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Covenants With and Without a Sword: Self-Enforcement is Possible

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor; Walker, James M.; Gardner, Roy
Conference: Common Property Conference, the Second Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Conf. Date: 26-29 September 1991
Date: 1991
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/996
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): Workshop
monitoring and sanctioning--models
common pool resources--models
Abstract: "Contemporary political theory often assumes that individuals cannot make credible commitments where substantial temptations exist to break them, unless such commitments are enforced by an external agent. Empirical evidence suggests, however, that individuals facing social dilemmas in many cases develop credible commitments without relying on external authorities. Fishers, irrigators, or herders appropriating from a CPR have repeatedly shown their capacity to organize themselves, to establish credible commitments, to monitor each others' behavior, and to impose sanctions on those who break their commitments. In this paper, we present findings from a series of experiments designed to explore the issue of endogenous formation of commitments and enforcement of such commitments. In a laboratory environment designed to parallel the decision environment of many CPRs, we manipulate treatments to examine: (1) communication alone (one-shot and repeated), (2) sanctioning alone, and (3) communication combined with the possibility of sanctioning."

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