Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Elinor Ostrom and common property

On the 3rd July the Times of London carried an obituary for Elinor Ostrom who died on 12 June. She was the first (and so far only) woman to have been awarded a Nobel Prize for economics, not that this is necessarily an honour given the long line of capitalist apologists who have been awarded it in the pas. Ostrom, however, was a little different in that she carried out research which refuted one capitalist argument as to why socialism would not work, the so-called "tragedy of the commons". Here's how the Times obituary-writer described her research:

"She put to rest a fallacy that suggested that, left to their own devices, people were incapable of properly managing commonly held property. The widely held belief in the 'tragedy of the commons' stemmed from the bitter experience of selfish herdsmen over-grazing shared common pasture-land, rendering it barren and useless.

By studying first the sharing of common drinking-water supplies in Southern California, then the management of forests in South America, irrigation in Nepal, and fishing off the Maine coast, Ostrom turned conventional wisdom on its head. The traditional response to the 'tragedy of the commons' was for such scarce resources, including common land, public forests, drinking-water stocks, oil fields, and fish in rivers and seas, to be either strictly regulated by government or leased to private interests.

Ostrom showed, using the first-hand tools of the anthropologist rather than the big-canvas theories of politics and economics, that smaller units invariably work better than larger ones and that community management is better than state regulation or private ownership in distributing goods fairly and sustaining scarce resources."

For this, she merits a favorable mention on the  Socialism Or Your Money Back blog.

No comments: