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Getting Out of the Trap: Changing an Endangered Commons to a Managed Commons

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Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Author: Blomquist, William
Date: 1987
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/3580
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: North America
Subject(s): water resources
resource management
common pool resources
Abstract: "This dissertation examines possibilities for management of a commons by resource users. A commons is a jointly-accessible resource generating subtractable yields. Resources used by multiple individuals are often endangered; indeed, the supposedly inevitable destruction of such resources is called 'the tragedy of the commons.' "The prognosis of doom for the commons has produced two prescriptions in the literature: central government management, and privatization. The prognosis and the prescriptions presume that all commons are alike, that the problems associated with the commons inhere in the nature of such resources, and that the commons is identical to such 'social traps' as the collective action problem and the Prisoner's Dilemma game. These presumptions, and the prescriptions derived from them, are reviewed and criticized." "In an alternative approach, the commons is reconsidered as a form of organization of the use of a resource. That organization is shaped by rules defining access and use. Those rules may be changed, and rule changes can transform a commons situation from resource endangerment to resource management. Furthermore, such changes need not be imposed by external regulators, and need not mean centralized governmental control or privatization. Resource users themselves may devise well-fitted rule systems for use of the commons. "Successful transition from an endangered commons to a managed commons will involve action by users on seven steps in a process of resolution of commons problems. The likelihood of successful resolution is affected by variables concerning the attributes of the resource, attributes of the user community, and institutional capacities available to users. That successful, as well as unsuccessful, user-based resolution is possible is demonstrated by comparative case studies of four groundwater basins in southern California, each of which has been an endangered commons. The situations, conditions, and processes of resolution in the basins are described and compared, and the outcomes attained are compared and evaluated. The cases demonstrate that, where users are able successfully to complete a resolution process, destruction can be averted, and efficiency of resource use can even be improved, without converting the commons to individually-held private property or centrally-controlled public property."

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