The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives
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The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives

3.31 of 5 stars 3.31  ·  rating details  ·  109 ratings  ·  27 reviews
25 new runways would eliminate most air travel delays in America. Why can’t we build them? 50 patent owners are blocking a major drug maker from creating a cancer cure. Why won’t they get out of the way? 90% of our broadcast spectrum sits idle while American cell phone service lags far behind Japan’s and Korea’s. Why are we wasting our airwaves? 98% of African American–own...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 8th 2008 by Basic Books (first published 2008)
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David
When I saw the surprisingly low average rating and the critical reviews of this book on Goodreads, I thought that Heller might be being slimed by the Internet Zombie Army of Libertarian Trolls for the heresy of daring to suggest that more more more private property (the bone-chilling cry of IZALT) wasn't always the answer to all of the world's problems. But alas, the criticisms are justified. Heller's style gets in the way of his good ideas. Like others, I was distracted by Heller's fondness for...more
Jon
This book feels like a legal Malcolm Gladwell wannabe. Now, Gladwell is a compelling writer, so in some ways, that's a high bar. That said, what it feels like is that the book didn't have enough new ideas, so instead of digging deeper, the one interesting idea is couched in a veritable dictionary of new jargon designed for the purpose of explaining an idea that probably wasn't all that complicated to begin with. Thus, instead of using normal terms, he starts using his own terms, making it more d...more
Adam Ross
This was a great book, showing how intellectual property, strictly defined, actually destroys culture and hinders growth. He argues that when too many people own too many parts of one piece of property (say, a genetic patent), it makes development of treatments for diseases vastly more costly and slow. There is a treatment for (I believe) Alzheimers sitting on the R&D shelf of a pharmaceutical company somewhere, unable to be produced because it relied on several other patented components, an...more
Mike
Nicely done. Heller summarizes his research into "anti-commons"--the problem that arises when resources that are most efficient in some minimum quantity (like land) are divided into parcels that make them economically useless. The trouble with an anti-commons is that the process is asymmetrical: it is very easy to fragment land (or intellectual property) but very difficult to re-assemble it. The result is the "gridlock" in the title. When "too many people own too little of too much", houses don'...more
Jake
How full of himself is Michael Heller? Well, for starters, he names the central irony that underlies his book the "Heller Paradox" . . . The major problem with this book is that Heller spends far too much time placing him at the center of what is a novel but not very complicated idea, rather than elaborating with examples. More specifically, he doesn't elaborate with enough DIFFERENT examples. We hear about storefronts in Russia five times before he eventually devotes an entire chapter to the ex...more
Jason
Heller spends too much time belaboring his points, and not nearly enough time either giving examples of when his points occur (he reiterates the same two or three, without much detail, multiple times), and skipping the process of thinking about how his proposed takeovers of independently controlled property could have adverse consequences. He gives an interesting discussion and push of the terms anticommons and underuse - but seems more concerned with ensuring "his" words enter the lexicon, perh...more
Chip
Mar 01, 2012 Chip rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chip by: colleague at work
You've heard of the 'tragedy of the commons' (a situation in which lack of ownership of a resource, e.g., fish stocks, leads to overuse and concomitant diminishment of the resource)? Heller wants to draw our attention to its complement: tragedy of the anticommons - a situation in which too many owners of a resource effectively block each other and waste the resource through underuse. The book cites many examples of the sorts of gridlock that can arise when many players are caught unsuspectingly...more
Steve
I'm divided about how I feel about this book. In some ways, I don't think that Heller did a thorough job of really explaining his proposed solutions to what is indeed a very thorny problem. On the other hand, his ideas keep popping up in my head, and I've started to see real world situations that I had never noticed before which are perfect examples of exactly what he's talking about. The problem is that, now that I see the problems and can identify them for what they are, I still have no idea h...more
Doc Opp
The basic idea of the tragedy of the anti-commons is an interesting one, although I believe a misnomer. The author explains in excruciating detail the challenges that privatization can lead to - although, a certain type of privatization in which the ownership is broken into many small claims.

The author shows how piecemeal privatization can lead to a variety of problems and inefficiencies, many of which are serious and deeply troubling. That said, the author offers no solutions other than vague...more
Gail
"Heller summarizes his research into "anti-commons"--the problem that arises when resources that are most efficient in some minimum quantity (like land) are divided into parcels that make them economically useless. The trouble with an anti-commons is that the process is asymmetrical: it is very easy to fragment land (or intellectual property) but very difficult to re-assemble it. The result is the "gridlock" in the title"

This was an interesting book. It deserves a second read, because I skimmed...more
Josh
A very basic idea that just as there is a tragedy of the commons where lack of ownership over common property will cause all to abuse that common property there is also such a thing as too much ownership of common property such that the costs of compiling, grouping and sharing that property become very inefficient. For example: it now costs too much money to patent new bio-tech drugs due to the myriad of patents that one must be afraid of violating; so many new drugs are not developed at all. Th...more
Gilman
Interesting overview of real-life situations in which too much ownership can lead to unfortunate underuse. Really grabbed me with the example talking about Alzheimer's treatments being left on the lab bench because the company couldn't hack through the patent thickets around the technologies they used to develop the cure. More interesting historical and modern examples. But, the book is very padded, repeating stories, tied together with a thin set of references back to a few concepts introduced...more
Louis Bouchard
Illuminating
I'm generally for both free markets and strong property rights, and expected to find a lot to disagree with in this book, but I didn't.
The author does a good job of laying out the problems caused by the conflict of multiple stake holders or owners in a wide range of areas from intellectual property to land ownership. His assessment of cause and effect is difficult to disagree with. One may find fault with his proposed solutions, but I found most of them reasonably well thought out.

Shishir
A paradox of free market.

Cost of doing business getting prohibitive, licensing fees, copyright bullies extort large payments.
Patent holders block drug development protecting their intellectual property.
Over last 20 years, gridlock was not an issue, but now it is prevalent.
Patents now act as a block to further development
New ideas now need to start by creating thousands of watertight patents.
(A high barrier to entry for the smaller players – another drastic byproduct)
Dan
Apr 23, 2014 Dan added it
interesting concept but poorly executed. It should be written in a short, concise and interesting paper. The idea is extremely important though so I hope the concept spreads.
Kevin
So far it is interesting. I didn't realize this was new information; that private property adds expense to collaboration, sometimes to the point that projects are abandoned. We have have popular cultural references where the private owner who holds out against big company buy-outs becomes a hero!

It is intesting, tho, to learn of some of the contemporary implications in patents and other intellectual property.
Abraham
Fantastic book, truly a new economic theory, makes sense of cartel theory and certain game theories and finally helps put the privatization vs. regulation wars into perspective. However,everything you need is in the first couple chapters, he starts trailing off...a lot when you get to the chapter on oyster beds. While the oyster bed chapter is an interesting read, it's more or less useless.
Ideath
Sep 12, 2008 Ideath added it
Shelves: library, abandoned
It's frustrating me because he's working on this scale from overuse to underuse, and doesn't ever seem to hint that there might be some things for which the ideal level of use is none. Everything is a resource to be exploited, and the issue is making sure it's exploited most efficiently. It's hard to pick up again when i set it down.
Wally Muchow
An interesting book that raised some familiar concerns on copyright and intellectual property. In addition there was discussion around public policy concerning assembling land for public purposes and how fragmentation can thwart the public good.
Bryce
I got through about half of it and then I felt like the author had made the major point and was largely over doing it, so I moved on to other books in my to read list. I may get back to it and read the whole thing at some point.
Yair
Interesting ideas, but somewhat repetitive without a good take home or strategy for overcoming the issues presented. This would have made a better book if it was edited down to about 1/2 its current length.
Surfing Moose
This book was ho-hum. The examples were interesting and some of them were thought provoking, but too much "me me me" from Heller ("aren't I a clever boy").
Keith
I'll probably read about and cite this book, but it was both shabbily written and shabbily reasoned. Could have been so much better.
Frank Stein
A good antidote to the Coase theorem's overoptimistic acolytes.
Virginia
Big think, practical ideas, well written.
Grant
Pretty neat new way of looking at problems.
Emily
Jul 29, 2008 Emily marked it as to-read
@ neither.
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