NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Open-Access Losses and Delay in the Assignment of Property Rights

Gary D. Libecap

NBER Working Paper No. 13642
Issued in November 2007
NBER Program(s):   DAE   EEE

Even though formal property rights are the theoretical response to open access involving natural and environmental resources, they typically are adopted late after considerable waste has been endured. Instead, the usual response in local, national, and international settings is to rely upon uniform rules and standards as a means of constraining behavior. While providing some relief, these do not close the externality and excessive exploitation along unregulated margins continues. As external costs and resource values rise, there finally is a resort to property rights of some type. Transfers and other concessions to address distributional concerns affect the ability of the rights arrangement to mitigate open-access losses. This paper outlines the reasons why this pattern exists and presents three empirical examples of overfishing, over extraction from oil and gas reservoirs, and excessive air pollution to illustrate the main points.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13642

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