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The commons problem in the presence of negative externalities

Nahid Masoudi (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Saint John's, Canada) (Center for Financial Development and Stability, Henan University, Kaifeng, China)
Donique Bowie (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Saint John's, Canada)

Journal of Economic Studies

ISSN: 0144-3585

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 29 October 2021




While the commons problem and the issues related to the negative externalities of harvesting have been studied extensively, there remains a need to bridge these two streams of studies to comprehensively investigate the implications of the strategic interactions among resource harvesters in the presence of such negative externalities. This paper aims to fill this gap.


The authors study a common-pool harvest problem when the extractive activities leave behind negative externalities which affect the resource growth rate and reduce the stock beyond the extracted levels. Markov perfect noncooperative and optimal solutions are presented under different scenarios regarding considerations of negative externalities into harvest decisions.


Results of the study suggest that, in the presence of such externalities, all parties must scale down their extraction in accordance with their externalities. The resource can be preserved by implementation of such harvest rule. However, failure to incorporate the externalities exacerbates the commons problem and can even lead to exhaustion of the biomass even if countries manage to cooperate and coordinate their harvest. Suggesting that if such externalities are large enough – which empirical literature suggests they are – then recognition and consideration of these externalities in the harvest decisions is as crucial as cooperation.


This paper provides a framework that is capable of incorporating the negative externalities of harvest activities into a bioeconomic game theoretic model and thereby providing a more real-world representation of the state of the common-pool resource management. While, the authors extend a well-known simple model, the model of this research study has the capacity to explain the widespread incidences of resource collapses. Therefore, the important policy implication is that agents should rigorously work together to understand the extent of the negative externalities of their harvests on the resources.



Masoudi, N. and Bowie, D. (2021), "The commons problem in the presence of negative externalities", Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 48 No. 8, pp. 1528-1547.



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