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Institutional Path Dependence in Climate Adaptation: Coman’s “Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation”

  • Gary D. Libecap

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    Katharine Coman’s “Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation,” published in March 1911 in the first issue of the American Economic Review addressed issues of water supply, rights, and organization. These same issues have relevance today 100 years later in face of growing concern about the availability of fresh water worldwide as demand grows and as supplies become more uncertain due to the potential effects of climate change. The central point of this article is that appropriative water rights and irrigation districts that emerged in the American West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in response to aridity to facilitate agricultural water delivery, use, and trade raise the transaction costs today of water markets. These markets are vital for smooth re-allocation of water to higher-valued uses elsewhere in the economy and for flexible response to greater hydrological uncertainty. This institutional path dependence illustrates how past arrangements to meet conditions of the time constrain contemporary economic opportunities. They cannot be easily significantly modified or replaced ex post.

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    File URL: http://servizi.sme.unito.it/icer_repec/RePEc/icr/wp2010/ICERwp33-10.pdf
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    Paper provided by ICER - International Centre for Economic Research in its series ICER Working Papers with number 33-2010.

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    Length: 29 pages
    Date of creation: Dec 2010
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:icr:wpicer:33-2010
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    1. Gary D. Libecap, 2006. "The Assignment of Property Rights on the Western Frontier: Lessons for Contemporary Environmental and Resource Policy," NBER Working Papers 12598, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Libecap, Gary D & Smith, James L, 1999. "The Self-Enforcing Provisions of Oil and Gas Unit Operating Agreements: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(2), pages 526-48, July.
    3. Gary D. Libecap & Zeynep Kocabiyik Hansen, 2000. ""Rain Follows the Plow" and Dryfarming Doctrine: The Climate Information Problem and Homestead Failure in the Upper Great Plains, 1890-1925," NBER Historical Working Papers 0127, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Zeynep K. Hansen & Gary D. Libecap, 2003. "Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930's," NBER Working Papers 10055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Lueck, Dean, 1995. "The Rule of First Possession and the Design of the Law," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(2), pages 393-436, October.
    6. Gary D. Libecap, 2007. "Open-Access Losses and Delay in the Assignment of Property Rights," NBER Working Papers 13642, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Klein, Benjamin & Crawford, Robert G & Alchian, Armen A, 1978. "Vertical Integration, Appropriable Rents, and the Competitive Contracting Process," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 297-326, October.
    8. Allen, Douglas W & Lueck, Dean, 1998. "The Nature of the Farm," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(2), pages 343-86, October.
    9. Wiggins, Steven N & Libecap, Gary D, 1985. "Oil Field Unitization: Contractual Failure in the Presence of Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(3), pages 368-85, June.
    10. Hansen, Zeynep K. & Libecap, Gary D., 2004. "The allocation of property rights to land: US land policy and farm failure in the northern great plains," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 103-129, April.
    11. Jedidiah Brewer & Robert Glennon & Alan Ker & Gary D. Libecap, 2007. "Water Markets in the West: Prices, Trading, and Contractual Forms," NBER Working Papers 13002, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Johnson, Ronald N & Libecap, Gary D, 1982. "Contracting Problems and Regulation: The Case of the Fishery," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 1005-22, December.
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