Gridlock Economy

Michael Heller’s new book looks interesting.  Heller was, for the last decade, been working to introduce a bit of balance into the discussion down stream from the idea that goes by the name “Tragedy of the Commons.”  He originally called his idea “The Tragedy of the Anticommons.”  Those who public goods coming to tragic ends often prescribe a dose of property rights.  Heller is interested in situations where too many property rights create grid lock.

His Authors@Google talk is a good introduction.  About a half hour long it touchs on various coordination failures with substantial social costs that arise from an abundance of property rights: Drugs that don’t get developed, families displaced from their legacies, urban development frustrated, air traffic congestion, foul ups in the post soviet privization programs.  Good stuff, and he is reasonably straight forward about how societies should be more aware about the balance they strike when they architect their property rights schemes.

That last point is of particular interest to me, since it goes to the question of how you shape the power law curves.  Is the single property owner who frustrates the urban developer the hero of the long tail; or is he just the worse case of ground cover strangling urban vitality?  Guess I’ll need to read the book.

I’m bemused, or confused, by the realization that both these tragedies arise because some coordination problem blows up when too many parties have simultaniously have rights.  I guess you might say the anticommons goes down the tubes when one player says no (or more often just lies silent) while the commons blow up when too many people say yes.  After a bit I can’t see these as really different, it’s back to the group forming coordination problem.

2 thoughts on “Gridlock Economy

  1. Luis

    I’m reading it right now… afraid to say that I’m not yet all that impressed. Some interesting ideas in there, but he’s wrapped it all in so many layers of anecdote-as-data (to make it more readable?) that it ends up (3/4 of the way through) not being very persuasive.

    I might still take Land Use from him in the Spring, though…

  2. Ben Hyde

    Hm, well … stories are the gold standard in how to explain stuff so that might have been a good move for an airplane book.

    You might like his harvard law review article better. glancing at it: 90 pages, more theory, yet a lot of stories too; sigh more things to read :).

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