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Resource Use, Institutions, and Sustainability: A Tale of Two Pacific Island Cultures


  • Jon D. Erickson
  • John M. Gowdy


This paper examines two Pacific Island cultures, Easter Island and Tikopia, and the relationship between natural resource systems, human-made capital, population growth, and institutional change. Easter Island followed a preindustrial society pattern of overshoot-and collapse. However, Tikopia evolved cultural practices leading to zero-population growth and sustainable resource use. Using a modified Lotka- Volterra, predator-prey model, we find (1) investment in human-made capital does not necessarily eliminate the boom- and bust-cycles of economic activity and population observed in many past societies; and (2) institutional adaptation and resource conservation can be critical in achieving population stability.

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  • Jon D. Erickson & John M. Gowdy, 2000. "Resource Use, Institutions, and Sustainability: A Tale of Two Pacific Island Cultures," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 76(3), pages 345-354.
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:landec:v:76:y:2000:i:3:p:345-354

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. David Croix & Davide Dottori, 2008. "Easter Island’s collapse: a tale of a population race," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 27-55, March.
    2. Bulte, Erwin & Horan, Richard D. & Shogren, Jason F., 2006. "Megafauna extinction: A paleoeconomic theory of human overkill in the pleistocene," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 59(3), pages 297-323, March.
    3. Cyrus Chu, C.Y. & Lai, Ching-Chong & Liao, Chih-Hsing, 2014. "How could the non-sustainable Easter Island have been sustained?," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 161-174.
    4. Erin L. Wolcott & Jon M. Conrad, 2011. "Agroecology of an Island Economy," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 87(3), pages 403-411.
    5. Funk, Matt, 2008. "On the Problem of Sustainable Economic Development: A Theoretical Solution to this Prisoner's Dilemma," MPRA Paper 19025, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 08 Jun 2008.
    6. Marc Germain, 2012. "Equilibres et effondrement dans le cadre d'un cycle naturel," Brussels Economic Review, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles, vol. 55(4), pages 427-455.
    7. Frank Biermann & Michele Betsill & Joyeeta Gupta & Norichika Kanie & Louis Lebel & Diana Liverman & Heike Schroeder & Bernd Siebenhüner & Ruben Zondervan, 2010. "Earth system governance: a research framework," International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 10(4), pages 277-298, December.
    8. Horan, Richard D. & Shogren, Jason F. & Bulte, Erwin H., 2008. "Competitive Exclusion, Diversification, and the Origins of Agriculture," 2008 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2008, Orlando, Florida 6410, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    9. Pezzey, John C. V. & Anderies, John M., 2003. "The effect of subsistence on collapse and institutional adaptation in population-resource societies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 299-320, October.
    10. Fabio Grazi & Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh & Piet Rietveld, 2006. "Modeling Spatial Sustainability: Spatial Welfare Economics versus Ecological Footprint," Working Papers 2006.5, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    11. Paavola, Jouni & Adger, W. Neil, 2005. "Institutional ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(3), pages 353-368, May.
    12. Ali Mirchi & Kaveh Madani & David Watkins & Sajjad Ahmad, 2012. "Synthesis of System Dynamics Tools for Holistic Conceptualization of Water Resources Problems," Water Resources Management: An International Journal, Published for the European Water Resources Association (EWRA), Springer;European Water Resources Association (EWRA), vol. 26(9), pages 2421-2442, July.
    13. Nagase, Yoko & Uehara, Takuro, 2011. "Evolution of population-resource dynamics models," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 9-17.
    14. Anthony Patt & Bernd Siebenhüner, 2005. "Agent Based Modeling and Adaption to Climate Change," Vierteljahrshefte zur Wirtschaftsforschung / Quarterly Journal of Economic Research, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, vol. 74(2), pages 310-320.
    15. Roman, Sabin & Bullock, Seth & Brede, Markus, 2017. "Coupled Societies are More Robust Against Collapse: A Hypothetical Look at Easter Island," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 264-278.

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    JEL classification:

    • Q20 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - General


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