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Private and Common Property Rights

Elinor Ostrom

Indiana University Bloomington - School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA); Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Political Science

Charlotte Hess

Syracuse University Library


The relative advantages of private property and common property for the efficiency, equity, and sustainability of natural resource use patterns have long been debated in the legal and economics literatures. The debate has been clouded by a troika of confusions that relate to the difference between (1) common-property and open-access regimes, (2) common-pool resources and common-property regimes, and (3) a resource system and the flow of resource units. A property right is an enforceable authority to undertake particular actions in specific domains. The rights of access, withdrawal, management, exclusion, and alienation can be separately assigned to different individuals as well as being viewed as a cumulative scale moving from the minimal right of access through possessing full ownership rights. Some attributes of common-pool resources are conducive to the use of communal proprietorship or ownership and others are conducive to individual rights to withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation. There are, however, no panaceas! No institutions generate better outcomes for the resource and for the users under all conditions. Many of the lessons learned from the operation of communal property regimes related to natural resource systems are theoretically relevant to understanding of a wide diversity of property regimes that are extensively used in modern societies.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 116

Keywords: Common Property, Private Property, Common-pool Resources, Governance

JEL Classification: K1, Q2, H4, D7

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Date posted: November 21, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Ostrom, Elinor and Hess, Charlotte, Private and Common Property Rights (2007). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1304699 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1304699

Contact Information

Elinor Ostrom (Contact Author)
Indiana University Bloomington - School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA) ( email )
1315 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Political Science
Bloomington, IN
United States
Charlotte Hess
Syracuse University Library ( email )
222 Waverly
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States
315-443-5528 (Phone)
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