Using Common Property to Address the Commons Problem

When a resource is shared:

Its users have a tendency to exploit it in order to maximize private benefits. A shared or common property is a resource that is owned by the general public; this means that all members of a community have the right to control and utilize it. They encompass a diverse range of natural resources, including grazing grounds, community forests, marine resources, rivers, and waste lands, to name a few. The common resources are overexploited, and users disregard care and conservation. The assignment of exclusive property rights to shared property is a common response to overexploitation. Commons problems are heavily influenced by Hardin’s essay The Tragedy of the Commons. The author used the fate of common grazing pastures that have no ownership and is available to all. As he explains, in situations pastures have no owners, it is each herder’s self interest to maximize the use of them. The herder achieves benefits at the expense of community at large. For instance, a herder would maximize his benefit by adding an extra animal to his herd (Hardin 1244). However, the costs of overgrazing are distributed among all users of the pastures. That means when the incentive of open use is adopted by all resource users, the pastures are overgrazed, hence creating the so-called ‘tragedy of the commons’. Hardin suggests that without control on access and use of a resource, the tragedy of commons is certai (1245).

Use of Common Property Rights to Resolve Tragedy of Commons

Hardin had proposed the use of government regulations and resource-access restriction to resolve tragedy of commons (1247). However, Seabright in his essay Managing Common” emphasizes that the use of government-imposed policies and restricting resource access are often nonflexible and costly in implementation and monitoring (Seabright 114). Also, such systems often fail due to lack of communication between resources managers and property users. According to Seabright, commons problems arise from incompletely defined and enforced property rights. He proposes the use of common property rights as a potential solution to avert tragedy of commons (114).

First, in a community where common property rights are well defined:

There is high probability of members to establish a common interest. A common goal helps in the adoption of the right approach to follow in dealing with the problem at hand, that is, overexploitation of the resource. This reduces the conflicts of interests among individuals given that each one of the members strives to maximize private benefits from the common property. Seabright asserts that the very existence of optimal collective management policy should not be taken for granted. In a community with a common interest of conserving a resource, cooperative internal rules can be agreed upon and implemented to manage the resource (Seabright 116).

Secondly, defined common property rights lead to alignment of incentives for resource users:

Property rights link individual incentives with community objectives. Seabright describes incentives by using the aspect of community cooperation (120). People are more likely to cooperate in management of common property if they have assurance of benefit in the future. The assurance is achieved through well defined resource right. Those with the right to manipulate with the resource will be able to observe each other’s behaviors with adequate reliability to examine whether conservation strategies and agreements are being kept. The agreements must be credible meaning that once a person has defected, it is others responsibility to put retaliation into effect (Seabright 119).

Moreover, common property arrangements lead to development of collective reputation:

Seabright uses Kreps 1990 study arguing that reputation of an individual involved in market transactions is heavily influenced by the reputation of the firms to which they belong (122). This is the same case with a community; if an individual come from a community where common property rights are well defined, they are likely to act in the same way. Effective common property arrangements, therefore, represent a system whereby cooperation is a forming habit. Seabright further explains that the cooperation habit incentive in the community is passed to subsequent generations (123). Hence, the solutions provided currently to solve tragedy of commons in a community will be adopted even in generations to come. Consequently, there would be a sustainable solution to tragedy of commons.

Common Property Rights in Practice to Resolve Commons Problems

Cinner’s research in Indo-pacific clearly establishes evidence for the success of use of common property rights to solve tragedy of commons. In his paper, Cinner’s discuss how the Western Pacific communities have restricted access to the common maritime resources using a local restrictive approach called the Customary Marine Tenure (CMT). CMT deals with the incorporation of the Western Pacific communities to control marine resources. The main partners are the government and non-governmental organizations in the conservation strategies.

Under the CMT system, access to inshore marine resources is limited by a set of rules implemented and reinforced by families, clans, villages, and others community-based groups. The controls were developed to resolve the past inshore marine resources degradation and overexploitation. There were also rampant conflicts among resource users, mostly the local communities and immigrants. After an analysis of the research, Cinner established that the Customary Marine Tenure had helped in conservation of the inshore resources and degradation was reduced (9).

In addition, Cinner suggests that socioeconomic changes, such as immigration, new markets, and reduced dependence on marine resources have a significant influence on the ability of the communities to employ or maintain strong marine tenure regimes (Cinner 10). CMT has also proved to withstand other socioeconomic aspects, such as population growth (p.10). For example, low levels of immigration show strong CMT.

Generally, the common property faces the problem of overexploitation with the resource users acting as free riders to fulfill individual desires known as “Tragedy of commons.” There have been proposals to use prescriptive form of regulations such as government regulations and privatization of the resources. The approaches have proved ineffective, consequently, recent sustainable scholars, such as Seabright, proposing use of common property rights to solve the tragedy of commons. Common property rights have benefits that prove it effective such as developing common interests among resource users and better alignments of incentives for the conservation of the commons. Indo Pacific Customary Marine Tenure is a good example of the effectiveness of common property right to solve commons problems. The Western pacific communities have reduced degradation of the inshore marine resources using the CMT system.

Works Cited

Cinner, Joshua. “Socioeconomic Factors Influencing Customary Marine Tenure in the Indo-Pacific.” Ecology and Society, vol. 10, no.1, 2005, p. 36.

Hardin, Garrett. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science, vol. 162, no. 3859, 1968, pp. 1243–1248

SeaBright, Paul. “Managing Local Commons: Theoretical Issues in Incentive Design.” Journal of Economic Perspective, vol. 7, no. 4, 1993. pp. 113-134

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