Property Rights as a Solution to Tragedy of the Commons

To eliminate the tragedy of commons one of the main solutions often offered by economists are property rights. The main cause of the tragedy of the commons is the abuse of resources by the common people. This can be solved by privatizing the resource and giving the rights of use to specific parties. In this way, only a few numbers of people can use it and have easy access. In this article, we shall discuss this solution in detail and will also study its criticism.


Property Rights as a solution to Tragedy of the Commons

What are Property Rights ?

Also Read: Tragedy of the Commons: Meaning, Example and Criticism

As we know that the tragedy of the commons refers to the problem that occurs when it comes to utilizing resources, everyone tends to consume as much of every resource as possible considering only their benefit instead of the well-being of the society.  For example, Land is a very crucial asset and resource, this resource is used for living, agriculture, and mining, it provides a home for wildlife, and it is vital for the existence of life as the population is increasing around the world, more food is being demanded to meet the demand for agricultural products. Farmers have stared using many different harmful chemicals for faster harvesting.

This has led to the destruction of arid land and in many places, the land has lost its nutrients. Most of the natural landscapes and forests have also been destroyed to make room for more housing to provide shelter for the growing population. This has led to many serious problems around the world. To overcome such problems one way is to introduce strict property rights.


Understanding Property Rights

Property rights are rules set by the government or the local authorities in different parts of the world to maintain the condition of the land and allocate a certain amount of resources for every activity. Property rights help to convert a generally common good into a private one. Technically, it refers to determining some rules to measure and identify specific units of the resource to allocate them for different purposes.

Under property rights, the government determines the quantity of the resource that can be owned by individual parties and the use of that resource. The resource can differ in nature it may be intangible or tangible and it can be owned by private owners, businesses, and firms and lastly by the Government.


Are Property Rights a Good Solution to the Tragedy of the Commons ?

Property rights provide a great solution to the tragedy of the commons. It privatizes the resources giving the owners an incentive to use the resource carefully and efficiently. When a certain authority owns the resource then it limits its utilization and prevents the overconsumption problem. For example, there is special land allotted by the government in many countries for forestation. This land is usually under the ownership of the local government or local wildlife department. No one is allowed to cut down trees or exploit the natural state of the land for any other purposes. This prevents the extinction of wildlife animals and prevents climate change.

This greatly resolves the tragedy of the commons as no unauthorized person can hunt down animals or use that piece of land for development. Other than that, governments of many developed and developing countries have levied heavy taxes on industries that release harmful chemicals into the air or toxic substances in water. There is a quota for every industry for pollution and if they exceed that specific quota then they are fined. This prevents pollution and stops businesses from taking the environmental costs of their actions for granted.


How can Property Rights be Acquired ?

Property rights are generally owned by a small group of individuals or individuals. The rights for property can be acquired using patents and copyrights. Physical resources are owned by contracts such as a house, mobile phone or vehicle. Intellectual rights for books, music or any invention can be acquired by using patents. Natural and non-renewable energy resources are usually owned by the federal or local governments.

The government decides the use of such resources and provides them to the people in specific quotas. In areas where property rights cease to exist, the government takes full control over all the resources and they decide who gets what, this can prove to be both beneficial and highly dangerous for the economy. The political parties and leaders do not always have the best interest of the masses and mind and often they act in their self-interest.

So, they may give the rights to any party just for political favours. Property rights set the foundation for any capitalist economy, legal and political systems, and moral responsibilities. When one party holds the rights to any property or resource it prevents the resource from being used by any irrelevant party.


Example of Property Rights as a Solution 

The biggest example of property rights as a solution for the tragedy of the commons is over-farming. In many underdeveloped countries, huge portions of the land are occupied by landlords, they hire farmers for harvesting and laboring, and they use their power to exploit the poor and use the land for their self-interest. To gain maximum benefit, they use harmful chemicals and fertilizers. Moreover, they do not let the earth regain all its nutrition and strength before farming again.

Most of these landlords are also illiterate and without no knowledge of sustainable agriculture. Hence, they often plant crops that may not be suitable for that specific location and soil. Property rights provide a great solution to this problem.

When the local government restricts the amount of land that can be owned by a single individual it eliminates discrimination of power and abuse of influence. The government then tells the farmers what to grow and what type of fertilizers and chemicals can be used for farming. This also fights the problem of feudal lords and their exploitation.


Criticism of Property Rights

Even though property rights offer a good solution to the tragedy of the commons, it does not fully eliminate the problem. If the government privatizes property and resources there is still a chance that the resources will be exploited. Sometimes the government leaders act in their political interests and give influential parties access to natural resources. Furthermore, property rights create a sense of injustice and inequality among the public.

When one party has more rights or access to a resource than everyone else then it creates a lot of different problems. Property rights decrease the sense of community and society; instead, it leads towards capitalism where everyone is hungrier to have access to property and resources.



To conclude, property rights are a good solution to the tragedy of the commons, but the problem cannot be fully solved by privatizing resources. Property rights give the individuals in charge an incentive to protect and efficiently utilize the resource. It creates competition and an incentive for people to work hard and gain access to the resources they require. Property rights also give security for the future.

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