2013 Panel at ISNIE Conference

June 21, 2013
University of Florence, Florence, Italy

Workshop alumni Eduardo Araral, Maria P. Recalde, Brian Robinson, and David Skarbek presented papers in a session paying homage to Elinor Ostrom, focusing on common pool and collective action, at the 2013 ISNIE conference. Mary Shirley was organizer and chair, and Gary Libecap was the discussant. The session took place in the Universitá degli Studi di Firenze.


2013 ISNIE panel The Effects of Geography on the Evolution of Property Rights in the Commons: Theory, Evidence and Implications
Eduardo ARARAL
National University of Singapore

In the Northern Region of the Philippines can be found at least three different types of property rights in the same production system operated by the same ethnolinguistic group that has survived for long periods of time. To explain this puzzle, I provide a geographic risk model and building on Libecap's (1989) contracting costs of property rights. I argue that these property systems essentially evolved in equilibrium overtime in response to these geographic risks. I illustrate my model with a comparative study of ancient commons (irrigation) with varied geography and property rights. My findings are consistent with the theoretical expectations. In the mountainous Ifugao region, where there is a need to maintain the ecological integrity of the watershed, the size of rice terraces, and kinship as basis of social order, the primogeniture system of property rights has developed in the last 2000 years. In the 400 year-old Zangjeras, where flooding and droughts require regular mobilization of labor, a unique property system of membership shares – atar – has developed. In the Cagayan Valley, where there is little risk of floods and droughts, typical modern private property rights have been adopted. The paper has four implications. First, it suggests that risk analysis should be incorporated into the study of the emergence and evolution of institutions in general and property rights in the commons in particular. Second, it helps explain the causes, consequences, diversity and vulnerability of institutions governing the commons. Third, the emergence, assignment, enforcement and transfer of property rights have important implications for the allocation of resources and the nature of production in the commons. Finally, understanding the effects of geographic risks has important practical implications for climate adaption in the commons and smallholder agriculture in particular.

2013 ISNIE Local Leadership and the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods:
Field Evidence from Bolivia
B. Kelsey Jack and Maria P. RECALDE
Tufts University and the University of Pittsburgh

We conduct a controlled field experiment in 52 communities in rural Bolivia to investigate the effect that local authorities have on voluntary public good provision. In our study, community members pool resources to provide environmental education material for local schools. We find that voluntary contributions increase when democratically elected local authorities lead by example. The results are driven by two factors: (1) individuals give more when they are called upon to lead than when they give in private, and (2) high leader contributions increase the contributions of others. Both effects are stronger when authorities, as compared to randomly selected community members, lead by example. We explore two underlying channels of leadership influence. First, we show that leaders signal information about the quality of the public good through their contribution decisions. Second, we explore how leader characteristics affect the likelihood that others follow. Specifically, our study shows that randomly selected community members are more influential the more they resemble authorities on observable characteristics.

2013 ISNIE Institutions for Spatially Managing the Harvest of Wild Forest Products: Implications for Welfare and Ecology
McGill University

Wild forests products benefit many rural communities in developing countries. Often these forests also contain globally valuable ecosystem services, such as biodiversity and carbon, which may not be as important to local communities. This paper develops a spatial model for harvesting non-timber forest products (NTFPs), like wild mushrooms or medicinal plants. It asks: how much can management of harvests simultaneously improve welfare and ecological outcomes? I develop a theoretical model that accounts for the shape of the forest, the size of the harvest community, and incorporates real-world constraints. The results first show that even under open access conditions (uncooperative competition), if the forest is large relative to the size of the community then harvesters still profit. Second, managing a forest to maximize NTFP value does not always protect other regionally or globally important ecosystem services like biodiversity or water storage capacity. Using a unique dataset of mushroom harvests in Yunnan, China, I test for characteristics associated with harvester's foraging distance. The results support the theoretical model's spatial foundation, suggesting harvesters travel farther to avoid competition. More experienced and less-wealthy households tend to rely on more distant harvests. There are livelihood benefits to cooperation but potential ecological costs in some contexts. Regardless, limiting access likely disproportionately affects the most vulnerable.

2013 ISNIE Prison Gangs and Polycentric Governance Regimes
King's College London

How do prisoners create order in the inmate social system? Inmates must devise their own self-governance mechanisms to define and enforce property rights to personal and common property. They cannot rely on formal governance mechanisms to enforce agreements in contraband markets. Officials will not provide many of the public goods that inmates demand, such as assaulting those deemed undesirable, including sex offenders, former police, and informants. Inmates provide these self-governance mechanisms in a polycentric system organized around race, ethnicity, and geographic origin. The core features of this system coincide with the lessons that Elinor Ostrom has identified as characterizing sustainable governance regimes. The high volume of contraband activity demonstrates the effectiveness of these mechanisms. The prison setting provides a difficult case for extralegal and polycentric governance regimes because it houses people of a biased agent type. In contrast to conventional wisdom among economists, this paper shows that a large group of heterogeneous people with high discount rates, few resources, and a willingness to violate the law can produce order and engage in a flourishing marketplace outside the law.