Elinor Ostrom, RIP
By David Henderson
As many bloggers have noted, Elinor Ostrom, who co-won the Nobel Prize in economics, died today of cancer. Here’s the post I wrote after she won the prize, along with Oliver Williamson. And here are two paragraphs from my Wall Street Journal that ran the day after she won:
Based on her work, Ms. Ostrom proposed several rules for managing common-pool resources, which the Nobel committee highlights. Among them are that rules should clearly define who gets what, good conflict resolution methods should be in place, people’s duty to maintain the resource should be proportional to their benefits, monitoring and punishing is done by the users or someone accountable to the users, and users are allowed to participate in setting and modifying the rules. Notice the absence of top-down government solutions. In her work on development economics, Ms. Ostrom concludes that top-down solutions don’t help poor countries. Are you listening, World Bank?
In a 2006 article with Harini Nagendra, Ms. Ostrom wrote: “We conclude that simple formulas focusing on formal ownership, particularly one based solely on public [government] ownership of forest lands, will not solve the problem of resource use.” Garth Owen-Smith, who helped solve the common-resource problem of elephants in Namibia by ensuring that local residents shared in the financial benefits from tourism and trophy hunting, drew explicitly on Ms. Ostrom’s work. If locals benefit from having a resident population of elephants, they are much less likely to poach and more likely to stop other poachers.