The Victory of the Commons
David's not going to like this...
The Nobel Committee’s choice of Ostrom is significant considering that many winners of the prize since it was initiated in 1968 have been zealous advocates of unrestricted markets, such as Milton Friedman, whose selection helped fuel the rise of market theory as the be-all end-all of economics since the 1980s. Policies based upon this narrow worldview sparked the rise of corporate power and the diminishment of government’s role in protecting the commons.
While right-wing thinkers scoffed at the possibility of resources being shared in a way that maintains the common good, arguing that private property is the only practical strategy to prevent this tragedy, Ostrom’s scholarship shows otherwise.
“What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement of the people involved,” she explains.
The Tragedy of the Commons refers to a scenario in which commonly held land is inevitably degraded because everyone in a community is allowed to graze livestock there. This parable was popularized by wildlife biologist Garrett Hardin in the late 1960s, and was embraced as a principle by the emerging environmental movement. But Ostrom’s research refutes this abstract concept with the real life experience from places like Nepal, Kenya and Guatemala.
“When local users of a forest have a long-term perspective, they are more likely to monitor each other’s use of the land, developing rules for behavior,” she cites as an example. “It is an area that standard market theory does not touch.”
Garrett Hardin himself later revised his own view, noting that what he described was actually the Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.“What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement.”-Elinor Ostrom
Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, also a Nobel winner, commented, “Conservatives used the Tragedy of the Commons to argue for property rights, and that efficiency was achieved as people were thrown off the commons…What Ostrom has demonstrated is the existence of social control mechanisms that regulate the use of the commons without having to resort to property rights.”