The Importance of Getting Names Right: The Myth of Markets for Water
Dellapenna, Joseph W.
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Markets are much in vogue as ideal institutions for managing water both nationally and internationally. Markets are presented as functioning automatically and nearly painlessly. True markets, however, have seldom existed for water rights and there are good reasons for believing that they seldom will. Water is an ambient resource where the actions of any one user necessarily affect many other users. It is, in fact, no accident that water metaphors have long been used by economists to describe situations where markets fail: "common pool resources"; "spill over effects"; etc. Thus, if true markets are to be relied on to allocated for particular uses and distribute water among users, the transaction costs of organizing contracts with all holders of water rights (let alone those holding less formal claims affected by a sale or lease) generally have been and will be prohibiitive. Water, in short, is the quintessential public good for which markets simply do not work.
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