Club Goods

They are a subset of public goods that have one of the two basic characteristics of public goods

Club goods, also known as scarce or artificially scarce goods in economics, are a subset of public goods that have one of the two basic characteristics of public goods: they are non-rivalrous.

Club Goods

Because club goods are non-rivalrous, they aren't at risk of being used up or defiled by one or more people, at least until sustained use causes the goods' use to become congested. They are, however, excludable, meaning that persons can be prohibited from accessing or using them.

When economists use the supply and demand model to describe a market, they frequently assume that the good's property rights are well-defined and that the good is not free to manufacture (or at least to provide to one more customer).

However, it's critical to consider what occurs if these assumptions aren't met. Two product features must be studied to accomplish this:

1. Excludability

The extent to which a commodity or service is only available to paying consumers is excluded. For example, because individuals can watch it without paying the price, broadcast television has low excludability or is non-excludable.

Cable television, on the other hand, has a high level of excludability or is excludable because it is a paid service.


It's worth mentioning that some things are, by nature, non-excludable. 

For example, how would one make a lighthouse's services excludable? In some circumstances, however, things are not excludable due to design or choice. By setting a zero price, a producer can make a good non-excludable.

2. Rivalry in Consumption

Rivalry in consumption refers to the extent to which one person's consumption of a specific unit of an item or service prevents others from doing the same. 

For example, an orange has high consumption competition because if one person consumes an orange, another cannot swallow the same orange completely. Of course, they can share the orange, but neither of them can eat the whole thing.


On the other hand, a park has no consumption rivalry since one individual "consuming" (i.e., enjoying) the entire garden does not obstruct another's ability to do so.

From the producer's standpoint, low consumption rivalry means that the marginal cost of providing one more client is essentially nothing.

Understanding Club Goods: The Four Types of Goods

In economics, goods can be categorized in a variety of ways. One of the most common distinctions is made using two qualities: excludability and rivalrousness. That is, we organize things based on whether or not they can be prohibited from being consumed (excludability) and whether or not individuals can consume them without jeopardizing the availability of goods for others (rivalrousness).

Based on these two criteria, we can classify all physical commodities into four categories: private goods, public goods, common resources, and club goods.

1. Public Goods

Public products are non-excludable and non-competitive in consumption. National defense is an excellent example of a public good; it is impossible to protect paying customers from terrorists and other threats, and one individual using national defense (i.e., being protected) does not make it more difficult for others to do so.


One distinguishing aspect of public commodities is that they are produced in lower quantities than is socially desirable via free markets. 

This is due to the free-rider problem, which economists refer to as: why would anyone pay for something if access is not limited to paying customers? In practice, people give willingly to public goods but not nearly enough to produce the socially optimal quantity.

Furthermore, if the marginal cost of supplying one more consumer is essentially zero, offering the product at no price is socially desirable. But unfortunately, this isn't a very profitable business model. Therefore private markets aren't very motivated to deliver public goods.

Because of the free-rider problem, the government frequently offers public goods. The fact that a good is given by the government, on the other hand, does not always imply that it has the economic features of a public good. 

While the government cannot make a good excludable in the literal sense, it can fund public goods by taxing those who profit from the good and then providing the goods for free.

The government's choice on whether or not to finance a public good depends on whether the benefits to society from using it outweigh the costs of taxation (including the deadweight loss caused by the tax).

2. Club goods

A word used to describe objects and locations that are quite enormous, such as a public park, is "club goods." However, no matter how big or small anything or somewhere is, it has a limited capacity. 

They (also known as artificially scarce commodities, toll goods, or collective goods) are a form of goods in economics that are excludable yet non-rivalrous, at least until they reach a point of congestion. 

These commodities frequently have a high level of excludability and a low level of consumption rivalry. As a result, club products have nearly zero marginal costs and are typically provided by natural monopolies. In addition, club items have a fictitious scarcity.

The field of economics that investigates these goods is known as club theory. Buchanan's "An Economic Theory of Clubs," published in 1965, addressed how the organization's size affects the voluntary provision of a public benefit. More fundamentally, it provided a theoretical structure of cooperative or collective ownership-consumption arrangements.

According to Buchanan, excludable products were consumed by far more people than private goods but far fewer people than public goods. Accordingly, he proposed a theory of clubs to address these forms of commodities, which would examine the magnitude of the most reasonable expense and the framework for the distribution of consumption.

The model focused on volunteer clubs, how to reach an optimal number of members, and determining the worth of an ideal club member. He gave instances of distinguishing between a private good, a public good, and a club good.

Club goods are non-rivalrous (in the sense that their usage does not lead to their exhaustion), but only to a certain extent.


Due to traffic congestion, a private park or beach may become overrun, making it temporarily undesirable for others. On the other hand, the commodities can be used by others once the traffic has cleared.

Due to their excludable character, club items are frequently underutilized. Therefore, when there is an overabundance of use, they become unavailable or unusable until the congestion subsides.

3. Common goods

Two characteristics distinguish common products. They are,

  • First and foremost, non-excludable. Put another way; we can't stop people from eating the product.
  • Second, they are antagonistic. To put it another way, the more one consumer uses, the fewer resources are accessible to others. Timber, coal, and fish are all instances of this.

Common resources (also known as common-pool resources) are similar to public goods in that they are not excludable, making them vulnerable to free-riders. 

Common resources, unlike public products, are subject to consumption competition. This creates a situation known as the tragedy of the commons.


Because a non-excludable good has no price, an individual will continue to consume more of it if it provides them with a positive marginal benefit

The tragedy of the commons occurs when an individual, by consuming a good with high consumption rivalry, imposes a cost on the broader system without accounting for her decision-making processes.

As a result, more of the good is consumed than is considered socially optimal. Given this context, it's no surprise that the term "tragedy of the commons" alludes to a circumstance in which people used to overgraze their cows on public property.

Fortunately, there are various viable answers to the tragedy of the commons. One option is to make the good excludable by charging a price equal to the system's cost of utilizing it. 

Another option would be to partition the common resource and grant individual property rights to each unit, requiring users to absorb their consequences on the good.

Overcoming the Tragedy of the Commons

The importance of institutional and technological elements in the rivalry and excludability of good is crucial to understanding and overcoming the tragedy of the commons. 

Throughout history, human societies have developed a variety of mechanisms for dividing up and enforcing exclusive rights to economic products and natural resources, as well as punishing those who overconsume communal resources.

One solution could be top-down government regulation or direct ownership of a common-pool resource. 

Overconsumption can be addressed by controlling consumption and use or legally excluding specific individuals, and government investment in resource conservation and regeneration can help avoid depletion.

For example, government regulations can limit the number of cattle grazed on public grounds or establish fish catch quotas. 

Top-down government solutions, on the other hand, are prone to the well-known rent-seeking, principal-agent, and knowledge issues that plague central economic planning and politically driven processes.


Another option is to grant individuals private property rights over resources, essentially turning a common-pool resource into a private good. 

Institutionally, this requires the creation of a mechanism to define and enforce private property rights, which could emerge as a result of existing private property institutions for other sorts of goods. 

In terms of technology, it entails devising a method for identifying, measuring, and marking units or parcels of the common pool resource for private ownership, such as tagging maverick cattle.

Because most often, this process of privatization has occurred by a government forcibly assuming control over a common-pool resource and then assigning private property rights over the resource to its subjects based on a sale price or simple political favor, this solution can suffer from some the same problems as top-down government control.

The English Parliament's Enclosure Acts withdrew traditional common property arrangements from grazing pastures and fields and separated the land into private holdings.

Before the English enclosures legislation, rural villagers and aristocratic (or feudal) lords had common access to most pasture and farmlands and regulated their use and protection through customary arrangements.


The tragedy of the commons was readily handled by limiting access to local farmers and herders, controlling use through crop rotation and seasonal grazing, and establishing enforced penalties for resource misuse and abuse (along with other problems).

When technical or natural physical limitations make it difficult to divide a common-pool resource into small private portions, collective action can be effective by relying on methods to minimize consumption rivalry. 

This typically means limiting access to the resource to those who have signed the collective bargaining agreement, effectively turning a common pool resource into a club product.

4. Private goods

The majority of products that people think of are both excludable and competitive in consumption, and they are referred to as private goods. These are items that follow "normal" supply and demand patterns.

Both rivalrous and excludable private goods are defined. In other words, the vendor can deny customers access to the product. The most common method is to use a pricing barrier. 

We might have to pay $20 for a new shirt, $6 for a pizza, or $500 for a new refrigerator, for example. Pricing prevents the customer from using the product.


Because resources are limited, we must choose how and what to produce. It means that there is always an opportunity cost when making economic decisions. Therefore, scarcity is one of the most fundamental economic concerns. Demand-induced scarcity, supply-induced shortage, or a mix of the two can all cause scarcity.

When there is a shortage of an item, the supply decreases, causing the price to rise. This growing price signals a free market, and demand for the product lowers. As a result, there are incentives for market mechanisms to deal with scarcity in a free market.

Some examples are described below. 

Land - a lack of fertile land suitable for food production. Desertification in the Sahara, for example, is diminishing the quantity of agricultural land available in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Scarcity of water - Due to global warming and shifting weather patterns, some parts of the world have become drier, and rivers have dried up. As a result, both humans and animals are running out of water.

There is a risk of market failure when there is a shortage. Firms, for example, may not consider the future until it is too late. As a result, when the good becomes rare, there may not be any viable alternatives available.

Another problem with the free market is that because things are rationed by price, some people may be unable to buy certain items owing to a lack of finances. As a result, economics is also concerned with income redistribution so that everyone may afford basic needs.

A lack of environmental resources is another potential market failure. The decisions we make today may impact future resource availability for future generations. 

For example, global warming and increasing sea levels are caused by CO2 emissions, resulting in less accessible land and a drinking water shortage for future generations. The fear is that the free market will fail to account for this impact on future resource availability. In addition, negative externalities from CO2 production worsen future scarcity.

Key Takeways

  • Club goods are a subset of public goods that have one of the two basic characteristics.
  • Cable television, theaters, and wireless internet are some examples.
  • The concept of club goods has been used in modern economics, particularly welfare economics. Modern welfare economics is based on the idea that public goods should not be excludable in terms of users while not encouraging rivalry or competition for those goods. 
  • A clear conceptual distinction between what was a completely public good and what may be classified as a club good was required.
  • While defining a good, Economists look at two characteristics; Excludability and Rivalry.
  • We can divide all physical goods into four categories based on these criteria: private goods, public goods, common resources, and club goods. In this article, we have gone through these in greater detail.
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Researched and authored by Rhea Rose Kappan | LinkedIn

Reviewed and edited by Ankit Sinha | LinkedIn

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