Friday, September 5, 3:00 p.m.
Center for Social Complexity Suite
Research Hall, Third Floor

On the Evolution of Common Pool Resource Norms

Steve Scott, PhD Student
Computational Social Science
George Mason University

ABSTRACT: Hardin’s well known “Tragedy of the Commons” (Hardin, 1968) offers a bleak assessment of the human condition, suggesting that without state intervention or explicit privatization, overconsumption and collapse are inevitable in natural resource settings.  However, this idea is contradicted by a number of long-standing common pool resource management systems in which appropriators themselves have successfully self-organized and developed sustainable appropriation policies, some lasting for hundreds of years (Ostrom, 1990).  The theoretical basis for why some common pool resource management systems collapse and others can persist indefinitely is not well understood.

In this research, we develop agent-based models to examine the emergence of norms among common pool resource appropriators.  Initially using a framework based on the Sugarscape architecture, we develop models to demonstrate how resource appropriation norms exhibiting a range of cooperative and non-cooperative behaviors can emerge and persist.  Extending prior work in social and economic networks (Jackson & Wolinsky, 1996; Jackson, 2010), we show how the distribution of cooperative and non-cooperative agents in social networks of various topologies can produce differing levels of overall welfare.  We also demonstrate applications of agent-based modeling in a natural resource management setting, comparing observed historical events in a Rhode Island commercial fishery in 2009 with counterfactual outcomes from the application of alternative resource management policies (Scheld, Anderson, & Uchida, 2012).