Who owns what here?
Lunar Embassy Inc. will sell you an acre of moon
land for $12, or $15 with mineral rights.
“Ownership is the gravitational field that holds
our economy in its orbit.”
There is a long
The Bundle Theory of Ownership offers a modern
pick’n’mix, covering exclusion, rivalry, use, power,
remedy, immunity and remedy…
Ownership in economics
Rivalry: if I have it,
I can, and can
decide if you
It is a hallmark of industrial development to
bring common resources, such as nature and
unpaid work, into the market as private
property, and to assign a low status to what
Robber Barons and their castles on the Rhine –
too much private ownership means all lose out
The idea of the ‘tragedy of the
commons’ held that common
ownership degrades over time
because it is in everyone’s
personal interest to over-use
what they don't own.
Elinor Ostrom showed this was
not inevitable, illustrated by her
field research in a Swiss village.
Here farmers tended private
plots for crops but shared a
village meadow to graze their
cows. There were no problems
with overgrazing, because of an
agreement among villagers that
dated back to 1517.
She concluded that you can’t
simply reduce ownership to
public or private, let alone public
bad and private good (or vice-
The Beauty of the Commons
Ownership can reflect a moral conception
“It is worth pausing to consider for a moment
the underlying meaning of the word ‘own’. The
word used for possession from the fourteenth
to the seventeenth century was not ‘own’ but
The largest gains from employee
ownership are where all employees
participate rather than just
managers. Professor Virginie
Perotin draws on a range of studies
to conclude that businesses create
more sustainable employment
where they are structured as
worker co-operatives, with active
employee control of, and
involvement in, the life of the firm.
A study of family owned firms, by
Henssen et al, argues likewise for
an approach to ownership that
includes its psychological
dimension – the feeling of
ownership – as crucial.
The Psychology of Ownership
The Future of Ownership …in Britain, 1985
“Let us together set our sights on a Britain: — where three
out of four families own their home; — where owning
shares is as common as having a car”
So what has happened since 1985?
Here are the key ownership trends…
The ownerless corporation?
“There is a huge vacuum of ownership. Firms
have investors who regard investments as
betting slips, not owners who regard them as
property. Making more companies work
slightly harder through better ownership
would have a gigantic effect on Britain’s
competitiveness and prosperity as a nation.”
Jesse Norman MP
“Peer to peer collaboration is creating a new
generation of ‘co-operatives without walls’”
The Sharing Economy creates digital platforms at scale for
people to re-use goods and services - but without shared
ownership, as yet, of those platforms.
Which forms of ownership over time
will the digital economy take?
Tomorrow’s new economy, based on
information and light, may not be bound by
scarcity in the same way as today – so that
ownership will be more about access and
The future of ownership
Ownership is not set in stone. Over time, we have moved
from a wide diversity of ownership across cultures to a
narrow ideology of private, investor ownership. Now, like
an hourglass, we are opening up again to more of a mix.
The patterns of ownership we will see
in future will reflect the values of the
society and economy we choose to
live in and to create.
Resources and contact
All images licensed for re-use with
• Arcalino / Wikimedia Commons
• Splitshire.com https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-nature-field-italy-1605/
• Modifications made by Hic et nunc.
• John Wright https://www.flickr.com/photos/dryfish/9629895088
• Wellcome Trust
• created by Colleen Simon for opensource.com