How Transaction Costs Obstruct Collective Action: Evidence from California's Groundwater

46 Pages Posted: 8 May 2017

See all articles by Andrew Ayres

Andrew Ayres

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

Eric C. Edwards

Utah State University

Gary D. Libecap

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management; University of Arizona - Karl Eller Center; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: May 2017

Abstract

Collective action to remedy the losses of open access to common-pool resources often is late and incomplete, extending rent dissipation. Examples include persistent over-exploitation of oil fields and ocean fisheries, despite general agreement that production constraints are needed. Transaction costs encountered in assigning property rights are an explanation, but analysis of their role is limited by a lack of systematic data. We examine governance institutions in California’s 445 groundwater basins using a new dataset to identify factors that influence the adoption of extraction controls. In 309 basins, institutions allow unconstrained pumping, while an additional 105 basins have weak management plans. Twenty of these basins are severely overdrafted. Meanwhile, users in 31 basins have defined groundwater property rights, the most complete solution. We document the critical role of transaction costs in explaining this variation in responses. This research adds to the literatures on open access, transaction costs, bargaining, and property rights

Suggested Citation

Ayres, Andrew and Edwards, Eric C. and Libecap, Gary D., How Transaction Costs Obstruct Collective Action: Evidence from California's Groundwater (May 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23382, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2964678

Andrew Ayres (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management ( email )

4670 Physical Sciences North
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5131
United States

Eric C. Edwards

Utah State University ( email )

UMC 4835
Logan, UT 84341
United States

Gary D. Libecap

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management ( email )

4670 Physical Sciences North
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5131
United States
805-893-8611 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.esm.ucsb.edu/people/usernew.asp?user=glibecap

University of Arizona - Karl Eller Center ( email )

McClelland Hall
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States
520-621-4821 (Phone)
520-626-5269 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.bpa.arizona.edu/~libecap

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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