Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law, Columbia Law School. This article is adapted from the 41st Annual Chorley Lecture given at the London School of Economics, 12 June 2012 (finally revised 10 October 2012). The article draws substantially from the Preface and from Chapter 2 of M. A. Heller, The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives (New York: Basic Books, 2008).
The Tragedy of the Anticommons: A Concise Introduction and Lexicon
Version of Record online: 2 JAN 2013
© 2013 The Author. The Modern Law Review © 2013 The Modern Law Review Limited
The Modern Law Review
Volume 76, Issue 1, pages 6–25, January 2013
How to Cite
Heller, M. (2013), The Tragedy of the Anticommons: A Concise Introduction and Lexicon. The Modern Law Review, 76: 6–25. doi: 10.1111/1468-2230.12000
- Issue online: 2 JAN 2013
- Version of Record online: 2 JAN 2013
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.