Dissecting the tragedy: A spatial model of behavior in the commons

Joshua Abbott, James E. Wilen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    51 Scopus citations


    Much of the discussion of the tragedy of the commons focuses on aggregate impacts, often in data-poor developing country settings. Few non-experimental empirical studies shed light on contextual circumstances driving the extent of rent dissipation and overexploitation. We utilize a high-resolution data set to estimate a behavioral model of fishermen's spatial choices. A unique policy setting allows us to measure the degree to which individual fishermen's choices appear aimed at mitigating the tragedy of the commons in a small numbers setting. We find evidence of partial mitigation in excess of what we would expect under pure self-interest but short of what would occur under group-maximizing behavior. We also examine how contextual factors in the fishery shape the degree of cooperation within the fishing season and find evidence that competition for the common pool resource distorts fishermen's implicit cost of distance-creating a form of "common property inertia".

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)386-401
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Environmental Economics and Management
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Nov 2011


    • Bycatch
    • Common property
    • Cooperation
    • Random utility model
    • Spatial modeling

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Economics and Econometrics
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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