Just south of Africa’s Sahara desert is a region called the Sahel that was once prosperous with agriculture, but now has stark poverty and barren land. Why the change? Well according to a fascinating new paper by Citizens for a Sound Economy, this “desertification” resulted from policies brought in by France in the late 1800’s that upset the traditional property-oriented culture of the inhabitants. Previously, water wells were controlled by the clan that dug them, so the number of cattle was limited by their use of the well. But when the French dug new wells with no clear ownership rights, it led to overgrazing, and then to severe erosion. So it’s little wonder why some see this as another Tragedy of the Commons.

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