Possible use of Common Property to Address Common Problems

Possible use of Common Property to Address Common Problems

The subject of the common property has attracted the attention of governments, NGOs, and ordinary personnel with multiple scholars in the discipline expressing their vast and varied opinions through literature. The “commons” as conventionally regarded are public or “common pool” resources, freely existing and un-allocated by markets. Unlike other public assets with infinite benefits, common pool properties have finite and subtractive benefits, that is, one person’s overutilization of resources results in a scarcity of the same resource for others. These resources are thus subject to congestion, depletion, and degradation (Wade, p.220). In order to address the problems of the commons arising from common property, scholars cite external agency regulation, full privatization, and collective action as the core solutions to over-exploitation of the resources. With reference to Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the commons (Hardin, p.1243-1248), Robert Wade’s The Management of Common Property Resources: Finding a Cooperative Solution (Wade, p.219-234), and Joshua Cinner’s research on Socioeconomic factors influencing customary marine tenure in the Indo-Pacific (Cinner), this paper seeks to highlight the possible uses of common property in addressing the commons problem.

According to Garret Hardin, the exponential growth of the human population can be considered a problem of the commons is a similar analogy to herdsmen sharing a grazing land (Hardin, p.1244). Human beings are short-term, self-centered, and rational actors who seek to make the most of their personal gains. To achieve this, they will take advantage of the common through over-reproduction, rearing of excess cattle in a community pasture as well as polluting the air so long as their individual gains are greater than the costs incurred. In his publication, Hardin argues that the welfare system shields people from bearing the full effects of overproduction, furthermore, a laissez-faire approach would not be effective in solving the problems of the commons (Hardin, p.1244). To counter over-production, there needs to be a force that restricts reproduction.

Giving an external agency the authority to regulate the commons is the desired force needed in addressing some problems of the commons (Wade, p.221). Hardin proposes that just as the government regulates fisheries and air pollution, the right of determining the size of one’s family should be rescinded by it (Hardin). This should be achieved through mutual coercion, and mutually agreed upon legislation. Hardin considers morality to be system sensitive, he argues, “the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed” (Hardin), and therefore in terms of the exponential global population growth, the freedom to reproduce should not be tolerated. Therefore, for the case of population and related problems of the commons, the solution lies in an external agency such as the government enforcing mutually aged upon legislation.

Full privatization of some common-pool resources is an alternative solution to some problems of the commons. Hardin points out that although some commons such as air and water cannot be privatized, the institutionalization of private property usually reduces pollution. Privatization imposes more responsibility on an individual to enforce the sustainability of the property, this makes them cautious as any over-exploitation of the resource would be accompanied by direct consequences to the owner. Furthermore, privatization of public property limits the level of access to the property and thus curbing over-exploitation. Privatization is also advantageous as it improves the quality of services and accelerates the rate of development. Critics of this approach, however, argue that a good number of commons such as earth air, and water are very difficult if not impossible to privatize (Hardin). Such commons are better managed through alternative measures.

Collective action is yet another response to common problems of common property. It refers to the actions of more than a single individual aimed at achieving a common goal or satisfying a shared interest (Wade, p.221). The collective action may involve setting up and adhering to regulations of controlled admission to common-pool resources, the public gain is in the sustainable exploitation of the property. Pessimistic theories on collective action stipulate that collective action be deemed to fail in the absence of coercion or some other special device that would drive people to work towards their common objectives. Despite these arguments, collective action has been proved effective in solving problems of common property in some areas through local arrangements that are independent of outside bodies. Good examples of this approach are the 41 villages of India’s Kurnool district and the Customary Marine Tenure (CMT) system common in parts of the Pacific.

Kurnool is a semi-arid area that relies on natural rainfall and irrigation for agriculture. Most of the district’s villages have a public realm that consists of four basic institutions; a village council, a village standing fund, a group of village guards, and a group of common irrigators (Wade, p.222). All these institutions are independent of government-funded incentives. The council, the field guard, and the irrigators are accountable annually through a meeting attended by all village farmers. The council is the management of public goods and services, which are primarily funded from the village standing fund. The council is also responsible for raising funds for the village fund via different means such as fines and donations. The field guards are responsible for guarding the crops against theft and destruction by animals while irrigators are employed to control the amount of water receivable by each farm in the field. Both the field guards and common irrigators are paid from the village standing kitty. This collective approach system limits over-exploitation of the irrigation water and ensures continuity and sustainable development of the villages.

The second example of collective action as a potential solution to common property problems is the customary marine tenure system applied in parts of the pacific. Under this system, admission to inshore marine resources is governed via social groups mainly individuals, families, clans, and villages  (Cinner). The approach is advantageous as it has the ability to serve both as a legal as well as a cultural base for other vices. As a way of solving common property problems, CMT is deemed very effective since it does not call for the involvement of the central governing authority in terms of implementing changes to social and ecological conditions.

The management of common-pool resources involves designing and implementing potential answers to problems of the commons that arise due to the utilization of public property. These problems usually manifest themselves in form of resource depletion, pollution, or degradation of public property. The potential solutions to these problems lie in, resource and property regulation by an external agent, privatization, and collective action. All these potential solutions, although not without shortfalls and criticisms, have been tested via applications in various parts of the globe and found invaluable. It is therefore to acknowledge that although these solutions may not be applicable as a suit in solving a particular problem, they may be applied singly or in combination depending on the given scenario.

Works Cited

Cinner, Joshua. “Socioeconomic factors influencing customary marine tenure in the Indo-Pacific.” Ecology and Society 10(1): 36 (2005).

Hardin, Garret. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science, New series, Volume 162, Issue 3859 (Dec. 13, 1968): 1243-1248.

Wade, Robert. “The Management of Common Property Resources: Finding a Cooperative Solution.” Research Observer 2, no. 2 (1987): 219-234