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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: October 2015

Chapter 6 - A Framework for Analysis of Self-organizing and Self-governing CPRs


In Chapter 1, I discussed three models that are used to justify the policy recommendation that external governmental authorities should impose solutions on individuals who jointly use CPRs: Hardin's tragedy of the commons, the prisoner's dilemma game, and Mancur Olson's logic of collective action. All three models lead to the prediction that those using such resources will not cooperate so as to achieve collective benefits. Further, individuals are perceived as being trapped in a static situation, unable to change the rules affecting their incentives.

The cases presented in this study are from a universe of relatively small scale CPRs (the largest involves about 15,000 appropriators), each located within a single country. The appropriators in these cases are heavily dependent on a flow of scarce resource units for economic returns. The cases illustrate that some, but not all, appropriators in these settings solve what are thought to be second-order dilemmas to provide their own institutions. Various institutional arrangements are devised to accomplish these results. Marketable rights to the flow of resource units were developed in Alicante and in three of the California groundwater cases, but the resource systems themselves did not become private property. Forms of public instrumentalities were also used in the California groundwater cases and several other cases, but none of the success cases involved direct regulation by a centralized authority.

Most of the institutional arrangements used in the success stories were rich mixtures of public and private instrumentalities. If this study does nothing more than shatter the convictions of many policy analysts that the only way to solve CPR problems is for external authorities to impose full private property rights or centralized regulation, it will have accomplished one major purpose. At the same time, no claim is made that institutional arrangements supplied by appropriators, rather than by external authorities, will achieve optimal solutions. The Mojave case clearly illustrates this point. But the survival, over long periods of time, of the resources described in Chapters 3 and 4, as well as the institutions for governing those resources, is testimony to the achievement of at least a minimal level of “solution.”

This study has an additional purpose beyond challenging the presumption that universal institutional panaceas must be imposd by external authorities to solve smaller-scale, but still complex, uncertain, and difficult, problems.

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Governing the Commons
  • Online ISBN: 9781316423936
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