September 30, 2012
September 26, 2012
I’d been planning on reading Elinor Ostrom for a while, possibly (though less than probably) before she and Oliver Williamson won the econ Nobel (there not being a poli-sci fauxbel, it was a decent enough fit). Peter Boettke had been writing about her and the “Bloomington School”, but it seemed best to go to the source. A lot of the work she’s known for centers on common pool resources, so “Governing the Commons” seemed the best single text to go for.
I’d first like to get out of the way the canard that Ostrom somehow debunks Garett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” or shows it to be a non-issue. She regards it as one possible outcome, and some of the examples in the book are of people that failed to prevent it from happening. Her complaint is that policymakers jump to assume firstly that it will happen if they don’t intervene, and secondly that their intervention will fix things. The people on the ground who actually use the resource often notice the problem and come up with systems that they have the capability of carrying out (for the most part) for themselves, and outsiders intervening sometimes makes things worse. One of my links earlier suggested that Ostrom is arguing for anarchy, and anarchists can certainly rely on some of her arguments, but that would not be an accurate representation of her position. The beneficiaries of common pool resources often make use of government resources (as in her first study, California water basin management), but they can also achieve government backing and still fail (as with some of those very basins). (more…)