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What is a Common Pool Resource?

Common Pool resources have been defined as resources available to anyone, making them difficult to protect and easy to deplete (McKean, 2000). In reality this definition refers to 'open access' resources rather than 'communal' ones. This confusion between open access and communal resources is probably best known from the 'Tragedy of the Commons' by Hardin (1968). In it he predicts that each person will seek to maximise their gain from the 'commons' and as a result the collective use of the resource will exceed it's limits for sustainability.

"Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons"

photo of boy with fire wood

In fact, the majority of common pool resources have a defined set of users and a management system in place. In most cases these resources are only open to those having historical rights through kinship or community membership and they are generally protective of these resources (Dasgupta, 1996). Over-exploitation occurs when the management system breaks down allowing free riders to ignore the rights of other individuals.


Dasgupta, P. (1996) The Economics of the Environment. Proceedings of the British Academy 90, 165-221
Hardin, G. (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science 162, 1243-1248.
McKean, M.A. (2000) Common Property: What is it? What is it good for and what makes it work? In C.C. Gibson, M.A. McKean & E. Ostrom (eds) People and Forests. MIT Press, London.

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Last Updated: Thursday, July 12, 2007
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