The primary objective of this paper is to explore and find an answer to the question of whether the commons is the most optimal property arrangement to protect scarce resources and make underused resources available for use and innovation. It will analyse the common property regime whether it can potentially be used as the optimal property model or not. Central to this discussion is the term ‘optimal’ because it will serve as the baseline and focal point for analysing the commons as a property arrangement vis-à-vis other forms property arrangements in the context stated above. For the purposes and scope of this essay the term ‘optimal’ would be conceptualised as the equitable distribution of, and access to resources. Here optimality of a property regime would be assessed on the potentiality and ability of such property regime to provide and support broader participation of people in terms of access and distribution of resources.
Garrett Hardin’s infamous article “The Tragedy of the Commons” in 1968 has tremendously impacted global thinking on how resources should be managed and exploited. It has greatly informed the rationale behind policy formulations and development guideline in most countries thereby initiating policies prioritize private or state control over resources rather than leaving them open for the community to exploit. The article has enjoyed considerable influence on resource policy around the globe. The international community and influential global institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) etc. have favoured and supported privatisation as the best resource regime to accelerate global economic growth and development. These institutions have initiated and developed policies around this model to better the lives of inhabitants on the planet. Despite the efforts made by these powerful institutions over years to achieve and sustain economic growth and development around the globe, many communities in the world especially developing countries are still faced with serious predicaments such as poverty, hunger, malnutrition, diseases, illiteracy, marginalization, polarization etc. Most of these problems facing the world are directly or indirectly rooted in the inequitable distribution and access to basic resources. If the world is still faced with these challenges despite the supposed prospects of private property arrangement, then one emphatically say that the regime has failed dramatically or it has not yielded the expected results. Hence there is a great need to find a more comprehensive and pragmatic policy framework which will find a better solution to the problem of inequity in the distribution and access to most basic resources. It is for this reason that, there is a need to understand the role property regimes play in distribution and access to resources and how the dominate forms of property arrangement have been principally unsympathetic and in many cases catalysts for aggravating the problem of inequity in the distribution and access to basic resources. Revelations from recent studies according to Tucker shows that common property can provide greater benefits to the rural poor that it can provide, especially by ensuring equitable access to basic resources (Tucker, 1999). An effort would be made in this essay to argue that the commons is the most optimal mode of property arrangement as it has the ability of providing pragmatic solutions for reducing the problem of inequity in the distribution of and access to basic resources in societies.
The first phase of the essay will deal with the influence of Hardin’s article “The Tragedy of the Commons” on current property arrangement and the justification for Private Property Policy. It will lay out a critique of private property arrangement. The second section will provide a standpoint to explain why there is a great need to find a better policy framework to replace the current property regime due to its failures. This analysis will concurrently underscore how the concept of privatisation has failed to ensure equitable distribution of, and access to basic resources. The third part of the essay will argue that the commons is the optimal policy framework for managing scare resources. It will simultaneously discuss how the common property regime provides communities with direct access to basic resources through local participatory governance. The final section of the essay will conclude that the aforementioned analysis is still sufficient to support the claim the commons is the optimal property arrangement for scarce resources.