Just wanted to share my pleasure, a little belatedly (though I’ve blogged about it elsewhere), about Elinor Ostrom’s being awarded a Nobel Prize for Economics. Ostrom is a political scientist whose work on the commons is central to reconceptualizing the human capacity to manage commonly held resources.
Her work (along with that of many colleagues) has provided a convincing response to Garrett Hardin’s overdetermined “tragedy of the commons” scenario, with its assumption that unless we privatize or bring in the heavy hand of government, humans will destroy their environment inevitably, incessantly, and repeatedly, out of some kind of death drive (or maybe birth drive, an inability to control our own reproduction). Ostrom’s work shows that commons can be, and often have been, successfully managed — it just takes the right kind of collective institutions (appropriately scaled, manageable and participatory, with clearly understood responsibilities, etc.).
Here’s the Nobel committee’s justification for their decision, a recent article of Ostrom’s from Science for those with institutional subscriptions (e.g., through the UVM library server), and some blog discussions on the topic. See also WorldChanging‘s take on it.