Observations On Common Property Resource Management

"The conference from which the book Common Property Resource Management was derived brought together social and biological scientists with a wealth of knowledge about a wide variety of resource situations. The participants represented a range of theoretical and empirical experiences that are well reflected in the volume. An open-minded economist, upon perusing the book, will be struck by several observations. "The behavioral assumption that drives much of contemporary economic theory concerns the autonomous utility maximizer who acts in his/her own self interest. This behavior finds its empirical manifestation in the isolation problem modeled as the prisoners' dilemma, and in alleged ubiquitous free-riding. The 'tragedy of the commons' allegory, being congenial to economic theory, finds wide allegiance among economists taught to believe that the only solution to resource degradation, poverty, and overcapitalization of resource-extractive industries is private property rights vested in the individual decision maker. The idea of collective action to formulate the institutional arrangements that will both constrain and liberate individual maximizing behavior is not well understood, nor is it regarded as an entirely legitimate activity. Rather collective action is usually regarded as an undesirable alternative to atomistic choice, and one that invariably is driven by the desire to engage in 'rent-seeking' behavior. This two-step process of agreeing on institutional arrangements, and then making economic choices from within that structure of institutional arrangements, is not often analysed by economists."
Workshop, common pool resources--theory, resource management