Syndicate content

Elinor Ostrom

A Shout-Out for Ostrom

Maya Brahmam's picture

Elinor Ostrom, the only woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics died on June 12 in Indiana. According to various press reports, Ostrom shocked her peers when she was catapulted to fame, because, in a field mostly dominated by men, she reached well beyond the usual mathematical modeling of economists.

Ostrom’s best-known research was on the management of the commons. As noted in Slate, “Standard economic thinking about commons focuses on the idea of a ‘tragedy of the commons’…” According to many economists, individuals acting in their own self-interest, would ultimately deplete a resource like a common pasture, which is open to everyone. This idea was used to demonstrate the need for government regulation or control by private industry. 

Invictus: Elinor Ostrom’s Gift

Julianne Baker Gallegos's picture

Elinor OstromAfter months of expectation and years of very hard (and in some cases, not hard enough) work towards the goal of sustainable development, heads of state and environmentalists alike are gathering at Rio+20 to determine what we’ve accomplished in the last two decades and how we’re going to pave the road that lies ahead.

Up until the day before departing for Rio, I approached this conference with a sense of foreboding. Like many, I thought Rio+20 would lead to disappointment and heart-break for environmentalists; on the one hand because we’d find out we’re farther behind than we expect on our road towards sustainable development, and on the other, because we’d realize that our representatives are unwilling to compromise to the degree that our planet needs to survive. Then, on June 12th, I changed my mind.

Institutions for Imperfect, Unpredictable People

Darshana Patel's picture

Since time immemorial, human beings have been defined by the theory of the state of nature.  The theory goes that - without an external, governing hand - humans enter a state of anarchy. Decades of work by Professor Elinor Ostrom, however, have gone into proving the limitations of this theory. In Crowding Out Citizenship, Ostrom describes the many assumptions behind the way policy textbooks and planners view human behavior:
 

“Centrally designed and externally implemented rules-based incentives – both positive and negative – are seen as universally needed to overcome all types of social dilemmas….The state is viewed as a substitute for the short-comings of individual behavior and the presumed failure of community. The universal need for externally implemented incentives is based, however, on a single model of rational behavior which presumes short-term, self-interested pursuit of material outcomes as the only mode of behavior adopted by individuals.”
 

“Leviathan is alive and well in our policy textbooks,” Ostrom says.
 

Making Parliaments Work through Better Communication

Paul Mitchell's picture

Governments and development agencies have devoted many years and hundreds of millions of dollars developing democratic governance in countries around the world. The idea of creating democracies is still the primary driver of many governance improvement agendas. Clearly, democratic systems often bring with them improvements in governance and economic development, but simply putting a democracy into place is not enough.
 

Last week, this blog featured a quote by Elinor Ostrom, which contains an interesting sentence: “Yet I worry that the need for continuous civic engagement, intellectual struggle, and vigilance is not well understood in some of our mature democracies and is not transmitted to citizens and officials in new democracies….We have to avoid slipping into a naïve sense that democracy – once established – will continue on its own momentum." 

Quote of the Week

Darshana Patel's picture

"The sustenance of a democratic system is similar to the sustenance of an initially successful family firm.  The first generation works very hard to build it up. The second generation has usually witnessed some of the struggles of the first generation and usually is able to continue the effort started by the first generation. But when the firm is turned over to the third, fourth, or fifth generation, problems can occur. Children are born already rich and without a deep understanding of the struggle that it took to build the enterprise in the first place. What took many years to build can be dissipated within a short time….I share a deep conviction that democratic systems of government are the highest forms of human governance yet developed. Yet I worry that the need for continuous civic engagement, intellectual struggle, and vigilance is not well understood in some of our mature democracies and is not transmitted to citizens and officials in new democracies….We have to avoid slipping into a naïve sense that democracy – once established – will continue on its own momentum."  Elinor Ostrom 2000, The Future of Democracy

Photo Credit: PNAS

The Nobel Prize Committee pays attention to governance of the commons

Marianne Fay's picture


The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is being shared this year by Elinor Ostrom, a political economist at Indiana University, and Oliver Williamson, an economist at UC Berkeley. The award could not be more appropriate in these times of rethinking what markets can and cannot do. 

The award to Ostrom, who has spent her professional life studying how societies manage common resources is particularly relevant as we draw closer to the Copenhagen summit and countries are busy defining what they are willing to do to protect the global atmospheric commons. 

In fact, Ostrom wrote a background paper for us earlier this year for the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change.  In it, she took exception to the notion that a solution to global change must be global. Such a solution would take too long, she argued. She also reminded us that a solution negotiated at the global level, if not backed up by a variety of efforts at the national, regional, and local levels, was not guaranteed to work well. This is because climate change is the result of many individual and local decisions.