FEEM working papers "Note di lavoro" series
2010 .131

The Problem of the Commons: Still Unsettled after 100 Years

Authors: Robert N. Stavins
Series: Climate Change and Sustainable Development
Editor: Carlo Carraro
Type: Journal
JEL n.: Q220, Q280, Q500, Q540, Q580
JEL: American Economic Review
Pages: Vol. 101, pp. 81-108
Date: 2011


The problem of the commons is more important to our lives and thus more central to economics than a century ago when Katharine Coman led off the first issue of the American
Economic Review. As the U.S. and other economies have grown, the carrying-capacity of the planet - in regard to natural resources and environmental quality — has become a greater concern, particularly for common-property and open-access resources. The focus of this article is on some important, unsettled problems of the commons. Within the realm of natural resources, there are special challenges associated with renewable resources, which are frequently characterized by open access. An important example is the degradation of open-access fisheries. Critical commons problems are also associated with environmental quality. A key contribution of economics has been the development of market-based approaches to environmental protection. These instruments are key to addressing the ultimate commons problem of the twenty-first century - global climate change.


Suggested citation: Stavins, Robert N. 2011. "The Problem of the Commons: Still Unsettled after 100 Years." American Economic Review, 101(1): 81-108,

Download file
Download PDF file

FEEM Newsletter & Update

Subscribe to stay connected.

Your personal data will be processed by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei. – data Controller – with the aim of emailing the FEEM newsletter & Update. The use of Your email address is necessary for the implementation of the newsletter service. You are invited to read the Privacy Policy in order to obtain additional information about the protection of Your rights.

This Website uses technical cookies and cookie analytics, as well as “third party” profiling cookies.
If you close this banner or you decide to continue navigating on this Website, you express consent to the use of cookies. If you need additional information or you wish to express selective choices on the use of cookies, please refer to the   Cookie PolicyI agree