Posts Tagged ‘economics’

More on Institutional Developments from the Great Barrier Reef

A month ago I wrote about research findings on institutional analysis in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  At the time I noted two interesting developments – one on the efficacy of polycentricity and conflictual findings from the GBR Marine Park.  Basically, the park has a monocentric structure but efficiently uses zoning to achieve some desirable outcomes.  The second interesting research finding is about property rights.  I’ll try to keep this short and to the point for non-academic readers so your eyes don’t glass over immediately.

In essence, most institutional analysts are familiar with the Schlager and Ostrom work on property rights (Schlager, Edella, and Elinor Ostrom. “Property-rights regimes and natural resources: a conceptual analysis.” Land economics (1992): 249-262.).  In this piece, they lay out a conceptual map for bundling of various types of property rights with a goal of showing that ownership is more than a simple binary division.  Their revised table (from a 1996 book chapter) looks like this:


As one moves from the position of entrant to user and eventually to full owner, we see the associated bundles of property rights increasing.  This greatly clarified the issue of property rights as complex bundles of goods.  It expanded our thinking from that of a binary (ownership or not) to a deeper understanding that the concept of ownership comes with nuance.

However, in our current work, we see examples in which such a step-wise progression still oversimplifies the process.  Through the use of fishing rights (individual transferable quotas or ITQs), for instance, we see owners with the rights of access, withdrawal, and alienation (selling of rights) without the rights of management or exclusion.  Likewise we see others – managers – with management and access rights without the rights of withdrawal or alienation.

It’s time to start reexamining the bundles of property rights and look at the innovative ways in which bundles can be packaged and the ramifications of various packages.  This has implications for both scholarship and for practice as we think about new ways to govern.  As expected, the complexity continues to grow.  Very interesting topic for future research.

Worldviews and the Edge of Science

I happened to glance at an Economics forum where advocates from two different sides of a policy debate continued to launch “scientific” salvos at the opponents.  The debate was about the Fed and real versus nominal interest rates effects on the market, but nevermind.  It could have been International Relations scholars debating Realist vs. Liberal policies, policy wonks from the Cato Institute arguing against policy wonks from the ACLU, and so on ad nauseum.  In my mind, this specific debate sparked a couple intertwined thoughts.

The first goes back to my academic mentor, Elinor Ostrom.  I always found it interesting, humorous, and bizarre to see various groups take her work and twist it to support their (policy) agendas.  Whether it was some of her public choice work being seized upon by right-wingers, her small-scale, development work in developing countries by left-wing idealogues, or some other mix, it amazed me to see her work cited and utilized across the political spectrum.  Each group seemed to think that she was in their camp.  This seems quite unusual with many scientists, particularly social scientists, identifying and identified with certain ideological groups.  Think about the role of several other Nobel Laureates – Milton Friedman on the one hand (right hand, as it were), Paul Krugman or Joe Stiglitz on the other (left) hand.  This lead me back to a long-running discussion with a colleague of mine as to whether these scientists would/could ever come to the same conclusions scientifically.  My colleague insists that “science is science” and the data will provide the answer.  I take the position that this may hold for a small treatment conducted in isolation, but my gut tells me that the science generally supports the scientists’ worldview more generally.

Clearly this varies across the disciplinary spectrum, but it seems likely that once we leave the natural sciences this problem becomes pervasive – compare astrophysics (perhaps less of a problem?) with sociology or political science, for instance.  To further complicate matters, scientists are increasingly taking normative positions up front.  The Society for Conservation Biology, for instance, has a mission to “advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity”.  Many climate scientists have similar belief systems regarding earth system science.  ASU’s School of Sustainability mission is likewise normative calling to “develop practical solutions to some of the most pressing environmental, economic, and social challenges of sustainability.”  Similarly, the Planetary Boundaries literature takes scientific research and seeks to “mobilize thousands of scientists while strengthening partnerships with policy-makers and other stakeholders to provide sustainability options and solutions in the wake of Rio+20 [emphasis added]”.

With these, and countless other examples, how do we reconcile our science and our worldviews?