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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Crowding out from external support

Variable relationship:

Gibson et al. (2005) refer to situations in which external support, e.g., foreign financial aid to developing countries, state promoted projects for natural resource use at local levels, such as irrigation systems (External Support), run the risk of crowding out exisisting or potential local self-organized initiatives and responsibility (Collective Action).

A lack of proportionality (Proportionality) between the benefits (higher) and costs (lower) of infrastructure or institutional development for natural resource use may result in a misperception of the actual costs of such investments among the beneficiaries. This, in turn, will motivate irresponsible behavior towards the use and long term maintenance of that infrastructure, institutions, and/or resources (Commons Condition Trend).

This theory is also referred to as the Samaritan's dilemma, and is a complex theory. 


Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
External supportUnderlying independent variableExternal support may introduce distortions in perceptions and common understandings of costs and benefits of cooperation and this in turn shall crowd out the eagerness of beneficiaries to invest in cooperation. Extensive support
Proportionality (of costs and benefits)Proximate independent variableDisproportionately high benefits compared to the costs of providing common goods (e.g., institutions and infrastructure for natural resource use) shall result in shortsighted behavior and/or vested interests/resistances about need to contribute to those goods.No
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeAs a result of low levels of collective action; the conditions of the commons worsens. Worsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Marginalization and degradationrelated
Proportionality and collective-actioncontains

Related Studies


Gibson, Clark, Krister Andersson, Elinor Ostrom, and Sujai Shivakumar. 2005. "The samaritan’s dilemma."  Polit. Econ. Dev. Aid 13 (2):105-124.


Raschky, Paul A, and Manijeh Schwindt. 2009. "Aid, natural disasters and the samaritan's dilemma."  World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series, Vol. 4952