Elinor Ostrom Passes

by on June 12, 2012 at 10:05 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

Indiana University has announced that Elinor Ostrom has passed away from cancer:

The entire Indiana University community mourns the passing today of Distinguished Professor Elinor Ostrom, who received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her groundbreaking research on the ways that people organize themselves to manage resources.

…The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences to Ostrom “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” Through a multidisciplinary approach that combined theory, field studies and laboratory experiments, she showed that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources. Her work countered the conventional wisdom that only private ownership or top-down regulation could prevent a “tragedy of the commons,” in which users would inevitably destroy the resources that they held in common.

Here is my post on Ostrom’s Nobel where I called her “the mother of fieldwork in development economics.” Here are other MR posts on Ostrom.

1 Willitts June 12, 2012 at 10:42 am

From the world of behavioral finance: What Trader Testosterone Tells Us


Although I heard of similar research at least a decade ago.

2 Ray Lopez June 12, 2012 at 11:41 am

From Wikipedia: on the Tragedy of the Commons: Ostrom’s work in this regard challenged conventional wisdom, showing that common resources can be successfully managed without government regulation or privatization.

Well I’d like to know how that is possible. Back in the old country, Greece, they had “agricultural police” to keep villagers in order–even though they were all the same culture. How are you going to prevent over-grazing without a stick or carrot? Even and especially family members will steal from one another. Link please? My bias and suspicion, absent more information, is that she was awarded the Nobel because the committee wanted a woman and clearly she was the most qualified. RIP in any event.

3 rpl June 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Ray Lopez, I salute you. A lot of people, having observed that Ostrom wrote a book on the subject and desiring to know “how that is possible” might have reserved judgment until they had actually read the book. What a bunch of pansies! Not so, Ray Lopez, for he is made of sterner stuff. Reading the book would take too long, what with all those words and stuff, and he’d be out, like, 13 bucks. Outrageous! Ray Lopez has a better idea; he will proudly proclaim his “bias and suspicion” and casually dismiss Ostrom’s awards and plaudits as a diversity play. Bravo, Ray Lopez! If only more people had the courage, the integrity to stand up to the sinister forces of political correctness, who were obviously trying to pull the wool over our eyes (I don’t need to read no stinking book to figure that out!). I, for one, hold you up as one of my personal heroes, and I hope that I too can someday be as biased and suspicious as you.

4 Ray Lopez June 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Professor Tyler has a limit on how many posts I can post in one day…so if I go over the limit it’s because of you, but I must say: (1) I did not know Ostrom wrote a book that’s on Kindle for $13–I will buy it, and (2) her book was written based in 1990, and from the Amazon preview hits all the right notes: Hardin of TOC fame, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Fisheries/Forestry analogies and claims they generalize to other TOC problems (may or may not be true–that might be the weakest link), and a nice “narrative” style that does not require a degree in math to read (and basically says the same thing as a few pages of math would say, but gets the point across). I will buy the book and thanks for the reply. But I note you make a Treasure of the Sierra Madre reference based on my surname, racism noted, LOL.

5 Willitts June 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I am not familiar with her work, but it’s sad when awards and jobs are tainted with the stain of political correctness and affirmative action, especially when some of the recipients actually deserve them.

The Nobel Committee can’t be taken seriously any longer. They lost all credibility long ago.

I do believe they should rescind the silly rule about posthumous awards. At the very least they can limit the time of award after death to five or ten years so people can be recognized without dredging up the past. Ghandi is the most notable example of someone who should have been recognized after death. Why should tragedy trump recognition?

6 David Hugh-Jones June 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm

It’s even sadder when the taint and stain is put there, with zero evidence — right? — by blog commenters on the day of the recipient’s death.

7 Becky Hargrove June 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I don’t think the award was about political correctness at all, for the idea of voluntary cooperation has little to do with legislation, laws and regulations. Voluntary cooperation is, however, the only way women and men may find common ground in the future. The science fiction writer Shari Tepper didn’t seem to have a lot of hope for that: decades ago she imagined societies where men and woman walled themselves off from one another.

8 R Pointer June 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm

When one says they are not familiar with someone’s work, it is less an indictment of that work than the speaker seems to believe.

Often it only demonstrates the breadth of the speaker’s ignorance.

9 Willitts June 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Go #%&$ yourself.

First of all, I was forthright in saying I’m unfamiliar with her work, and nothing I said thereafter either expressed or implied any denigration of her or her work. My comment was solely directed at the lack of professional integrity of the Nobel Committee which, in my opinion, has recently made awards less on merit and more on making political or social statements.

If you have a differing opinion, please state as much. If you think it’s inappropriate to stray off topic, then say so. But don’t be an ass. And don’t assume I generally share the sentiments of Mr. Lopez who, after I read several of his posts, appears to have a serious personality disorder. I don’t keep track of names here as much as some people do.

10 libert June 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I believe you meant to say the following:

“it’s sad when awards and jobs are tainted with the stain of accusations that they were only achieved due to political correctness and affirmative action, when some of the recipients actually deserve them.”

11 Willitts June 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

No, I meant exactly what I said.

In the past, one might hold someone in renown and seek to learn more about them merely by virtue of receiving this award. Now, the prize is a muddled signal.

When PC and AA invade decision-making, you can never respect the outcome on its own merits anymore. The integrity of the process has been compromised.

12 GiT June 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm

But can’t you see? A woman (Ostrom) and a liberal (Krugman) won the prize, so clearly the decision process has been ‘invaded’ by PC and affirmative action.

13 JL June 12, 2012 at 7:26 pm

“The Nobel Committee can’t be taken seriously any longer. They lost all credibility long ago.”

Perhaps that’s true about the non-science Nobels, but I don’t see much evidence of bias when it comes to the science prizes.

14 Willitts June 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

Maybe you’re right, and I’m focused more on the Peace Prizes than the others.

15 EM DC ECONOMIST June 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

Sad to hear of this. But I hope that her influence keeps growing.

16 Barkley Rosser June 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm

She was a wonderful person and a great intellect, a real loss. I have more extended comments at http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2012/06/rip-elinor-ostrom .

17 Marc June 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Peter Boettke was very familiar with her work and published a book on the Ostroms and their research program in early 2009 before she was awarded the Swedish Bank prize.


18 Matt June 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I am beginning to suspect that there are robots programmed to make willfully ignorant, misogynistic comments every time a woman is mentioned on MR. I mean seriously. Willitts and Ray Lopez can’t be real people, right?

19 Willitts June 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Pay closer attention. I didn’t say anything against her. My comment was directed solely at the Nobel Committee.

The hypersensitivity to a benign comment seems to confirm my premise.

20 Steve Sailer June 12, 2012 at 7:09 pm

A quick Google search finds Nobel Laureate Ostrom also cautiously expressing Doubts About Diversity in her book The Drama of the Commons.

“… Alesina et al. (1999) find that ethnic diversity is associated with lower public goods funding across the U.S. municipalities because different ethnic groups have different preferences over the type of public good … In the kind of rural societies considered in this chapter … the effectiveness of social sanctions weakens as they cross ethnic reference groups. In this vein, Miguel (2000) constructs a theoretical model where the defining characteristics of ethnic groups are the ability to impose social sanctions within the community against deviant individuals and the ability to coordinate on efficient equilibria in settings of multiple equilibria. With data from the activities of primary school committees in rural western Kenya, Miguel then shows that higher levels of ethnic diversity are associated with significantly lower parent participation in parent meetings, worse attendance at school committee meetings, and sharply lower teacher attendance and motivation.

“If social groups (not solely ethnic groups) are defined as those whose boundaries coincide with the effective monitoring and enforcement of shared social norms … this is one way of understanding the notion cited earlier of cultural homogeneity, a variant of what many authors have called social capital or social cohesion. … Irrigation organizations that cross village boundaries can rely less on social sanctions and norms to enforce cooperative behavior …”

21 Ray Lopez June 13, 2012 at 11:40 am

Good catch Steve Sailer; seems indeed Ostrom is racist in a way. I ordered her book on Amazon today. Without yet reading it, I bet Ostrom is levering the research that homogeneous populations tend to perform economically slightly better than heterogeneous populations (assuming they are both ‘open’, that is, free market oriented). “The Scandinavian Model”. It also explains why socialism works up North (unlike the South Europe)–the population acts like an extended family and thus the “Commons” work. But it would hardly work either in the USA nor down South (Mediterranean regions) nor in Africa, which has some of the most diverse populations on the planet (genetically, not chromatically). I am familiar with communal living in Greece and believe you me without top-down rules (policemen) and/or a strong fence (‘good fences make good neighbors’) and defense of your property (just leave your vegetables unattended for a few months and see what’s left when you get back) , your commons will be exploited. Reader: if you disagree without facts, *your* bias is noted.

22 Barkley Rosser June 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Ray (and Willitts),

You really ought to cool it on commenting any further on Lin Ostrom’s work without having read any of it. You are just making a major fool of yourself big time.

First of all, if you read her work you will learn that it is not all about people being all fuzzy and warm and voluntaristic. It is indeed all about carrots and sticks and the conditions under which groups are able to establish systems of carrots and sticks that they can enforce in order to overcome the prisoner’s dilemma and effectively control access to common property resources. These crucially involve the sticks of punishing those who violate the group’s estabished rules. Needless to say, one could argue that some of what she says is obvious about when and how it is easier for groups to establish rules that they can enforce, including smaller groups, greater group cohesion, greater trust in the group, and greater ability to monitor each other’s conduct to make sure the rules are enforced.

Oh, and her book, Governing the Commons, has been cited over 13,000 times, more than the total citations for a majority of econ Nobelists, with the book also having a substantial impact on policymakers at such places as the World Bank. It is not many Nobel Prize winners who can math her record, so all the talk of PC and so on is just a load of total garbage, very stupid and insulting garbage at that, only demonstrating what ignorant morons and jerks those making these aspersions are.

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