In the social science literature on the so-called "tragedy of the commons," only a few forms of property rights are identified as appropriate for the effective use and conservation of resources, which will otherwise be overexploited. But in fact, diverse property systems have evolved organically to address the use of scarce natural resources. These systems -- from California’s 1849 gold rush to the fisheries off the shores of Iceland today -- are explored in a new book, Property in Land and Other Resources , co-edited by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and Daniel H. Cole, both of Indiana University. There's also a foreword by Nobel Laureate Douglass C. North.
Over the past several years, much has been written about property rights in land and natural resources by scholars across disciplines including economics, political science, history, and law. This book, based on a 2010 Lincoln Institute conference, begins with a chapter by Thráinn Eggertsson, who examines property rights institutions and the environment using six case studies from his native Iceland, where relatively simple and transparent institutions build on social norms and practices and have general applicability. Dependence on fishing, for example, has led to a system of licenses and quotas that limit harvests and maintain stocks.
The topics addressed in the other chapters and accompanying commentaries include: the nature and variety of existing property systems; new thinking about the California gold rush; the role of psychological entitlement in property allocation; evolving property regimes governing fisheries; the evolution of zoning; attributes of property regimes governing water resources; the nature of property rights in tradable pollution permits; how regulations sometimes create property; and mechanisms for ameliorating property conflicts that arise from the presence of endangered species on privately owned lands.
The book concludes with a look at climate change as the ultimate “tragedy of the commons” and suggests how developed countries could devise and agree on a system for taking in immigrants from nations inundated by rising seas.