Dynamics of Rules and Resources: Three New Field Experiments on Water, Forests and Fisheries

Abstract

"Most common-pool resource experiments, inspired by the ground-breaking work of Ostrom, Gardner and Walker (1994), involve a typical structure of a static non-linear social dilemma with a rival but nonexcludable good that is extracted by a number of players. However there are specific ecological features of relevant common-pool resources that can be incorporated into an experimental design and tested in the field or the lab. Stock effects, spatial effects or vertical downstream externalities are issues that natural scientists and economists have studied in forests, fisheries or watershed management although experimental works on these ecological aspects are rather scarce. We designed three resource specific games to capture particular characteristics of common-pool resources and apply them in six villages in Thailand and Colombia. In each village we recruited 60 people and conducted three games. A water irrigation game capturing the downstream externalities and collective action problem of provision and appropriation stages where all players need to contribute to a public project that produces water which is then extracted sequentially by each of the players starting with the one located upstream, leaving the remaining water to the next player downstream, and so on. In our forestry game players start with a number of standing trees that can be cut by any of the players; in any round each player can extract between zero and a fixed number of trees. The remaining trees regrow at a certain rate and the resulting trees are then left for the next round for individual extraction. The game ends at a maximum number of rounds or when no trees are left. Finally, the fisheries game involves two possible fishing sites that can have high or low levels of stock. Each player needs to decide where to fish between the two sites and her individual effort of fishing. Depending on the aggregate level of fishing effort in each site, the stock level will change for the following round and will determine the fishing returns. All games involve a social dilemma where individual interests clash with the socially optimal outcome. Lessons can be derived regarding the design of better resource management rules and a better understanding of how resource specific dynamics affect the social dilemmas in commonpool resources."

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Keywords

common pool resources, experimental economics, social dilemmas

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