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Resource degradation in the African commons: accounting for institutional decay


The development literature has devoted considerable attention to the commons and has ignored the wider economic context of the commons. I develop a model of two kinds of agents (naïve and sophisticated) using two kinds of assets (safe and unsafe) to illustrate the possibility of resource degradation in the commons in the absence of free riding, shirking, and general theft among members of the village and its associated commons. This model makes it possible to understand that degradation of the commons arises from factors outside of the commons rather than arising from ‘perverse’ property rights and selfish behavior within the commons. This approach suggests a needed reformulation of development assistance away from prescriptions for the commons. Instead, development assistance must be refocused on the more serious challenge of institutional incoherence in the larger economy of which the village and its commons are but a part.

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Environment and Development Economics
  • ISSN: 1355-770X
  • EISSN: 1469-4395
  • URL: /core/journals/environment-and-development-economics
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