The Tragedy of the Anticommons: Property in the Transiton from Marx to Markets
Type of work: Working Paper
Categories:Economics | Intellectual Property
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.