A More General Theory of Environmental Policy with an Application to the Evolution of Groundwater Law in California

by Timothy H. Quinn

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This study examines the evolution of property right systems in response to negative externalities by focusing on the interactions between, first, the allocative and distributional consequences of regulation in private economic markets and, second, collective decisions in the political marketplace. The study develops a general conceptual framework for the positive analysis of collective decisions on these public policy issues. This framework is then applied to the evolution of laws and policies governing the use of common property groundwater resources in California. The empirical analysis explains why different parts of California have evolved such radically different property right systems in response to an essentially identical externality problem. The study has important implications for the role of formal economic analysis in forging "more intelligent" public policies to address problems in water policy and other policy areas.

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