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In Chapter 1, I described my strategy as that of a “new institutionalist” who has picked small-scale CPR situations to study because the processes of self-organization and self-governance are easier to observe in this type of situation than in many others. The central question in this study is how a group of principals who are in an interdependent situation can organize and govern themselves to obtain continuing joint benefits when all face temptations to free-ride, shirk, or otherwise act opportunistically. Parallel questions have to do with the combinations of variables that will (1) increase the initial likelihood of self-organization, (2) enhance the capabilities of individuals to continue self-organized efforts over time, or (3) exceed the capacity of self-organization to solve CPR problems without external assistance of some form.
This chapter has several objectives. First, I define what I mean by CPRs and how I view individual behaviors in complex and uncertain CPR situations. Then I examine the general problem facing individuals in CPR situations: how to organize to avoid the adverse outcomes of independent action. This general problem is solved by external agents in two wellaccepted theories: the theory of the firm and the theory of the state. These explain how new institutions are supplied, how commitments are obtained, and how the actions of agents and subjects are monitored effectively, using in one case the firm, and in the other state, as an organizational device. How a group of principals – a community of citizens – can organize themselves to solve the problems of institutional supply, commitment, and monitoring is still a theoretical puzzle. Given that some individuals solve this puzzle, whereas others do not, a study of successful and unsuccessful efforts to solve CPR problems should address important issues related to the theory of collective action and the development of better policies related to CPRs. Many efforts to analyze collective-action problems have framed the analysis by presuming that all such problems can be represented as prisoner's dilemma (PD) games, that a single level of analysis is sufficient, and that transactions costs are insignificant and can be ignored. In the last section of this chapter, I propose assumptions that are alternatives to those that normally frame the analysis of collective action.
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