Sunday, June 21, 2020

Tina Su Cooper Medical Update

My beloved wife, Tina Su Cooper, has been home for a month or so after two operations, one of them uncovering what would have been a lethal infection if it had continued undetected. She then had four weeks of intravenous antibiotics that saved her life, thanks to the skilled nursing care she gets at home, paid for through my IBM retirement benefits. 

We have had Tina out of bed for a half-hour or so each afternoon the past few days. She is still lethargic,  but sharper when awake than she was in the half-dozen weeks before.

Today, she dozed briefly during a Home and Garden TV program, and I took the opportunity to change channels to watch a few more minutes of news. She awoke during this, read the caption, and asked me, "What's a 'pandemic'?" She clearly understood the answer. 

We returned to watching HGTV, but I happily realized she is still processing information surprisingly well.

Her vital signs are all within normal limits, and her cognitive skills are improving, with our hopes and prayers. She remains our dear, sweet heroine.

Saturday, June 6, 2020


Question Yourself: 365 Questions to Explore Your Inner Self  & Reveal Your True Nature

Socrates enjoined us, “Know thyself.” He helped his followers achieve greater understanding by using what we call, “the Socratic method,” questions designed to reveal fundamental truths. We are more likely to retain and benefit from insights we have reached that way than those spoon-fed to us.

This excellent new book by David Edelstein and I. C. Robledo, entitled Question Yourself: 365 Questions to Explore Yourself & Reveal Your True Nature, brings the Socratic method to the modern audience in paperback or Kindle ebook format, at bargain prices at I bought the Kindle version, which is well done, and I might want to get the paperback, too, because of its useful format.

With “365 Questions” and 365 days in the year (except leap years, like 2020, giving us an extra day to take a break from soul-searching), it is natural to set out to answer one question per day, and most convenient to write one’s answer in the space provided under the question in the paperback version.

There are 11 topics, although that fact is not revealed until the end of the book: Identity, Relating to Others, Love, Action, Ethics, Spirituality, Feelings, Knowledge and Learning, Money, Truth, and Time. For example, there are 14 questions relating to Truth (an issue I find very important) and 35 relating to Money (not a big interest of mine). Other topics having particularly many questions include Identity, Relating to Others, and Ethics. Page by page, the questions are not segregated by topic, so one encounters a variety of topics day by day, although one can find all the numbered questions listed by topic at the book’s end.

To give the flavor of the book, I start with question #1, “Are you ultimately defined by your strengths or by your weaknesses?” Hmm. My youth was defined by success in school (and not in sports) and my career (environmental science research and teaching) defined by scientific and writing aptitude. It would have helped to have been handsome. Now, my physical weaknesses/limitations are more influential. “Define” seems to come from the same linguistic roots as “finite” and “final” and relates to endings and boundaries.

How about the next question, “What was a great mistake you made which ended up having a positive outcome.” Easy: married the wrong woman the first time and married the right one after that first marriage failed.

Here’s #350, “How does almost dying change things?” I’d say: you understand not to sweat the small stuff…and most of the stuff is small!

You get the idea…and pondering the questions will generate more ideas.

Besides the questions, the authors offer links to additional helpful tools, and they welcome correspondence from their readers. I.C. Robledo lists and links to over a dozen of his books from which to obtain further guidance and insight. David Edelstein and Robledo both welcome your email.

To learn a bit more, I went to and searched for Issac Robledo’s works and found the following, a treasure trove in both English and Spanish:

The book is a bargain in either paperback or ebook format. Not to be missed.


Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.
Formerly, Associate Professor of Environmental Physics
Harvard (now Chan) School of Public Health

Saturday, May 23, 2020

WATER WARS, Ch. 9 "Managing the Commons"

Water Wars Sharing the Colorado River
In many states, water is a right that does not require any legal contract to prove ownership of it. Like air, it is viewed as a necessity to which we all are entitled. (Gallagher, 2017) This can lead to disputes over who can use how much when.

Governing the Commons (Ostrom, 2015)

Elinor Ostrom began her interest in the “problems of collective action faced by individuals using common-pool resources” in the 1960s, as a graduate student researching “the development of institutions related to water resources in southern California.” Eventually she was to publish a highly respected book (Ostrom, 2015) about managing resources in “the commons,” a book that gives many examples of successful practices, based on studies of the efficiency and equity of numerous organizational arrangements to handle “common-pool resources” (CPRs). A colleague at Indiana University, Fenton Martin, assembled roughly 5000 cases of such collective action, from all over the world. (Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this chapter are from Ostrom, 2015.) With her co-workers, Ostrom assembled a subset of case studies, each of which included, in her words:
        the structure of the resource system,
        the attributes and behaviors of the appropriators,
        the rules that the appropriators were using, and
        the outcomes resulting from the behaviors of the appropriators.
Ostrom notes in her introduction to her book that the three generic options are national (“state”) control, control by the appropriators, and market privatization. She concludes that neither the state nor the market has uniformly been successful “in enabling individuals to sustain long-term productive use of natural resource systems.” In contrast, some user communities, appropriators, have developed “systems with reasonable degrees of success over long periods of times.” She concludes that the theoretical underpinning to understand self-governing institutions in this context are lacking and proceeds to propose alternatives that go beyond “states and markets.”
She hesitates to make broad generalizations, however (Ostrom, 2015): “I do not think it is possible to elucidate necessary and sufficient principles for enduring institutions….”
Ostrom generalizes from the “tragedy of the commons” and the “prisoners’ dilemma” models to the issue of “free riders,” individuals who can obtain for free benefits at the costs of others in their group. Then she comments that the limitations on controlling the behavior of the free riders assumed in the models may not hold in real life, and thus the outcomes may well not be as poor as these models/metaphors predict. From such pessimism comes the conclusion, which she disputes, that only firm governmental control can prevent the “tragedy,” or sub-optimal utilization. Such policies have been instituted in many Third World countries. Ostrom gives a prisoners’ dilemma game analysis that shows that inaccurate information held by the state can lead to ruin, too. Similarly, she finds deficiencies in assigning property rights to commons participants. She concludes that neither centralized control nor privatization is universally optimal. Rather, “many solutions exist to cope with many different problems,” and optimal solutions are likely to have to be developed (“a difficult, time-consuming, conflict-invoking process”) by the participants themselves rather than be imposed on them.
Ostrom proposes another model, one in which the participants can regulate themselves with binding laws/contracts, established unanimously. The players have an incentive to monitor each other and a referee to enforce penalties. She gives as an example the successful use of agreedupon daily rotation through a set of fishing locations in Turkey, with monitoring (and enforcement) handled by the fishermen themselves. Factors internal to the group involved or external to it may make some arrangements feasible and others not. She lists the difficulties faced by “centralizers” and “privatizers” that make any sweeping generalization likely to be wrong. “Policies based on metaphors can be harmful,” she concludes. One might say, “the devil is in the details.” Examples of disastrous nationalization are given for formerly communal forests and fisheries.
Ostrom hopes to “contribute to the development of an empirically supported theory of self-organizing and self-governing forms of collective action.” Her empirical base is limited to CPRs “located within one country and the number of individuals affected varies from 50 to 15,000 persons who are heavily dependent on the CPR for economic returns.” Applicability to the Colorado River Basin remains in question, as this common-pool resource is within one country but has orders of magnitude more persons dependent upon it, even if we limit that count to the number of entrepreneurs, broadly defined. She investigates what has and has not proven to be successful. The major issues involved in such activities are:
        commitment problems,
        supplying new institutions,
        monitoring individual compliance.
While “public goods,” like the atmosphere, are available to all and virtually inexhaustible, common-pool resources are limited, which is why there is a particular advantage to limiting those who use them, those who “appropriate” them. The participants in any such CPR will make their decisions based, it is assumed, on the following:
        expected benefits,
        expected costs,
        internal norms,
        discount rates (how future benefits and costs are compared to benefits and costs at the present).
Furthermore, their decisions will be affected by how they react to the choices made by others and how others react to them. Some will act independently. Acting in concert will also generally be more beneficial than acting alone. However, there are costs to organizing, and freeriding is likely.
Two simple models are presented: the firm and the state.
In a firm, the entrepreneur negotiates binding contracts with others to work together and he derives a profit (or a loss) because of their joint activities. The entrepreneur has an incentive to achieve efficiency to maximize returns.
In the state, the ruler monopolizes the use of force and uses the coercion of law to develop structures that contribute to the common good. The ruler gives some of the benefits to the ruled and keeps the rest. The state is at risk from internal rebellion and external conquest.
In both the firm and the state, the principal has incentives to monitor performance and to enforce compliance. There remain the problems of creating new rules if needed, maintaining credible commitment despite the temptation to cheat, and monitoring each participant’s conformance to the rules.
Some situations defy simple modeling. For example, for water supplies, “whether or not to steal water and whether or not to monitor the behaviors of others who might be stealing.” The benefits and costs of cheating and monitoring, for example, can produce rather different situations. Following Gardner et al. (1990), Ostrom and co-workers divide the problems into two approximate groups: “appropriation” problems and “provision” problems, thus, using and supplying. The first set concern time-independent allocation of the flow, and the second set require time-dependent maintenance of the supply.
As difficult as developing a successful CPR system may be, some have succeeded: “But some individuals have created institutions, committed themselves to follow rules, and monitored their own conformance to their agreements, as well as their conformance to the rules in a CPR situation. Trying to understand how they have done this the challenge of this study,” Ostrom writes.
Before that discussion, however, she presents some exploration of possible lessons from game theory.


A classic game theory model is that of Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD), where two parties must decide whether to cooperate (for example as crime suspects, whether to tell the same story) or disagree. If they both confess, they will get a minimum sentence. If one confesses and the other does not, the confessor will get a maximum sentence and the other will be set free, and if both deny, they will get an intermediate sentence. If they can trust each other, they can optimize: they can both confess and get a mild sentence. If one double-crosses the other, the confessor gets slammed. More broadly framed, there are advantages to cheating if you get away with it and the others do not cheat. It seems like the free-rider problem, where some can profit at the benefit of the others, leading to all of them trying to profit that way. There are many variations of the PD game, and game theorists have studied them in detail and looked for methods to optimize the outcome, inducing all to cooperate within the rules.
Theory helps highlight the important variables and parameters, but experience must confirm theory for theory to be correct. Ostrom concludes that the theoretical outcomes have often been incorrectly pessimistic about the possibility of successful collective action among appropriators (users) and providers. The situations sometimes fail to match the assumptions of the models, “In many irrigation systems… the fundamental choices facing appropriators are whether or not to steal water and whether or not to monitor the behaviors of others who might be stealing…and does not reduce down to any simple game.” [Our emphasis added.] The optimum turns out to depend on the number of users and the costs and benefits of stealing and of monitoring.
To simplify the analyses, Ostrom and colleagues have separated the analyses into studying appropriation problems and provision problems. “Appropriation problems are concerned with the allocation of the flow: provision problems are concerned with the stock. Appropriation problems are time-independent; provision problems are time-dependent.” Every CPR situation involves both.
Appropriation problems focus on who uses how much, with what investment. The incentives for users who act independently leads to overinvestment by them in any unconstrainted factor (like equipment) to get as much of the resource as rapidly as they can. Where the value of access varies with time and/or place, the appropriators are likely to conflict with each other and to limit their investments in provision activities.
Provision problems can include the setting-up costs and the maintenance costs for the resource; organizing set-up and maintenance can be challenging. Free-riding will limit investment, and the free-riders could deplete the resource to the exclusion of others. Withdrawal rates may need to be regulated and monitored and enforced. Modeling collective action problems remains difficult.
Over time, physical conditions change, technology changes, participants change, institutions change, rules change. The rules themselves are at three different levels: operational (day-to-day), collective-choice (policies of the appropriators), constitutional (legal, big-picture laws and rules). Rules within rules complicate the analysis, clearly. Theoretical analysis usually proceeds by studying the rules at one level, keeping those at other levels unchanged.


Ostrom examines a series of cases of successful and failing self-organized CPRs to “advance theoretical understand of a theory of self-organized collective action….” The systems analyzed were as young as 100 years old and even older than 1000 years. The successes have as a notable characteristic the conformance to the rules of the organization despite the large value to successful cheating and the relatively small cost of the fines for cheating. Ostrom derives some principles from these analyses, and she notes that some of these principles are contrary to what market economists would recommend, including the retaining of communal real property rather than the maintenance of individual property rights. These examples come from Swiss, Japanese, and Spanish cases.
The examples are interesting. In the Swiss community of Torbel, rights to graze on the common property were limited to locals or to those admitted to community membership. To keep any one owner from grazing an excessive number of cows on the commons in the summer, they were limited from the year 1517 on to the number that they fed over the winter, a “wintering” rule enforced by a local official, who kept half of any fines for himself. The local alp association “includes all local citizens owning cattle” and meets regularly to vote on the rules to be applied. Fees and share of the cheese produced are assigned pro rata by the number of cows grazed by each family/owner. Much private property exists outside the commons, and it is maintained and passed on by inheritance by the families that own it. When harvesting the trees, the villagers form communal work groups, create many roughly equal piles of timber, and allot these by lottery.
Ostrom cites work that states the Japanese have had extensive use of commons land for centuries and have devised “rules, monitoring arrangements, and sanctions…for regulating the commons” successfully. The common lands exist side-by-side with private plots. The commons lands typically are not as bountiful per acre as the private lands, due to geographical and other physical features. Hay was, for example, harvested communally, then baled, and the bales allocated evenly by lottery. Households were required to contribute assigned amounts of labor. Village detectives and even “citizen’s arrest” were used to enforce the rules. Equipment and harvested material might be confiscated, and extreme cases could lead to ostracism and banishment.
Huerta irrigation institutions were initiated in 1435 in the Valencia region of Spain, Ostrom explains, to determine who had the right to take water from the canals and who would do what to maintain them. They formalized rules, some of which were in place for about 1000 years, rules which lessened conflict over precious water in the semi-arid region. Land with ancient history of getting water has special rights to continue to be irrigated, with a quantity of water proportional to its area. In times of abundance, certain other lands can also receive water. Water courts meet weekly to settle disputes regarding water from the seven canals from the Turia River. The rules of apportionment change somewhat depending on whether there is “abundance” (rare), seasonal low water (usual), and extraordinary drought. During seasonal low water, the flow is directed through each of the canals in turn and then to farmers, from the head to the tail of the canal. A farmer can take as much as he wants but must not waste it. During extraordinary drought, steps are taken to direct the flow to those whose crops are in greatest need of it. Much monitoring is needed, largely by the farmers and “ditch-riders.” “…everyone is watching everyone else….” The fines were relatively small compared to the value of cheating, but honor and reputation weighed heavily, according to analysis of records from the 15th century.
Murcia and Orihuela along the Segura River also had rules for controlling the distribution of water in a region more arid than Valencia. Most of the farms were smaller than 2.5 acres (a hectare) and 86% were smaller than 12.5 acres. Irrigated and non-irrigated lands were designated long ago. “Each farmer is assigned a tanda, a fixed time period during which he may withdraw water,” thus knowing when and how long, but not how much, water will be available, helping him to plan and giving an incentive not to waste the water. Under drought conditions, other rules apply. There are formal agencies and procedures to regulate all this, and the court procedures are “oral, public, summary, and cheap.”
Alicante is a smaller area with even less water, but the building of the Tibi Dam in 1594 roughly doubled the available water. A system of marketable (even rentable) water rights developed that distinguished between pre-dam and post-dam rights and has a regular auction of the rights. The managing syndicate also has 90 hours of water rights that it sells, given to it in 1926 to underwrite the cost of managing the system. The water is supplied to the canals in rotation. The farmers pay the ditch-riders for the water used. Voting rights and rights to elective office depend on amount of land owned.
Political scientists and economists who have studied these Spanish water-allocation practices have concluded that the Alicante system has worked the best and that all three water-sharing systems created a net benefit for the communities involved.
Zanjera Irrigation Communities in the Philippines “determine their own rules, choose their own officials, guard their own systems, and maintain their own canals,” Ostrom notes. Often the irrigation systems are constructed by tenant farmers who are given the right “to the produce from a defined portion of the newly irrigated land.” Each member of the zanjera has a single vote and has assigned duties and material-obtaining obligations. Each area is divided into three or more sections “Each farmer is assigned a plot in each section,” meaning each farmer has some of the best and some of the worst. Some land at the tail end of the flow is assigned to the officials, giving them an incentive to try to get water all the way to the end. Some land provided income for the zanjera itself. Getting the “volunteer” labor for fixing the system in monsoon periods or extreme heat waves is a continuing challenge. The number of days of work obligation in 1980 ranged from 32 to 86, depending on the ownership details. Attendance was about 94%, surprisingly high. Water is usually abundant, so the enforcement of rules centers on the work requirements. During droughts, strict enforcement is used to assure that those even at the end of the flow channels get water, which is in general apportioned roughly in accord with the work and materials contributions. The water apportionment is sub-optimal regarding crop production but has general acceptance in the community, an important advantage.


Ostrom notes the following similarities:
        uncertain and complex environments,
        stable populations,
        extensive communal norms,
        group homogeneity,
        institutional robustness.
That the rules are rather different from one country to another may indicate that they have been tailored to the situation and the mores of those involved. Ostrom tentatively suggests that the following design principles hold:
1.      Clearly defined boundaries.
2.      Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions.
3.      Collective-choice arrangements.
4.      Monitoring.
5.      Graduated sanctions.
6.      Conflict-resolution mechanisms.
7.      Minimal recognition of rights to organize.
8.      Nested enterprises [for CPRs part of larger systems].
Ostrom then presents the case that these principles are needed to obtain commitments, assure monitoring, and support the replication of the CPR institutions across generations.
We note that recent laboratory research by Fowler and Christakis (2010) found that the good example of some individuals in providing for others stimulated similar responses in observers in social networks who had nothing formally to gain from being similarly generous. Some of this likely operates in the situations studied by Ostrom. This goes beyond tit-for-tat, quid pro quo, as these observers were not recipients of the favors, nor could they expect favors in the future from this onetime set-up. They were influenced by the good examples.


Ostrom (2015) presents the results of analyses of water rationing policy in the Los Angeles Basin she studied in the 1950s and 1960s, finding the following historical categories of priorities in water rights:
        Those owners of land overlying the groundwater supply who used the water right on that land (“landowner”). They had rights to full flow of the water, except during a period of extreme scarcity. During periods of scarcity, neighbors had the right to siphon water even if it reduced that available to the landowner, who would legally be allowed only a proportionate claim to the water he could put to beneficial use rather than an absolute claim.
        Those owners of land overlying the groundwater supply who used the water to serve areas other than on that land (“appropriator”). Examples included private and public water companies. The appropriators were encouraged to “withdraw ‘surplus water’ or water that was not being put to beneficial use by the overlying landowners, the amount depending on when the appropriator started to withdraw the water, how much he put to beneficial use, and whether or not the use was continuous.” This is the familiar “prior-appropriation” regime. However, “the rights of the most senior appropriators were potentially subordinate to those of overlying landowners.”
        Some appropriators gained water rights by the common-law doctrine (like “adverse possession” of real estate property) of “adverse use.” To understand this, one needs the definition of “surplus water,” water that was above that of the “safe yield” (average yearly addition of water to the basis) and was not being put to beneficial use. “An appropriator had to take non-surplus water openly and continuously for more than five years to perfect prescriptive rights. Once perfected, prescriptive rights were superior to those of overlying owners and appropriators.” This was a license to take water when a surplus existed, which often was known only retrospectively.
Ostrom (2015) noted that this boiled down to “open-access CPR for which clear limits have not been established regarding who can withdraw how much water.” Much litigation was generated, but the overlying landowners faced the possibility of paying for court cases ultimately lost because the court ruled the defendant was withdrawing surplus water only or, if they waited too long to go to court, they could lose because the appropriators had been using the water so long they had “perfected” their rights to take the water. The incentives for excessive withdrawal were substantial and the lack of knowledge about the actual water supply was widespread. Pump now, defend later became the pattern. Fortunately, through a series of steps, “the participants used public arenas to impose constraints upon themselves,” as Ostrom (2015) emphasized.

The Raymond Basin

Ostrom (2015) presented a game-theoretical analysis of the situation faced by the city of Pasadena and 30 other municipalities in the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which had led to a court case, the water referee for which found that “the yearly withdrawals from the basin were 29,400 acre-feet, whereas the safe yield of the basin was 21,900, leading to an annual overdraft of 8,500 acre feet per year.” The rights of the participants depended strongly on whether the judge decided there had been no surplus for over five years and thus the appropriators obtained superior rights or that overlying landowners had rights to a certain amount of the supply, and what was left over was “surplus” to be divided among the appropriators according to their seniority. Other outcomes were possible. Both groups had possible large losses as well as litigation costs. After much negotiation, the parties agreed to a settlement that treated all as having openly used the water during more than five years of shortage and all (with one small exception) were granted their proportional rights to the safe yield amount, with the right to trade with each other. A watermaster and water pool were established. The solution was more rapid and likely less costly than continued litigation.

The West Basin

The West Basin is adjacent to the ocean and, at 170 square miles in area, is much larger that the Raymond Basin, from which the users could take their cue. However, there were roughly 500 parties, no one dominant, though 19 were major, and the risk of sea intrusion affected only those on the coast. During and right after World War II, the coast areas noted increases in well water salinity. By 1945, a committee had determined that an ongoing association was needed, that alternative water sources needed to be discovered, and that legal action like that of the Raymond Basin was needed to reduce pumping and establish rationing. A newsletter was established that disseminated for nearly a decade the information being developed on the West Basin.
Most West Basin users were in favor of the approach of proportional allocation used for the Raymond Basin. Several entities remained holdouts. The referee’s report was a major surprise: it put the safe yield at only 30,000 acre-feet per year, but the groundwater withdrawals had already reached 90,000 acre-feet per year by 1952, requiring a two-thirds reduction. Negotiations continued, using the West Basin Water Association as their locus, and it established a Legal Settlement Committee of 11 members, a committee Ostrom credits with changing the perception of the problem and its solution. The committee was expected to favor a proportional-reduction solution. Eventually, via “Prescriptive Rights, 1949,” amounts of water were established, and the users were urged to sign a contingent contract to reduce their use to this level (a total of 63,000 acre-feet) if 80% of the users also agreed to it. This interim agreement went into effect in November 1952 and held for seven years with only a couple of hold-outs, the California Water Company that voluntarily reduced its use, and the city of Hawthorne that increased its use, arguing that a city’s needs were more important than the industry users’ needs. By 1961, 82% of the adjudicated rights had signed a binding final agreement, partly inspired by early signing done by the largest user, the Dominguez Water Corporation. The agreement was made final by court order. The non-signatories, including Hawthorne, were ordered to comply too. Hawthorne appealed and lost. “…the adjudication in Raymond Basin amounted to an annualized cost of 50 cents per acre-foot of water rights allocated whereas the adjudication costs in West Basin amounted to an annualized cost of $2.50 per acre-foot of water rights.” Annual costs of monitoring in each basin was approximately $3 per acre-foot, thus higher than the one-time adjudication costs.

The Central Basin

The Central Basin is the largest of the three (277 sq. mi. surface) and used by about 750 well owners in the 1950s, with little coastal exposure. A Central Basin Water Association was formed with the hope it would be able to learn from the experiences of the Raymond and West Basin associations. Before going to court, Central employed experts to determine current conditions and past usage, and they obtained an interim agreement signed by holders of 79% of the rights before going to court. A 20% reduction was agreed to. In the end, the minimal litigation costs were about a half-million dollars.
Comparison of These Cases Ostrom notes the following:
The Raymond situation was simplified by the dominant usage of Pasadena (50%), which took early action before the numerous smaller pumpers had become accustomed to large withdrawals; treating all users as appropriators equally allowed a proportional reduction strategy to be accepted.
The West Basin problems included having many parties, no dominant party, and asymmetrical risks of inland vs. coastal pumpers. Proportional reductions again were the outcome, though not enough reduction was obtained to reach the safe yield matching the average input.
The Central Basin had the advantages of more time to decide and less coastal/inland asymmetry of interests, and they acted before it would be necessary to cut back more than 20%, aided by the early adoption of expert engineering advice.
Several decades have passed, with only insignificant infractions. Watermasters keep accurate, detailed records and make them readily available, making the information “common knowledge” in game-theory parlance. The watermasters do not initiate court actions, remaining neutral providers of reliable information. Rare infractions have usually quickly stopped, although newcomers have needed to be targets of some legal actions. The watermaster budgets are two-thirds paid by the rights owners, and they can petition to have a watermaster removed if not satisfied.

“The Polycentric Public-Enterprise Game”

To the public bodies already involved was added the Central and West Basin Water Replenishment District in 1959, with the authority to tax, sue, and provide collective goods; it has “restored water levels throughout both basins, has completed a freshwater barrier…and it now engaged in focused efforts to eliminate pumping troughs….” The costs are low compared with adding surface water storage facilities. It receives the funds assessed on all water pumping operations throughout the two basins and eventually changed suppliers of its water to obtain even lower costs.
“…private water associations remain active in each of the basins.” Public officials meet with them frequently. The same people are often active in both the public and the private associations at different times in their lives. A market for water usage rights has developed. “This system is neither centrally owned or centrally regulated.”
“Markets for water rights have emerged in all of the southern California basins that used litigation to assign defined water shares to parties.” Typically, the agricultural users have slowly sold their rights.

“The Analysis of Institutional Supply”

Ostrom (2015) notes how institutions have developed to offset the logical desire for the pumpers of water to pump as much as they want/ can/need and ignore the long-term consequences of so doing, setting off a “pumping race,” for decades, even as water levels fell and salt water intruded from the sea. Surprisingly, to those believing in the “tragedy of the commons,” these same users came together to establish and fund institutions to maintain the water supply they need. The process involved many small steps, and the participants could observe the actions of others and the results, learning from each other. Their discussions helped shape litigation strategies and develop sound knowledge about the basins to shape enforceable agreements to benefit many rather than a few. The pumpers paid most of the costs, but the state of California contributed as well, especially through the provision of facilities and technical advice. Home rule principles helped in the formation of various water districts and associations. The key to success in Ostrom’s opinion is an “incremental, sequential, and self-transforming process of institutional change….”
Ostrom writes that one should assume “that all recurring situations are shaped by a set of institutional rules…. prescriptive statements that forbid, require or permit some action or outcome.” [Our emphasis.] She notes that the costs for establishing, changing, and administering the rules can be major, but need not always be so. Small changes typically have small costs and yet may have large pay-offs. Whether such changes are adopted depends on their perceived costs and benefits versus the status quo. Ostrom then goes on to analyzing situations that had failures in establishing successful institutions (her Chapter 5) and those that did meet with success (her Chapter 6).


Ostrom (2015) gives numerous examples of unsuccessful attempts to establish common pool resource governance.
Two Turkish inshore fisheries: Bodrum has a few hundred fishers in its inshore fishery, which was successful up to the 1970s, when the Turkish government encouraged the construction of larger trawling vessels for use in the area. The policy led to many newcomers, and the value of fishing there dropped below the costs, the total catch remaining about the same but the cost per unit caught increasing. A voluntary association failed. The new conditions produced six distinct interest groups:
        Small-scale coastal fishermen,
        Larger-scale operators,
        Unskilled sport fishermen,
        Spear-fishermen, •       Charter-boat operators.
The Bay of Izmir has much the same set-up with ten times the operators, “too many fishers chasing too few fish.” The diversity of interests has led to a lack of cooperation and the formation of institutions to manage the fishery, with Turkey itself ruling by “benign neglect,” with few rules and little enforcement. Size differences and the heterogeneity of interests made finding compromise rules difficult. Ostrom concludes, “In a political regime that does not provide arenas in which low-cost, enforceable agreements can be reached, it is very difficult to meet the potential high cost of self-organization.”
“California Groundwater Basins with Continuing CPR Problemsform another set of failure examples. The groundwater users of San Bernardino County are in an “overdraft condition, even though efforts have been made to allocate water rights through litigation and the creation of water districts.” Overdrafts have been recorded there since the 1950s. Ostrom (2015) tries to determine why. One reason is implicit in her description of the county: it is enormous, large enough to contain the states New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island, and over 80% of it is part of the Mojave Desert. Adding to the complexity: the basins are interconnected with underground channels.
A Mojave Water Agency (MWA) was formed, and in 1960 empowered to tax to support an aqueduct to allow the residents to claim 50,800 acre-feet of water per year. Merely as a source of water, the Agency could have led to the development of many smaller agencies for managing the flows. Instead, the MWA was viewed by some of its leaders as the logical site for over-all control of the water in its domain. Issues that arose included:
        Is the region a single underground river or some combination of a river and groundwater basins?
        How much of the region was experiencing overdrafts?
        Should all groundwater pumpers be treated as equals?
        Should any administrative settlement be determined by the larger pumpers in the north or by all pumpers?
        How should water rights and land rights be treated?
The principals viewed the area as “a single underground basin with a well-documented history of overdraft conditions…all groundwater pumpers as having coequal rights….” They tried to separate land and water rights. “No voluntary water associations were created to facilitate discussion of these issues, and no consensus emerged….” A political free-for-all developed. “No action has since been taken to limit groundwater pumping,” Ostrom notes. The diversity of the interests and of the problems and their scale has led to their not being handled effectively, she concludes.

Sri Lanka

Ostrom also describes the failure of local and national institutions to correct for the destruction of a once-effective means of local determination of the right to fish on a beach in the Sri Lankan village of Mawelle. Lack of enforcement, along with bribes and cheating and political corruption and power, has led to economically unproductive conditions generally viewed as unfair. “External intervention to prevent rule enforcement against political favorites undermines the viability of common-property arrangements,” Ostrom concludes.
To try to get rule changes or favorable interpretations, local users will be seen to be at an advantage when dealing with officials who are not local and thus have a weaker grasp of the local facts.
Irrigation Development Projects in Sri Lanka” provide more examples. Although new varieties of rice help improve output, Ostrom notes that the major factor is the land under cultivation, mostly controlled by the extent of irrigation by small dams and long canals on this island nation, and these irrigation projects have consistently failed to live up to the projections made for them when the money was allocated by the government. Costs have exceeded benefits. Rice yield is sensitive to water shortage and insensitive to water over-abundance, so there is no incentive to conserve watering; in fact, over-watering is effective at controlling weeds.
The only incentive to moderating the use of water is its cost, but the farmers pay little or none of it. The water is not efficiently used, and the yields are below optimal. The farmers take as much as they can get away with, and they resist efforts to limit their usage. Those upstream take water that leads to shortages downstream. A schedule for releases of water from the tanks (“bunds,” dams) was set by the government, and there were local officials empowered to monitor the use of the water by the growers, officials who were paid a fraction of the crop yield. Two releases per year were scheduled, but their timing produced certain winners and losers and so became a continuing issue.
When the British lost their authority in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), local government set up a different system, with relatively frequent releases of water, meaning more was lost to seepage than before. The water-use monitors had less authority, too. They were no longer paid in proportion to the crop yield, and the administrator of the system was made less accountable to outside authorities. Water theft became widespread and enforcement became more political.
One study found the following problems:
        Poor interaction exists between regulators and cultivators.
        High exam scores are not associated with good work performance.
        Few incentives exist for good work.
        Bureaucracy devalues performance.
        Personnel are overworked and underpaid.
Throughout Sri Lanka similar problems have resulted in having the farmers at the lower ends of the irrigation systems face highly variable water supplies, and those in charge are unable or reluctant to fix the problem. Prosecutions are political and rare. Water is used instead of laborers to keep down the weeds, at a higher social cost. Ostrom notes the following contributing factors to the poorly functioning system:
        Large number of farmers,
        Most settlers are new, with little attachment to the land,
        Extreme diversity of ethnicities and cultures,
        Large political leverage of major land owners, •           Poor control structures in the irrigation systems.
Sri Lanka got farmers to agree on watering times and amounts by dividing the river into three areas – upper, middle, and lower – and giving each farmer some land in each area, so all farmers had an interest in seeing that the bottom third of the area was not short-changed.
Ostrom then describes a successful small program in another part of Sri Lanka, the Gal Oya irrigation system. Initially, there was much distrust between the farmers and officials and between downstream Tamil speakers and upstream Sinhalese. A pilot program used collegeeducated members of the community to form small groups of farmers sharing local water channels to help plan rehabilitation of the channels, for which work they would be providing labor and would be interacting with engineers. Larger groups were formed from the smaller ones, and these held problem-solving meetings.
At the next higher level, these groups were combined to form Distributory Channel Organizations (DCOs), 100-300 farmers managing about 200-800 acres. Two higher levels of organization were formed similarly to establish a bottom-up pattern. Farmers report better relationships with the officials and more equitable distribution of water supplies, in an area where in the past there had been murders due to water disputes. Farmers and Irrigation Department officials reported significantly improved relationships, even across ethnic lines. Yields increased at modest cost. Ostrom and the participants attribute some of the success as being due to the bottomup strategy of supplying “human catalysts” to form the basic local farmer groups from which the larger, upper levels of the program were formed. Consensus was preferred to voting; results were publicized and recognized, and proposals from the farmers were treated seriously by the officials and farmers and officials came to agree on the value of the farmer organizations.
Ostrom’s “The Fragility of Nova Scotian Inshore” highlights a different kind of common-pool resource problem, the fragile nature of some of these systems. The east coast of Canada has many fishing areas that have established systems for who can fish where and how and when. The inshore area has boats that are used from the end of March through December. One such area, with the pseudonym “Port Lameron” extends 25 km out from the coast and 20 km along it. Various areas are exclusive to specific types of fishing, mainly for practical reasons, “a low-cost system for apportioning a reasonable yield to all participants…. based on an easily observable factor….” Families view themselves as having exclusive rights due to history. Conflict occurs during periods of scarcity, however, with the locals using persuasion primarily to repel outsiders. While Newfoundland law supports this informal system, the Canadian federal law opposes it, viewing the eastern coast as open-access, an extension of their policy on the 200-mile offshore limit. It has started licensing fishing boats, leading those who are not licensed to pursue getting one just to be safe in case the policy is extended and enforced, and this more than doubled the number of licensed fishers in a five-year period. The locals have often objected to the federal regulating of an area they once controlled. Ostrom notes, “it is doubtful that any national agency can ever have the extensive time-and-place information needed to tailor a set of rules to the particulars of local situations.”
Similar federal usurpation of local rules has caused problems along the coast of Brazil and within the forests of Nepal, she writes. In Nepal it was reported that the villagers started a “free-riding” over-exploitation of the forest, believing that they had lost control of this resource to the government. A reversion to more local control proved beneficial.

“Lessons to Be Learned”

Ostrom (2015) analyzes the failing cases by comparing them against the principles she found to be holding for the successful CPR arrangements. She concludes the principles “clearly differentiate between the success and failure cases.” Recall the criteria/principles:
1.      Clear boundaries and memberships,
2.      Congruent rules,
3.      Collective choice arenas,
4.      Monitoring,
5.      Graduated sanctions,
6.      Conflict resolution mechanisms,
7.      Recognized rights to organize,
8.      Nested units,
9.      Institutional performance.
She applies these categories/principles to the 14 sets of examples: “Thus, no more than three of the design principles characterized any of the cases in which CPR appropriators were clearly unable to solve the problems they faced.” Some of the cases are borderline, having some desirable characteristics, lacking others or having fragility in terms of protecting their procedures. She acknowledges that the examples are limited and do not conclusively show how to distinguish among the robust, fragile and failed arrangements.
“A Framework for Analysis of Self-organizing and Self-governing


At first, the “tragedy of the commons” and “Prisoners’ Dilemma” models suggest individuals will work against each other unless there is a higher authority to set and enforce the rules, especially where the individuals cannot readily change the rules. Ostrom argues that some cases demonstrate solutions to this problem by providing their own “second-order” (governing) institutions: marketable rights and/or pubic ruling bodies independent of central authorities, but that it was not necessary either to privatize the resource or to regulate it by a central governmental authority. The institutions depicted may not have been optimal, but they have survived. She calls for further study of the factors that distinguish problems the participants can solve and those that must be solved by higher-level authorities.
Ostrom in a footnote cites a comment that others who model central authorities as wise and ecologically aware tend to presume “the users of CPRs will be myopic, self-interested, and ecologically unaware hedonists.”
Ostrom accepts the inevitability of failure shown in certain cases (such as some fisheries) when:
1.      Participants cannot communicate.
2.      All act independently.
3.      Future damages due to individual actions are ignored.
4.      Costs of establishing regulating institutions are high.
In some circumstances, however, “smaller-scale CPRs that are the focus of this inquiry…. repeatedly communicate and interact with one another in a localized physical setting…can learn whom to trust, what effects their actions will have…how to organize themselves to gain benefit and avoid harm.” Over the long-run, such CPRs can establish institutions allowing them to resolve CPR dilemmas. Communication and the ability to change the rules break the bonds of the Prisoners’ Dilemma. Simple models are attractive, but they can mislead. More realistic models, especially allowing the participants to change their rules, will lead to more realistic results.

“The Problems of Supply, Credible Commitment, and Mutual Monitoring”

Adopting new institutions, gaining commitment to them, and monitoring compliance are needed for success. A successful CPR, to gain commitment, needs to: 
1.      Define its users.
2.      Have rules suitable to the resource and its users.
3.      Have rules designed by local users (appropriators).
4.      Be monitored by “individuals accountable to local appropriators.”
5.      Have violations sanctioned by graduated punishments.
Rules share this syntax: specified persons are (required, forbidden, permitted) to take specified actions under specific conditions.
Commitment can be expected if “similarly-situated individuals adopt the same commitment” and if the net benefits of being in the organization exceed those of being outside it. Monitoring is needed, and at least the sanction of “I will if you will.” Graduated sanctions are needed partly because exceptional circumstances may arise where a member believes he needs to break the rules to survive, but the group does not want to destroy or expel him. Lack of monitoring and enforcement, however, gives incentives to cheat, eventually destroying commitment of others. It is tricky to get the right set of conditions that make individuals “find it advantageous, credible, and safe to pursue contingent commitments to rule compliance and mutual monitoring.”
Success is contingent on the ability of the participants to create new institutions and new rules to evade the negative incentives of the tragedy of the commons.
Collective action (including the establishment of new institutions) by individuals has been shown (Ostrom, 2015) to be influenced consistently by
1.      the number of decision makers,
2.      the minimum number needed to obtain the benefit,
3.      the discount rate (how future money is valued today), 4. similarities of interests/priorities,
5. the presence of talented leaders.
Real situations are still more complicated, and Ostrom criticizes current theory as often being inadequate for making policy recommendations. For example, larger groups are hard to organize than smaller ones, but by using nested organizations (groups of groups of groups), this can be overcome. “Several of the Spanish huertas are three or four layers deep.”
Starting with numerous small organizations worked in several areas around the world. Some of the larger organizations were government bodies to which the smaller groups belonged. Small successes build to larger ones. The small groups may need help in enforcing their rules, however. In some cases, members of the smaller group have succeeded in getting a governmental body to keep the group from having enforceable rules. Interaction with government bodies needs to be considered in predicting success or failure. The costs of accurate information and of reliable transactions also play an important role and cannot be ignored.
Ostrom summarizes three problems in the current theories of collective action, because they overlook:
1.      incremental, self-transforming nature of organizational change,
2.      how external political regimes affect creation of local institutions,
3.      information and transaction costs.
Ostrom notes the shortcomings of most models is that they start with an assumption of the structure of the system rather than showing the “analyst how to discover the structure of the situation….” Many limiting cases are built into the models to make them solvable: participants with complete information, independent action, zero-cost monitoring, and a fixed structure. To get beyond the limits of models with unrealistic assumptions, Ostrom posits a framework.

“A Framework for Analyzing Institutional Choice”

This “identifies sets of variables that are most likely to affect decisions about continuing or changing rules.” In some sense, this is a meta-analysis, built on top of the models that have fixed rules. One is examining the situation “from the perspective of the individuals making choices about future operational rules.”
In a simple modeling context, Ostrom has her rational decisionmakers consider:
1.      expected benefits,
2.      expected costs,
3.      internalized norms,
4.      discount rates.
Such decisions are made within the institutional framework, which presents the further alternatives:
5.      to support the current rules,
6.      to support changing the rules,
and the outcome of the decision will depend on others also in the institution. Arguably, the individual could apply 1-4 to analyzing the implications of 5 or 6. An optimal strategy for an individual could be obtained by using
7.      accurate summary measures for the crucial variables (costly),
8.      correct translation of the information into expected benefits and costs (hard from afar),
9.      assuming straightforward (honest, cooperative), rather than strategic, action.
“…few field situations are characterized by these three conditions, or even one or two of them.
For example, in evaluating benefits, Ostrom gives some examples of important issues:
1.      Predicted resource flows and values under the status quo and the proposed change?
2.      Variability of resource flows under the old and proposed new set-up?
3.      Expected quality differences?
4.      Lifetime of the resource under the old and proposed new rules?
5.      Impact of the proposed change on conflict among resource users?
The ease or difficulty in answering these questions will vary from situation to situation, influenced by:
1.      Number of appropriators,
2.      Size of the resource system,
3.      Variability of the resource over space and time,
4.      The starting condition of the resource,
5.      Market conditions,
6.      History of conflict,
7.      Availability of data on past and recent conditions and utilization,
8.      The current rules,
9.      The proposed rules.
She notes that of these, only the first is routinely included in analyses. Larger and more variable systems are hardest to model and analyze. In some cases, the users may naturally be motivated to keep useful records or to start doing so in anticipation of changes. Monopolists may well prefer secrecy. Monitors and user organizations will tend to obtain and maintain useful data.
A rational individual will form his opinion about proposed changes based on the conditions of the common-pool resource, the information being made available, and the proposed rules. Benefits are hard to determine.
Similarly, evaluating costs turns out to be difficult, though usually not as difficult as predicting and costing benefits. If merely setting up new rules is costlier than the likely benefits, then no change will emerge. A proposed change that passes this first test must also be economically advantageous when tested for expected monitoring and enforcement costs.
The transformation costs are those incurred in setting up the new system. They are affected by many of the variables listed above. Skillful leaders can lessen them. Those who gain significantly from the proposed changes can be expected to help pay for them.
Setting up voluntary private organizations tends to be less costly than creating governmental structures of comparable size. Benefit/ cost ratios favor small initial steps of low cost and substantial benefits. Confrontational strategies and competitive rule-making are likely to result in higher costs than would cooperative efforts. An ethos of cooperation within the member group will require less detailed rule-making than an ethos of competition/confrontation. Windfall gains or losses can make participants leery of future changes. Bribes may be paid to gain regulatory advantages corruptly. Rules for deciding what changes in rules shall be adopted can make such decisions costly. Writing a new charter may be less expensive than running a referendum. Officials may have leeway in granting exceptions.
Fowler and Christakis (2010) found that the good example of some individuals in providing for others stimulated similar responses in observers who were strangers who had nothing to gain from being similarly generous. This extended for three degrees of separation, person-to-person-to-person. People mimicked the behavior of others.
“Remote” individuals will likely have more autonomy than those located close to the central authority governing the CPR, and “remote” will be a function of distance and of technological and administrative factors. Many factors will weigh in to determine the degree of autonomy of those within the CPR.
Past decisions will strongly shape current and future ones. For example, allocating a specific quantity of a resource to a user will favor the subsequent development of a market for the resource. Allocating rights to various constituencies on a proportional basis makes it hard to change these rights in the future. Status-quo rules tend to be given precedence because of the strong resistance of potential losers to any such changes. Some resources are more easily “fenced” and protected from outsiders than are others.
Shared norms among the users make it easier to monitor and enforce resource use. Prohibition is easier to police than are rights to use that vary in magnitude. “Seasons” are easier to enforce than quantitative limits on “catches,” quotas. Rules specifying technology to be allowed are easier to enforce than are quotas. Rules that involve “taking turns” are easier to enforce than quotas, too. Sometimes, governmental sanction will be needed to help organizations enforce their private rules. At the other extreme, some indigenous people have had their customs, mores, rules over-ridden by a central government not sympathetic to them.
The impact of shared norms deserves consideration. One kind of norm is that held by an individual, who may feel guilt at violating it. Another kind is held by a group to which the individual belongs, where shaming or ostracism might result from its violation. Some norms have both elements. Neighbors tend to favor neighbors when issues arise, and they tend to disagree with “foreigners.” Both sides are less likely to respect the opinions and promises of the other.
Ostrom writes in terms of “discount rates,” used to weigh the value of future costs and benefits against their present values.
To calculate the present value of a sum of money M(i) obtained in the ith year from the present, one must discount that future value using a discount rate r(i) that reflects the equivalent interest rate of the next best investment for that year on a secure investment. Some analysts use the interest rate on a safe bond of that maturity.
The present value equals the future monetary value divided by raising the quantity one-plus-the-discount-rate to the ith power, where i is the number of years in the future:
PV(0) = M(i)/(1 + r(i))^i
Secure returns will be viewed as having smaller discount rates, r(i), and thus larger present values, PV, than insecure ones, which are “discounted” drastically.
For example, for money obtained in a year 30 years from now, M(30), one calculation of its present value is
PV(0) = M(30)/(1 + 0.032)^30,
Where .032 = 3.2% is the current interest rate on a 30-year bond and the notation a^b means to raise a to the bth power, so that 4^2=16, etc. So
PV(0) = M(30)/(1 + 0.032)^30 = 0.39 M(30),
The present value of M(30) is only 39% of the future value. In cases where there are not secure investments, lenders would demand much higher r(i) to invest, and thus the future value of M(i) is even smaller. Uncertain futures greatly raise the risk of investment, thus the discount rate. When inflation is not negligible, it too raises r(i).
If your need for money now is much greater than you expect it to be in the future, or if your confidence you will get that future payment is small, you use a high discount rate to weight the value of the future payment. Uncertain future payments are “discounted” in comparison with certain ones. “Individuals in a community where disregard for the future is censured by others will have a lower discount rate than will individuals …where no opprobrium is attached to seeking short-term gain in preference to long-term benefit.” Those who highly value, or are confident of, a future pay-off have a stronger incentive to uphold the rules that preserve the common-pool resource than those seeking short-term results. In an urban setting, this might be reflected in different priorities between renters and condominium co-owners, for example.
The process of changing an institution, such as an association, will reflect greater or lesser skill among the participants, and as one association competes with others similarly situated, we might expect “survival of the fittest” to produce improved institutions over-all. “…surviving firms will choose strategies that will maximize profits.” (Ostrom, 2015). This tells us that at equilibrium, the most profitable firms should be those that are left, but it does not tell us how they get there. However, sharing in the profitability of a CPR situation is not nearly as directly incentivizing as making or losing money as an individual institution, and the value of resource sales prices as a key to decision-making is less evident. “Non-monetized relationships may be of importance.”
Choosing new rules is harder than making most production or sales decisions. The impact is harder to predict, and the responses of others in the CPR to them are harder to gauge as well. “A new set of rules must be perceived as generating more benefits than costs to at least a minimum wining coalition….”
Ostrom moves from the nearly impossible task of predicting profit and loss from rules changes to looking at what has been learned about human behavior as it pertains here:
1.      Individuals weigh potential losses more heavily than potential gains. Potential “crises” facing the group weigh more heavily than surprise gains. Fragile systems are harder to govern than robust ones. Some impacts become observable immediately, while others are real but long latent. Costs often come first and
are unambiguous; benefits come later and are harder to predict correctly.
2.      People find it hard to estimate future frequencies of occurrence, and they tend to be strongly influenced by recent events. (Taleb, 2010, goes into this in depth in his The Black Swan, also showing the fallacy of assuming the normal, Gaussian, probability distribution.) A recent shortage of water, for example, will lead some to predict a continued drought and others to predict that nature will “catch up” to return to prior norms. Rigorous data collection and analysis can help here. Appropriators will study the results gained by others who have made rule changes like those being proposed. (While “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” it is logical to look at the past to try to estimate what will come; all of experimental science is a series of studies of what happened, Y, immediately after doing X.) Essentially, no two situations are identical, so to learn from one requires knowing which differences count and which can be ignored, no easy task.
Ostrom discusses predicting institutional change, noting that knowing the CPR appropriators can found successful institutions for managing the resource does not mean that they always will, given greater benefits than costs, themselves hard to predict and evaluate. The forces at work in the “tragedy of the commons” must be contended with. Some find advantage in the particulars of the situation. Some will adopt “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as their operating premise.
“Ascher and Healy carefully document an almost universal bias toward overestimating benefits and underestimating costs of large-scale irrigation projects in Third World settings.” [One might note similar occurrences in America where big projects, like Boston’s Big Dig, have costs much larger than initial estimates.]
Ostrom examines some abstract cases to analyze predictability. First is a situation in which the government is in some sense “remote,” so the CPR members are on their own. Adoption of beneficial rules is favored when:
1.      Most members see a need for change.
2.      Most will be affected similarly.
3.      Most value the CPR highly, including its future use.
4.      Most face low information, transformation, enforcement costs.
5.      Most share reciprocity norms.
6.      “The group appropriating from the CPR is relatively small and stable.
Where the CPR appropriators are not “remote,” these conditions can still apply if the government reacts favorably to their rule-formation activities. For example, the government may fund valuable research and supply such information inexpensively to the CPR members. Courts help. The willingness to enforce regulations and re-draw boundaries helps.
Ostrom contrasts the absent or facilitative governments with those that step in to regulate the CPR. She assumes honest legislators and regulators. Even so, the CPR members will likely hold off forming their own organizations and wait for the government to do so, “if someone else agrees to pay the costs of supplying new institutions….” Informing the regulators about the details of the situation is hard. Errors in design of the new institution are likely to lead some members to take advantage of them. Regulators in a jurisdiction, other than one set up for this purpose, are likely to apply uniform rules instead of tailored ones, and inappropriate rules are hard to enforce efficiently. With corrupt regimes, the problems become worse.
Especially in underdeveloped countries, farmers prefer working their share, which they know goes to irrigation, rather than paying money taxes, which could go anywhere. Although the boundaries of private property need to be carefully delineated, the rules associated with private property need not be more detailed and stricter than those the regulate the use and support of common property. It has been found that social disapproval can be very effective in governing CPRs.


Ostrom (2015) then raises a challenge. “…one cannot encompass (at least with current methods) this degree of complexity within a single model.” The challenge is to develop models for specific niches and organizations, and yet not to become over-confident about their accuracy and the utility in formulating governmental policy.
She states that most modern economic theory has a world presided over by a government “and sees this world through the government’s eyes,” a government advised by economists and mandated to fix things. She provides a brief critique of one academic observer whose analysis of the California groundwater basins ignores the possibility of voluntary associations coming to what arrangements they find equitable. Social scientists tend toward such governmental “solutions,” assuming the users are responsive only to short-term maximization, but are blind to long-term effects, assuming they cannot correct the situation without outside involvement, ignore the voluntary institutions and procedures already in effect, and the governmental solutions are often “themselves based on models of idealized markets or idealized states.” Ostrom (2015) concludes her book with the advice that social scientists not confine themselves to building models but also take into account the wisdom of the classical political scientists who have preceded us.


Derek Wall, a supporter and biographer of the late Dr. Ostrom (Wall, 2017), notes she was the first woman to win what was the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Economics, which cited her for “her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons….” Examples include some parks and wildlife preserves, some fisheries and forests, and even the Internet. The Prize committee credited her in 2009 with “demonstrating how local property can be successfully managed by local commons without any regulation by central authorities or privatization.” She made the case that democratic control in some instances could manage the commons without government regulation or privatization, and she did so by giving concrete examples of such success.
She shared an interest in the political economy of the commons with her similarly academic husband, Vincent Ostrom, who died only a few days after she did. Wall stresses that Elinor Ostrom “saw economics as powerfully shaped by institutions” and she had a continuing interest in the analysis of such arrangements by such techniques as game theory. She was influenced by thinkers of both the left and the right, though Wall is interested in convincing his leftist allies that she can be viewed as one of them, because of her interest in communal management of collective ownership.
Not a utopian herself, she “seems an unlikely author of a set of rules for radicals,” despite this biographer’s book’s subtitle. (Wall, 2017) She showed that a commons could be made to work, and the common owners need not be usurped by government or privatization. She sought a third way, neither the state nor the market. Her 2010 Nobel lecture she titled “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems.” (Ostrom, 2010)
She and her husband were inspired by the French essayist Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, especially its accounts of the participation by local people in local governance. She can be viewed as a conservative or a radical, depending on what aspects one emphasizes. She recognized the fallibility of human judgment and yet the value of its use in self-government. She and her husband might best be described as pragmatists, rather than ideologues. Wall’s book is meant to energize the Left with the findings of the Ostroms, and the “Rules for Radicals” part of his book’s title is chosen to echo the book title adopted by leftist political agitator and community organizer Saul Alinsky.

I will continue serializing here the Microsoft Word transcription of the final galley proof .pdf copy ot WATER WARS, and the book itself  is most conveniently found at

or at DWC's author's book title list