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Compare private land ownership and communal land tenure with regards to ecologically sustainable resource use. Pay particular attention to social/cultural factors. What was harding missing?

The main theme of this essay is the supposedly irreconcievable conflict between rational individuals and community interest. This thesis was  made famous by Harding. It was originally thought to have far reaching policy implications with regards to communal ownership and resource management, as it concluded that a community cannot manage its resources adequatelly in a scarce or changing environment. Privatisation and strong egalitarian state ownership have been the two solutions offered by contemporary writers just a decade ago. Evidence now, however, suggests that communal resource management is perfectly viable and leads to more welfare than a private management. Furthermore, a number of privatisations have failed depleting many irrenewable resources. The problem is causing misery to many and needs an urgent solution. This solution is, as I am going to show, more likely to arise from adopting and adjusting the old communal ways to nowadays changes, than from introducing a completely new system, that destoys the old customs. The commons situation was described as a Prisoners Dilemma game leading to unco-operative outcome. But its a game where we can change the payoffs (through common rules, taxes, customs, moral code and enforcement agencies), then why do we have to change the game itself! However, each case is unique and we must not assume the existence of "a general theory of ecologically sustainable resource use" than can easily be proven. That is why I am trying to view a number of different case studies and reach an individual conclusion for each one of them. I try also to identify the common problems, so that it is easier to offer solutions to further case studies.

Before I get on to specific examples, evidence and theory about the different ownership methods, let me clarify the terms I am going to use. It is especially important not to confuse common property and open access property. This was a crucial mistake Harding did in his original article. Common property means that there is a group of people to whom the property belongs. However this group is limited and people can be excluded from it. An example might be a boat that is owned by a village. Everyone in the village can use it, but people outside cannot. Open access property, on the other hand, is a property that can be used by everyone who likes. It is impossible to exclude people from using it. Anexample could be fish in the sea or clean air. There is also private property, of  course. This is owned by an individual exclusively. However, not all property can be classifyed under these terms. Most of the new successful developments in modernising the ownership of property in tribal communities has involved creating some form of hybrid property that is a mix of both private and common. For example a crop grown in person's own bit of the common land is a hybrid. The intermediate goods will be a major topic in this essay as the empirical evidence suggest their good suitability.

There are numerous different theories about the outcome of commons and that of private ownership. None of them is exceptionally good, but as I said earlier we are not looking for a general theory here.

Many writers have used the term common property resource. This, however, means that the resource cannot be used otherwise. However, most of the time only open-access resource deserves this kind of classification as it is very hard to change its status. Resources used commonly today can be privatised tomorrow, so this kind of classification is not correct.

People use resources commonly, because they find it is more appropriate. Besides the old romantisized view of commons as being something ultimate for human nature, there are also a number of good economical reasons in using resources commonly. Main one is the economies of scale arising from the resource usage together. Tasks can be shared and less effort needs to be put into producing goods. There are also historical reasons behind the commons. Most of the old management was done in commons. People have old institutions that used to manage the commons. These institutions are an asset as well. It is often very expensive to change the property status. The human society would also lose the assets it has gained over  the past.


Hardin said that there is the tragedy of commons, meaning that, given his assumption, commons will always fail to work and lead to overproduction. Whitehead has defined the tragedy as being a situation where one can do very little about it. This is exactly the kind of situation Hardin is talking about in here - there is no technical solution how a common can organise itself in a way that prevents overproduction. By technical solution Hardin meant a solution within the system, a solution whereby advising of the commons or just waiting would lead to the desired outcome. To prove this he uses an example of free breeding rights. This would ultimatelly lead to massive overpopulation. The world is finite and can support only a finite amount of people. Furthermore, it pays an individual almost always to have an extra child, because he derives all the utility from him/her (i.e. the taking care and helping out) whereas everyone else has to share the bad arising from overpopulation. This means thet the extra crowding out in the world would be unnoticable to the individual having the child. Hardin argues that in a world like this we are not maximising welfar. Maximising the nuber of people and thus maximising their welfare was Bethan goal, Harding points out that it is impossible to maximise two things at the same time, the so called differential equation problem. People also use some calories to work.  These could be allocated to new people, leaving everyone suffering.

I must point out a this stage some criticism about that theory, although I will get further into critics when I hae looked at my empirical evidence, which Hardin did not do much in his theory. First of all none of the variables are independent in his equation. The human well-being is usually measured in terms of comparative evidence, not absolute. Similarly humans have ability to  limit their growth, unlike other animals. So the maximisation problem relies on false assumptions.

The debate of how to manage the resources had been going on for a very long time before Hardins article. Two main theses havebeen pt forwards by philosophers in this case. Hobbes said that the society will be always in a state of war without the political rule. This view is much  like Hardins. Locke, on the other hand, says that the society will be selfregulating through evolution. Even when each person only produces for themselves, there will be managed sociocultural practices, like religion, birth control, and kinship, emerging (Rappaport, Harris). They emmerge through natural selection - societies that choose to have them will survive and others will diminish out. However, the human race might have stopped its evolution, because it can intelligently affect the natural selection and in fact cause it themselves. The evolution, if it does exist, might not be quick enough to change the humans before all natural resources are depleted. So we should not just rely on the evolution.

We should use deliberate regulations to maintain our society. Resource management can be either by goals directed means-end methods. This is the modern rational method in most management today. However, other means, such as optimal foraging and customary management have also proven succesful in some cases. They are caused by evolution and customs. But as I said about the evolution before, it is fine when it is there, but we should not rely on it.


selfishness, cooperation. Utility in common - small - to you, big +. there must be an efficient agreement. furthermore, a method of co-operation needs to be found.

distribution Hardin - inequality because we cannot define goods like sunshine in moeny.


Alternative theories relaxing Hardin's assumption

looking to future

extended games

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