The Economics of Transnational Commons

The Economics of Transnational Commons

The Economics of Transnational Commons

The Economics of Transnational Commons


Transnational commons, cross-border areas without well-defined property rights, have long been ignored in 'official' development economics. This volume redresses the balance by adopting an environmental approach which stresses the importance of shared natural resources and the links between acute poverty and environmental degradation. The Economics of Transnational Commons draws together eminent contributors from fields as diverse as law, population studies, social anthropology, biological sciences, and economics, to present authoritative accounts that combine empirical case-studies with rigorous theoretical foundations. Despite the milti-disciplinary approach, the main focus of the articles is the same: that the reciprocal externalities and problems of free-riding created by any common resource are complicated in the case of transnational commons by difficulties in monitoring, enforcement, and unequal access to information. Often using theories of negotiation taken from game theory, the studies then suggest possible solutions, both at an institutional and educational level. In order to make these materials suitable for teaching purposes, the authors have been encouraged to survey their topics rather than present their most recent findings. A companion publication, The Environment and Emerging Development Issues Volumes 1-11 (edited by Dasgupta and Mahler), deals with national environmental issues.


People in poor countries are for the most part agrarian and pastoral folk. In 1988 rural people accounted for about 65 per cent of the population of what the World Bank classifies as low-income countries. The proportion of the total labour force in agriculture was a bit in excess of this. The share of agriculture in gross domestic product in these countries was 30 per cent. These figures should be contrasted with those from industrial market economies, which are 6 per cent and 2 per cent for the latter two indices, respectively.

Rural communities in poor countries are biomass-based subsistence economies, in that their rural folk eke out a living from products obtained directly from plants and animals. For example, studies in the Indian sub- continent have shown that in a number of regions as much as 40-50 per cent of the working hours of villagers are devoted to fodder and fuel collection, animal care, and grazing. Moreover, inquiries in Central and West Africa have revealed the importance of forest products in the lives of rural folk. Poor countries, especially those in the Indian sub-continent and Sub- Saharan Africa, can be expected to remain largely rural economies for some while yet.

The dependence of poor countries on their natural resources, such as soil and its cover, water, forests and their products, animals, and fisheries should be self-evident: ignore the environmental resource-base, and we are bound to obtain a misleading picture of production and consumption activities there. Nevertheless, if there has been a single thread running through forty years of investigation into the poverty of poor countries, it has been a neglect of this base. Until very recently, environmental resources made but perfunctory appearances in government planning models, and were cheerfully ignored in most of what goes by the name of development economics. This was harmful not only for public economics and the economics of development, but also for environmental economics. Specialized fields are often driven by internal logic, and the gap between topics that are most intensively discussed and those that are most urgent and tractable can become large. In fact, there was an additional loss associated with the unwillingness of development and environmental economists to talk to one another. Environmental economics, heavily involved as it is with the science of ecology, is an intellectually exciting subject. There is much in it to enthuse the young.

There have been exceptions to all this, of course. Independently of what could be called official development economics, a number of economists developed environmental economics within the context of rural communities in poor countries with a view to studying the interconnections between rural poverty, population growth, and the environmental resource-base. We have . . .

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