The Commons, Property, and Common Property Regimes

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Date
1990
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Abstract
"In the literature on natural resources and environmental policy, it would be difficult to find an idea (a concept) that is as misunderstood as that of the commons and common property. The mischief to arise from the continuing failure to understand common property is perverse in both scholarly discussions, and in public policy formulation. On the former front, scholars will show no hesitancy to expound on the problems inherent in common property without the benefit of first defining property, and without betraying any understanding of the historical and contemporary facts surrounding common property regimes. On the practical side, scholars will show equal confidence in advising all who will listen about how to 'solve' the so-called tragedy of the commons. The fallacy in traditional approaches to the commons is that writers have failed to understand the concept of property, they have very often treated a particular natural resource as if it had inherent characteristics that suggested it would everywhere be controlled under a particular type of property regime, and they have invariably failed to learn that the world is replete with reasonably successful common property regimes. Our purpose in organizing the Panel on Common Property Resource Management in the Developing Countries (under the auspices of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences) was to determine if indeed there were any reasonably successful common property regimes operating in the world. If we could answer that question in the affirmative, then much conventional wisdom and folklore would be seen to be false. In the remainder of this paper, I wish to focus on property regimes as authority systems. This emphasis is necessary for the simple reason that the essence of property rights is a structure of rights and duties that will give any particular benefit stream protection against adverse claims."
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common pool resources, property rights, natural resources, environmental policy, public policy, tragedy of the commons
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