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How Types of Goods and Property Rights Jointly Affect Collective Action


  • Elinor Ostrom


The study of collective action has matured dramatically since Mancur Olson challenged scholars by positing a general theory in his pathbreaking book on The Logic of Collective Action (1965). Olson's theoretical predictions related to the incapacity of individuals, except under limited conditions, to solve on their own what are now known as `collective action problems'. Olson argued that one characteristic of goods - that of exclusion - defined all public goods. In contemporary analysis, the problem of achieving exclusion of noncontributors has come instead to characterize all types of collective action problems. Multiple subtypes of collective action problems have been identified. One major class of collective action problems are referred to in contemporary literature as public goods. Another class are referred to as common-pool resources. Common-pool resources are characterized by difficulty of exclusion and subtractability of resource units and are threatened by overuse leading to congestion or even destruction of the resource. Such threats do not apply to public goods. Diverse production and allocation functions generate further important differences in behavior and outcomes. Scholars have also begun to recognize multiple types of property right bundles that distinguish among authorized entrants, users and claimants, proprietors and full owners. Empirical studies show that groups of individuals who possess at least the rights of proprietorship are able to govern and manage their systems more effectively than presumed in the earlier theoretical literature. The article ends with an analysis of the factors that may be conducive to the organization of a common-property regime as contrasted to a private-property regime.

Suggested Citation

  • Elinor Ostrom, 2003. "How Types of Goods and Property Rights Jointly Affect Collective Action," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 15(3), pages 239-270, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jothpo:v:15:y:2003:i:3:p:239-270

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