American Economic Review: Vol. 101 No. 1 (February 2011)


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Reflections on "Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation"

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Ostrom, Elinor. 2011. "Reflections on "Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation"." American Economic Review, 101(1): 49-63.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.101.1.49


It is instructive to read the article that Katharine Coman published in the first issue of the American Economic Review to gain insight into the problems of collective action related to irrigation in the American West. One gains further understanding of the problems Coman identifies by using a social-ecological system (Ostrom 2007, 2009) to organize the diverse variables identified by Coman. One gains a general lesson from this analysis that changing the formal governance structure of irrigation is not sufficient to ensure efficient investment in facilities or that farmers are able to acquire property and make a reasonable living. Building knowledge and trust are, however, essential for solving collective-action problems. (JEL B31, N51, Q15, Q25)

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Ostrom, Elinor (IN U and Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, AZ State U)

JEL Classifications

B31: History of Economic Thought: Individuals
N51: Economic History: Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment, and Extractive Industries: U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
Q15: Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
Q25: Renewable Resources and Conservation: Water

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