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The Tragedy of the Anticommons: Property in the Transiton from Marx to Markets


  • Michael Heller


Why are many storefronts in Moscow empty while street kiosks in front are full of goods? This article develops a theory of anticommons property to help explain the puzzle of empty storefronts and full kiosks. Anticommons property can be understood as the mirror image of commons property. By definition, in a commons, multiple owners are each endowed with the privilege to use a given resource, and no one has the right to exclude another. When too many owners have such privileges of use, the resource is prone to overuse -- a tragedy of the commons. In an anticommons, by my definition, multiple owners are each endowed with the fight to exclude others from a scarce resource, and no one has an effective privilege of use. When there are too many owners holding rights of exclusion, the resource is prone to underuse -- a tragedy of the anticommons. Anticommons property may appear whenever new property rights are being defined. For example in Moscow, multiple owners have been endowed initially with competing rights in each storefront, so no owner holds a useable bundle of rights and the store remains empty. Once an anticommons has emerged, collecting rights into private property bundles can be brutal and slow. This article explores the dynamics of anticommons property in transition economies, formalizes the empirical material in a property theory framework, and then shows how the idea of anticommons property can be a useful new tool for understanding a range of property puzzles. The difficulties of overcoming a tragedy of the anticommons suggest that property theofists n-fight pay more attention to the content of property bundles, rather than focusing just on the clarity of rights.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Heller, 1997. "The Tragedy of the Anticommons: Property in the Transiton from Marx to Markets," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 40, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  • Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:1997-40

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    Cited by:

    1. Ginevra Balletto & Alessandra Milesi & Nicolò Fenu & Giuseppe Borruso & Luigi Mundula, 2020. "Military Training Areas as Semicommons: The Territorial Valorization of Quirra (Sardinia) from Easements to Ecosystem Services," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 12(2), pages 1-20, January.
    2. Safner, Ryan, 2016. "Institutional entrepreneurship, wikipedia, and the opportunity of the commons," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(4), pages 743-771, December.
    3. Ryan M. Yonk & Sierra Hoffer & Devin Stein, 2017. "Disincentives To Business Development On The Navajo Nation," Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship (JDE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 22(02), pages 1-18, June.
    4. Ryan Safner, 2023. "Honor among thieves: how nineteenth century American pirate publishers simulated copyright protection," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 119-141, March.

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    This item is featured on the following reading lists, Wikipedia, or ReplicationWiki pages:
    1. Antibendruomenių tragedija in Wikipedia Lithuanian
    2. Tragédie des anticommuns in Wikipedia French
    3. Tragedy of the anticommons in Wikipedia Simple English


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