Elinor Ostrom: RIP


The news just arrived that the economics profession—and the lawyers who have depended on it—have lost a giant in the field with the death of Elinor Ostrom at the age of 78.  I did not have the privilege to work directly with Elinor in my own work on natural resources and the commons, but have, like everyone else in the field, been deeply influenced by what she said and wrote.

Two years ago she organized along with her colleague, Daniel H. Cole, in the University of Indiana—Bloomington, a conference that dealt with legal regimes used for the regulation of the commons to which I contributed a paper.  It was evident both from her own contribution, and from the comments that she made throughout the conference about other papers that she was the master of her own field. She combined what so many economists today lack: a deep awareness of institutional arrangements along with a solid grasp of basic economic theory, which allowed her to show how small differences in social organization could lead to the difference between a sustainable commons and one that could crash because of its internal instability. That work is often a refreshing change from some of the highly formalized, blackboard models that sacrifice institutional richness for mathematical rigor. The Nobel Prize, which was the capstone of her distinguished career, offers ample testimony to the influence of her work, not only within her chosen profession of economics, but across the field of social sciences, broadly construed. She gave much in her studies, and her work promises to outlive her passing.  She is much appreciated, and will be sorely missed.

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    Between this post and that of Steven Hayward on Power Line, I can see that I have some homework to do.  I despair for the lack of workable arrangements for resources management and she appears to have rethought the entire concept.

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    It’s actually Indiana University, not U of I.

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    Color me among those who likes to fancy himself at least moderately aware of developments in economics who had not heard of Dr. Ostrom until she received her award. It’s all the more embarrassing for having attended Indiana University in Bloomington! I confess to a great deal of unearned pride in learning that there is apparently a “Bloomington School” of political economy, of which she was apparently a founding member. Rest In Peace, indeed.

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