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Common property theory addresses the use and abuse of resources often held in common, such as pastures, forests, fisheries, groundwater, and even the global atmosphere. Common property theory has evolved from a concern with the Tragedy of the Commons, through a series of detailed studies documenting successful traditional systems for managing common property resources, and into a sophisticated body of theory addressing the conditions under which people are able to forge sets of rules and practices that coordinate the use and conservation of common resources.

According to the Tragedy of the Commons approach, a resource owned in common will almost certainly be abused. In a common property pasture, for example, individuals gain all the benefit from putting more sheep on the pasture; all the milk, meat, ...

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