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Getting Out of the Commons Trap: Variables, Process, and Results in Four Groundwater Basins

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Blomquist, William
Conference: Conference on Common-Pool Resource Management
Location: Workshop in Political Theory & Policy Analysis, Bloomington, IN
Conf. Date: December 4-5
Date: 1987
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/5463
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: North America
Subject(s): common pool resources
water resources
Abstract: "Jointly-accessible resources used by multiple individuals are often endangered. Indeed, we call the supposedly inevitable destruction of such resources 'the tragedy of the commons'. Commons problems have been classified with other 'social traps' such as the collective action problem and the Prisoner's Dilemma game. Reasoning by analogy and metaphor from these other 'traps' has yielded a general prognosis of doom for the commons, escapable only via privatization of the resource or centralized public management. In fact, alternative organizations of resource use exist, and have led to resource preservation and even to resource enhancement. The question is how, and under what conditions, users of a common resource might collectively coordinate their behavior to avoid impending doom and enhance resource use without resort to either of the forms prescribed in the prevailing literature. Drawing upon the methods of institutional analysis and the experience of actual cases of commons management, this paper presents descriptive and quantitative evidence on: (a) the relevant characteristics of the settings in which resource users operate, (b) the steps taken in a process of resolution of a commons dilemma, and (c) the results obtained thus far by the users of groundwater basins in arid and heavily populated portions of southern California. The likelihood of successful resolution is compared across different settings, and the efficiency and equity of different public/private organizational form mixes are compared, as well."

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