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The Elgar Companion to Law and Economics, Second Edition

Edited by Jürgen G. Backhaus

This thoroughly updated and revised edition of a popular and authoritative reference work introduces the reader to the major concepts and leading contributors in the field of law and economics. The Companion features accessible, informative and provocative entries on all the significant issues, and breaks new ground by bringing together widely dispersed yet theoretically congruent ideas.
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Chapter 5: Commons and Anticommons

Francesco Parisi and Ben Depoorter


Francesco Parisi and Ben Depoorter Commons and anticommons problems are the consequence of symmetric structural departures from a unified conception of property, and are the consequence of a lack of conformity between use and exclusion rights (Parisi et al. 2004). Commons and anticommons: two tragedies on common grounds Recently, a new term has gained acceptance among law and economics scholars of property law: the ‘anticommons’. The concept, first introduced by Michelman (1982) and then made popular by Heller (1998, 1999), mirror images in name and in fact of Hardin’s (1968) well-known ‘tragedy of the commons’. In situations where multiple individuals are endowed with the privilege to use a given resource, without a cost-effective way to monitor and constrain each other’s use, the resource is vulnerable to overuse, leading to a problem known as the tragedy of the commons. Symmetrically, when multiple owners hold effective rights to exclude others from a scarce resource, and no one has an effective privilege of use, the resource might be prone to underuse, leading to a problem known as the ‘tragedy of the anticommons’. As pointed out by Buchanan and Yoon (2000), the effects of the two problems are in many respects symmetrical. The commons problem If a depletable resource is open to access by more than one individual, incentives for overutilization will emerge. As the number of individuals enjoying free access grows larger relative to the capacity of the common resource, overutilization will approach unsustainable levels and the utilizers will risk the complete...

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