Tragedy of the Non-Commons

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Concept used by Joshua Farley, related to the Tragedy of the Anti-Commons


Josh Farley at

“Elinor Ostrom , Daniel Bromley , Fikret Berkes and others have pointed out that many societies have developed institutions based on common property rights that avoid the tragedy affecting rival, non-excludable resources, showing empirically that common ownership can be an effective solution. Is it possible that common property is the only efficient solution to the allocation of non-rival resources? Many existing environmental markets actually operate on this principle already. For example, it is the polity that determines allowable emission levels for SO2 and CO2 and the total allowable catch in fisheries using individually tradable quotas, not the market. The polity could not set supply if the resource were not common property. Shared production and shared ownership of information would also be more efficient than private ownership. Publicly funded research with results freely available to all would increase the economic surplus from information, and there is no plausible reason that salaried scientists would work harder for the private sector than the public sector or produce more socially valuable information.

In sum, private ownership of non-rival resources or resources that generate non-rival benefits seems to generate a tragedy of the non-commons, and the relative importance of non-rival resources seems to be increasing. Paradoxically, social ownership may be necessary for creating markets, as seems to be the case for waste absorption capacity. Perhaps the appropriateness of socialism and capitalism or of common property and private property should not be questions of ideology, but rather objectively determined by the physical nature of a resource as non-rival or rival. This certainly appears to be a worthwhile topic for ecological economists to investigate." (

More Information

  1. Tragedy of the Commons
  2. Tragedy of the Anti-Commons