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The Drama of the Commons
through the biosphere, that are showing signs of being threatened by human activities. Technologies now enable monitoring of changes in local environments that affect global commons, thus making it possible to design management institutions at various levels. The key research question is how and to what extent can the lessons from traditional commons be applied to the new commons. One aspect of this question, that of institutional linkages across scales, is discussed in more detail in a later section.
Other settings are being suggested as test beds for extending the insights from research on resource institutions. Some of these involve outputs of technological progress (the Internet, gene pools, human organ banks, the spectrum of frequencies used in telecommunications, public roads) and of new institutional arrangements (for example, budgets of corporations, countries, and international organizations). All of these fit the definition of common-pool resources.
Efforts to extend theory in such directions are likely to be fruitful in several ways. They may offer valuable insights for managing the resources in question. They test the generality of empirical findings of past research. And they are likely to lead to a questioning and refinement of existing knowledge about the conditions and processes affecting institutional success. For example, some research on international and global commons suggests, contrary to much past research on local commons (see Bardhan and Dayton-Johnson, Chapter 3), that heterogeneity of interests can provide a motive for trading across issues and can thereby increase the likelihood of cooperation (Martin, 1995). Attention to global commons also highlights the importance of types of heterogeneity that do not receive much attention in research on traditional commons. The relative shares of an international market obtained by multinational corporations, for example, may affect the ease of negotiating international treaties as well as the formulae used within them (e.g., Benedick, 1991).
Efforts to extend theory in new directions can also bring additional variables into focus. For example, an interesting feature of many global and technological commons that distinguishes them from local subsistence systems is that there can be near-total separation between those who gain the benefits and those who bear the risks. With many forms of regional or global pollution, the benefits of using the environment as a sink are to reduce costs of production for firms, which directly affects their profitability and may indirectly affect the price of the goods or services provided. Thus the benefits are concentrated in the owners of the firm, to a lesser extent the firm’s workers, and to an even lesser extent, those who purchase the goods or services produced. But the associated risks, such as climate change and acid precipitation, are distributed to a very large population that may have only slight overlap with those who are receiving the benefits. The beneficiaries and those at risk may not live in the same nation, let alone in the same community. Research on such commons brings into focus a distributional issue that has received relatively little attention in research on small-scale commons but that may become increasingly important, even for small commons, as resource