John Stossel

She has studied, for example, self-governing irrigation systems in Nepal and found successes never anticipated in the textbooks. "Irrigation systems built and governed by the farmers themselves are on average in better repair, deliver more water, and have higher agricultural productivity than those provided and managed by a government agency. ... (F)armers craft their own rules, which frequently offset the perverse incentives they face in their particular physical and cultural settings. These rules may be almost invisible to outsiders. ..."

In "Governing the Commons," she writes about self-governed commons in Switzerland, Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere that date back hundreds of years. For example, in the alpine village of Tobel, Switzerland, herdsmen "tend village cattle on communally owned alpine meadows" under rules of an association created in 1483. The rules govern who has access to the grazing lands and how many cows a herdsman can place there, preventing overgrazing. The cattle owners themselves run the association and handle the monitoring. Sanctions are imposed for violation of the rules, but compliance is high.

Don't mistake the association for government. Rather, it is a private co-op designed for a narrow purpose. "All of the Swiss institutions used to govern commonly owned alpine meadows have one obvious similarity -- the appropriators themselves make all the major decisions about the use of the CPR."

She found something similar in Japanese villages, where residents use private property for some agricultural purposes and self-managed common forests for others.

Solutions imposed by external authority were not necessary -- and usually self-defeating: "Academics, aid donors, international nongovernmental organizations, central governments, and local citizens need to learn and relearn that no government can develop the full array of knowledge, institutions and social capital needed to govern development efficiently and sustainably. ..."

How about that? Freedom works.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate