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Symmetric Tragedies: Commons and Anticommons

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  • Buchanan, James M
  • Yoon, Yong J

Abstract

An anticommons problem arises when there exist multiple rights to exclude. In a lengthy law review paper, Michael A. Heller has examined "The Tragedy of the Anticommons," especially in regard to disappointing experiences with efforts to shift from socialist to market institutions in Russia. In an early footnote, Heller suggests that a formal economic model of the anticommons has not been developed. This paper responds to Heller's challenge. We analyze the anticommons problem in which resources are inefficiently underutilized rather than overutilized, as in the familiar commons setting. The two problems are shown to be symmetrical in several respects. We present an algebraic and geometric illustration and extend the discussion to several applications. Of greater importance, we suggest that the construction is helpful in understanding the sources of major value wastage in modern regulatory bureaucracy. Copyright 2000 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Buchanan, James M & Yoon, Yong J, 2000. "Symmetric Tragedies: Commons and Anticommons," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 43(1), pages 1-13, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:43:y:2000:i:1:p:1-13
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/467445
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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 124-124.
    2. Anthony Scott, 1955. "The Fishery: The Objectives of Sole Ownership," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 116-116.
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