Must Commons Governance be Tragic?

The assumed tragedy of the commons is predicated on the notion that common pool resources (fisheries, air, grazing lands, etc.) will have too many claimants on their resources. Usually, the “answer” to governance of the commons is either to privatize the resource, or place it under public governance.

But humans have been solving common property problems for centuries — a fact that economists and centralized authorities have generally ignored. We will look at a couple of examples, and then explore Elinor Ostrom's institutional analysis of common property resources as a model for thinking about voluntary governance of the commons.


Recommended Readings

Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Elinor Ostrom. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

The Future of the Commons, Elinor Ostrom, Institute for Economic Affairs.

Sea Change: How Markets and Property Rights can Transform the Fishing Industry, Institute for Economic Affairs, Richard Wellings (Ed.)

Course Years:



Ross B. Emmett, Ph.D.

Professor of Political Economy, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and Director of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty
Arizona State University