About Governing Access to Essential Resources

Essential resources do more than satisfy people’s needs. They ensure a dignified existence. Since the competition for essential resources, particularly fresh water and arable land, is increasing and standard legal institutions, such as property rights and national border controls, are strangling access to resources for some while delivering prosperity to others, many are searching for ways to ensure their fair distribution.

This book argues that the division of essential resources ought to be governed by a combination of Voice and Reflexivity. Voice is the ability of social groups to choose the rules by which they are governed. Reflexivity is the opportunity to question one’s own preferences in light of competing claims and to accommodate them in a collective learning process. Having investigated the allocation of essential resources in places as varied as Cambodia, China, India, Kenya, Laos, Morocco, Nepal, the arid American West, and peri-urban areas in West Africa, the contributors to this volume largely concur with the viability of this policy and normative framework. Drawing on their expertise in law, environmental studies, anthropology, history, political science, and economics, they weigh the potential of Voice and Reflexivity against such alternatives as pricing mechanisms, property rights, common resource management, political might, or brute force.

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