air pollution, unwarranted extraction or diversion of ground or surface water, extreme depletion of oil and gas reservoirs. These situations are all examples of the ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. In this paper, I consider options for mitigating the losses of open access: common or group property regimes, government tax and regulation policy, more formal private property rights. I briefly summarize the problems and advantages of each option and describe why there has been move toward rights-based instruments in recent years: ITQ (individual transferable quotas), tradable emission permits, and private water rights. Introductions to the papers in the special issue follow.

Suggested Citation

  • Libecap, Gary D., 2009. "The tragedy of the commons: property rights and markets as solutions to resource and environmental problems," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 53(1), March.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:aareaj:161910
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John McMillan, 1994. "Selling Spectrum Rights," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(3), pages 145-162, Summer.
    2. Joskow, Paul L & Schmalensee, Richard, 1998. "The Political Economy of Market-Based Environmental Policy: The U.S. Acid Rain Program," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(1), pages 37-83, April.
    3. Libecap, Gary D., 1978. "Economic Variables and the Development of the Law: The Case of Western Mineral Rights," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(02), pages 338-362, June.
    4. Alston, Lee J & Libecap, Gary D & Schneider, Robert, 1996. "The Determinants and Impact of Property Rights: Land Titles on the Brazilian Frontier," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(1), pages 25-61, April.
    5. Hay, George A & Kelley, Daniel, 1974. "An Empirical Survey of Price Fixing Conspiracies," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(1), pages 13-38, April.
    6. Anthony Scott, 1955. "The Fishery: The Objectives of Sole Ownership," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 116-116.
    7. 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 124-124.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gabriel Natividad, 2016. "Quotas, Productivity, and Prices: The Case of Anchovy Fishing," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 25(1), pages 220-257, March.
    2. Costello, Christopher & Quérou, Nicolas & Tomini, Agnes, 2015. "Partial enclosure of the commons," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 69-78.
    3. Polonsky, Michael Jay, 2011. "Transformative green marketing: Impediments and opportunities," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 64(12), pages 1311-1319.
    4. Elizabeth Hoffman & Matthew L. Spitzer, 2011. "The Enduring Power of Coase," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(S4), pages 63-76.
    5. Wilson, Amanda, 2010. "Coastal planning in North Shore City, New Zealand: Developing responsible coastal erosion policy," 2010 Conference (54th), February 10-12, 2010, Adelaide, Australia 59260, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.
    6. Nagase, Yoko & Uehara, Takuro, 2011. "Evolution of population-resource dynamics models," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 9-17.
    7. David Blandford, 2010. "Presidential Address: The Visible or Invisible Hand? The Balance Between Markets and Regulation in Agricultural Policy," Journal of Agricultural Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(3), pages 459-479.
    8. repec:eee:irlaec:v:53:y:2018:i:c:p:50-59 is not listed on IDEAS

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