The Liberal Commons
110 Yale L.J. 549 (2001)
Must we choose between the benefits of cooperative use of scarce resources and our liberal commitments to autonomy and exit? No. Well-tailored law can mediate between community and liberty, between commons and private property. Our theory of the liberal commons provides a framework to reconcile these seemingly contradictory moral imperatives and analytic categories. In our definition, an institution succeeds as a liberal commons when it enables a limited group of people to capture the economic and social benefits from cooperation, while also ensuring autonomy to individuals through a secure right to exit. This Article shows how current theories and categories obscure the most difficult tradeoffs in managing commons resources; then details our liberal commons model comprising the decisionmaking spheres of individual dominion, democratic self-governance, and cooperation-enhancing exit; and finally presents a case study to show how our approach can enrich legal and social inquiry.