Tragedy, property rights, and the commons: investigating the causal relationship from institutions to ecosystem collapse

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Isaksen, Elisabeth T. and Andries Richter




Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists

Vol 6(4)


Do private property rights mitigate overexploitation of common pool resources, and if so, under which circumstances? In this paper, we examine the effects of private property rights on the status of marine fisheries by combining data on eco- logical, economic and institutional characteristics into a panel data set, spanning over 50 years, 170 exclusive economic zones and 800 species. To address the in- herent endogeneity problem of policy implementation, we employ both a difference- in-differences (DiD) and instrumental variable (IV) strategy. Results from both estimations suggest that property rights lower the probability of a fish stock col- lapsing, but the effect varies with country and species characteristics. Specifically, we find evidence suggesting that property rights are more effective when ownership is transferable, the general level of ownership protection is strong, trade openness is high, the regenerative capacity of the resource is high, and the species value is high.


C33, C36, Q22, Q28


common pool resource, property rights, catch shares, fisheries, endoge-nous institutions, instrumental variable