The Coase theorem reconsidered: The role of alternative activities
The main statement put forth by Coase in his essay on the problem of social cost (Coase, 1960) is that given zero transactions costs, the assignment of entitlements to perform actions that cause negative externalities does not prevent the agents from reaching an efficient outcome through bargaining. Coase's argument decisively depends upon the agents having resources to bargain. Since rents, understood as the return to a certain activity in excess of its opportunity cost, are natural providers of such resources, they play a vital role in the logic of the Coase theorem. It has been recently argued (Halpin, 2007) not only that Coase provides an incomplete analysis of rents but also that he is committed to a flawed argument over rents by neglecting the role of alternative activities. This paper recasts Coase's argument in the presence of rents and alternative activities to show that the theorem can be vindicated.
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