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Head-enders as stationary bandits in asymmetric commons: Comparing irrigation experiments in the laboratory and the field

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  • Janssen, Marco A.
  • Anderies, John M.
  • Cardenas, Juan-Camilo

Abstract

The emergence of large-scale irrigation systems has puzzled generations of social scientists, since they are particularly vulnerable to selfish rational actors who might exploit inherent asymmetries in the system (e.g. simply being the head-ender) or who might free ride on the provision of public infrastructure. As part of two related research projects that focus on how subtle social and environmental contextual variables affect the evolution and performance of institutional rules, several sets of experiments have been performed in laboratory settings at Arizona State University and in field settings in rural villages in Thailand and Colombia. In these experiments, participants make both a decision about how much to invest in public infrastructure and how much to extract from the resources generated by that public infrastructure. With both studies we find that head-enders act as stationary bandits. They do take unequal shares of the common-pool resource but if their share is very large relative to downstream participants' shares, the latter will revolt. Therefore for groups to be successful, head-enders must restrain themselves in their use of their privileged access to the common-pool resource. The comparative approach shows that this result is robust across different social and ecological contexts.

Suggested Citation

  • Janssen, Marco A. & Anderies, John M. & Cardenas, Juan-Camilo, 2011. "Head-enders as stationary bandits in asymmetric commons: Comparing irrigation experiments in the laboratory and the field," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(9), pages 1590-1598, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:70:y:2011:i:9:p:1590-1598
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Elinor Ostrom & Roy Gardner, 1993. "Coping with Asymmetries in the Commons: Self-Governing Irrigation Systems Can Work," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 93-112, Fall.
    2. Hackett Steven & Schlager Edella & Walker James, 1994. "The Role of Communication in Resolving Commons Dilemmas: Experimental Evidence with Heterogeneous Appropriators," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 99-126, September.
    3. repec:cup:apsrev:v:87:y:1993:i:03:p:567-576_10 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Lindahl, Therese & Bodin, Örjan & Tengö, Maria, 2015. "Governing complex commons — The role of communication for experimental learning and coordinated management," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 111-120.
    2. Du Bois, Rodrigo Salcedo & Macias, Miguel Angel Gutierrez, 2013. "Cooperation makes it happen? Groundwater management in Aguascalientes, Mexico: An experimental approach," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 151139, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    3. repec:eee:wdevel:v:108:y:2018:i:c:p:296-308 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:eee:jeeman:v:88:y:2018:i:c:p:300-310 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Jennifer Jacquet & David Frank & Christopher Schlottmann, 2013. "Asymmetrical Contributions to the Tragedy of the Commons and Some Implications for Conservation," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(3), pages 1-13, March.
    6. Timothy M. Waring & Sandra Hughes Goff & Julia McGuire & Z. Dylan Moore & Abigail Sullivan, 2014. "Cooperation across Organizational Boundaries: Experimental Evidence from a Major Sustainability Science Project," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(3), pages 1-20, March.
    7. Otto, Ilona M. & Wechsung, Frank, 2014. "The effects of rules and communication in a behavioral irrigation experiment with power asymmetries carried out in North China," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 10-20.
    8. Narloch, Ulf & Pascual, Unai & Drucker, Adam G., 2012. "Collective Action Dynamics under External Rewards: Experimental Insights from Andean Farming Communities," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(10), pages 2096-2107.
    9. Kihiu, Evelyne Nyathira, 2016. "Basic capability effect: Collective management of pastoral resources in southwestern Kenya," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 123(C), pages 23-34.

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