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Useful definitions

Useful Definitions for the Study of Common Property Theory

Compiled by Bonnie McCay, Louise Fortmann, Fikret Berkes,

Meg McKean, Antonio Diegues, Charlotte Hess

July 1999

COLLECTIVE ACTION DILEMMA--The paralysis that can result when members of a group fail to produce a collective good due to free-rider problems.

COLLECTIVE GOODS--Non-excludable goods (both tangible and abstract) from which a person may benefit without having to contribute to the production or maintenance of the good.

COMMON POOL RESOURCES--Natural (fish, trees, etc.) and human-made (libraries, Internet, irrigation systems) with features such that one person's use subtracts from another's use (subtractability) and where, in contrast with public goods, it is often necessary, but difficult and costly, to exclude other potential users outside the group from using the resource (excludability).

COMMON PROPERTY (or jointly-owned private property without unilaterally tradable shares)--All co-owners may simultaneously agree to sell, trade, or lease their shares to others only in accordance with vary stringent rules laid down by the group. This provision creates the possibility that individual co-owners may be unable to sell their shares, or may forfeit their shares upon change in residence, or may acquire shares through application but without purchase.

CULTURE--Meaning and social behavior transmitted by non-biological means (i.e., communication and imitation).

EXTERNALITIES--Costs of production that are not borne by the producer of the good. (The air pollution from a steel mill is borne by the public, not the factory owner.)

FREE RIDER--Someone who benefits from a collective good without contributing to the production or maintenance of the good.

INDIVIDUALLY-OWNED PRIVATE PROPERTY--Where individual owners generally have full and complete (fee simple or freehold) ownership except as attentuated by government regulation.

JOINTLY-OWNED PRIVATE PROPERTY--Where individual co-owners may sell their shares at will without consulting with other co-owners (some agricultural cooperatives, business partnerships, joint stock corporations).

PROPERTY RIGHTS--Socially-defined set of rights to a resource. (Property rights determine who may be where doing what and when [Jeremy Waldron].)

PUBLIC PROPERTY--Property held in trust for the public by the state, to which the general public often has access (national parks and forests, public buildings, municipal parks, city streets, highways, a nation's territorial seas, and many of its waterways).

STATE PROPERTY--Property that is essentially the exclusive -- and therefore private -- property of the government bodies to which the general does not have access (many government office buildings and the equipment therein; land off-limits to the public).

"TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS"--Destruction or degradation of a common pool resource due to open access (from Garrett Hardin's 1968 eponymous Science article)

TRANSACTION COSTS--The costs of doing something, including the cost of getting information, agreeing on what to do, monitoring and enforcing the rules.

UNOWNED PROPERTY (OPEN ACCESS RESOURCES)--Property to which no one has rights and from which no potential user can be excluded (high seas, the upper atmosphere, unclaimed land).

USE RIGHT (USUFRUCTUARY RIGHT)--The right to use a resource that does not include the right to sell, lease, or bequeath the resource to others.

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