Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2013

Center/Program

Center for Law and Economic Studies

Abstract

This article gives a concise introduction to the ‘tragedy of the anticommons.’ The anticommons thesis is simple: when too many people own pieces of one thing, nobody can use it. Usually, private ownership creates wealth. But too much ownership has the opposite effect – it leads to wasteful underuse. This is a free market paradox that shows up all across the global economy. If too many owners control a single resource, cooperation breaks down, wealth disappears, and everybody loses. Conceptually, underuse in an anticommons mirrors the familiar problem of overuse in a ‘tragedy of the commons.’ The field of anticommons studies is now well‐established. Over a thousand scholars have detailed examples from across the innovation frontier, including drug patenting, telecom licensing, climate change, compulsory land purchase, oil field unitisation, music and art copyright, and post‐socialist economic transition. Fixing anticommons tragedy is a key challenge for any legal system committed to innovation and economic growth.

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