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I had never heard of her until now, but she seems to be worthy of the award.


You must not have paid attention:). On the right side of this page is a link to my book on her work, Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development (Routledge, 2009), and I have talked about her and Vincent's contributions multiple times on the blog. She is not only an intellectual giant, she is also one of the most genuinely supportive researchers in political economy anyone can ever run into. Did you read the report, she is giving ALL of her prize money to support research and graduate education. She did the same thing with her FSSO Award a few years ago.

I think Levitt is right; it does reflect badly on him that he has not heard of Ostrom. I hope he is wrong about other economists not having heard of her though.

At the home page for her institute --- The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis --- they describe their work as a New Science of Governance for a New Age. And they describe their task as follows: "The betterment of humankind depends on the ability of fallible human beings to make decisions, manage resources, and govern themselves. This is the basis of democracy, and of civilization itself. It is also the basis for more than 30 years of research and inquiry at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in Bloomington.

The Workshop’s teaching and research probes the inner workings of human institutions—structures of rules used to govern people and resources, in this usage—in order to better understand what works and what does not. Institutions affect every facet of life, from public services to family and community structures to natural resources and beyond, and the Workshop’s research helps people design and adapt their institutions so that they generate better outcomes."

This is why the work is so intriguing. First, at the core is a model of man as fallible --- cognitively limited. Second, is a focus on the emergence of institutions --- not necessarily state-led institutional impositions. Third, is a focus on governance, not government.

I am seeing more and more commentators in the blogosphere getting the wrong message from Lin's work. Hopefully, the real implications of her work will dominate.


I am pleased to be able to unequivocally endorse this prize for both its recipients. Ostrom (whom I have never met) was not on my radar screen for getting it (Williamson was very much so), but she is fully deserving, with Pete as well as Alex Tabarrok over at MR, giving pretty good reasons why.

I also congratulate Pete for having the good timing to have a book on her work coming out right now. I also am pleased to have been able to publish a special issue of JEBO that Pete edited that contained papers from a conference at Mason honoring her and her husband, Vincent Ostrom, in June 2005 57(2), "Polycentric Political Economy: Essays in honor of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom." She also published a paper in JEBO in October 2006 entitled "The value-added of laboratory experiments for the study of institutions and common-pool resources" in a special issue on "Experiments in Natural Resource Economics," edited by R. Arnason, F.M. Baldursson, and J.T. Sturlson, from a conference held in Iceland.

I note that Williamson is the most cited economist of all time. He also wrote the first paper ever published in JEBO back in 1980, "The organization of work," and has been on the journal's editorial board since the beginning, and since 2002 as an honorary editor.

I would note that Ostrom's ideas regarding decentralized governance cut across a lot of boundaries, methodologically, displine-wise, and also in terms of ideology. As a past president of the Public Choice Society and a hanger-out at Mercatus, she has her cred on the libertarian right in good order. However, her ideas of self-governance and self-management by small, local groups, also fits in with a certain strand of thought on the left. This is not the command centrally planned socialism strand that Austrians have long fought against on good grounds. Rather it is the originally left-libertarian-anarchist strand ("libertarian" was a word coined in France in the 1850s and was used by "leftists" until the 1950s). In particular an important part of this tradition was Proudhon, whom Marx ridiculed, and who supported cooperatives. Later arguments for self-management by workers and so on, which David Prychitko has published on, fit into this strand as well, which clearly crosses ideological boundaries.

Execellent post, Pete--as always.

Levitt is--perhaps with the exception of suggesting that many economists will be dissatisfied--way off here. Her work is, of course, centrally placed in political economy, and in fact--I am saying that as a political scientist--the award to her is not an indication of a watering down of the economics part of the Economics Prize but rather a sign of how influential the "economic way of thinking" has become outside economics.

Adam Smith shows how to fight the growing Oligarchy. Mediated by Joey Panto.

Excellent and helpful post.

I also like it that she does research in the field -- like most non-molecular biologists, just to name another real branch of science.

I took an undergrad class in which a paper by Ostrom was assigned reading, and had followed her a bit since. I'm surprised that so many economists haven't even heard of her, but probably shouldn't be.
Rothbard deserved one for his analysis of the State in his classic book _Power and Market_, and three foundational essays "Justice and Property Rights," "The Anatomy of the State," and "War, Peace, and the State."


Have you posted about her on this blog recently? I can't remember, but I have only been a regular visitor for about 6 months.

Having read a little more about Lin Ostrom, I am even more intrigued than before. I am very about the evolution of morality, rules of conduct, social norms, etc., and it seems as though Ostrom has done some relevent work.

I am about to start reading Selgin's "Good Money", but will return to Ostrom and your book afterward.

Congratulations to both.

It's interesting that on Crooked Timber they are very happy about this prize too...


They say that yes, her work is Hayekian, but it is "Hayek against Hayek".


Only because they DON'T UNDERSTAND Hayek and instead think of Hayek as 'perfect market' person. The modern debate in philosophy, politics and economics has a lot of confused opinions circulating.

Dragos Aligica has an interesting summary of Lin's work in this regard where she contrasts her views with Smith and Hobbes, and strives to find a "third way" between market and state. http://reason.com/archives/2009/10/12/elinor-ostrom-on-the-the-marke

But so much of this discussion gets convoluted because we mistakenly contrast market and civil society. Instead we should see the market as one manifestation of civil-voluntary association. And contrast that with the coercive power of the state. Lin's common-pool resource management work is along those lines.

The challenge to modern libertarians, I would argue, comes more in the way that Lin and Vincent challenge the idea of a unified local government, but instead see polycentricity in governmental arrangments. Not only in the competition between governments (Tiebout and all that), but within the actual municipal production and distribution of public goods (say police services). I am not sure that their work here has been fully confronted.

But I am more focused on her analytical contribution to the study of self-governance. Huge mistake to not appreciate all that she has done in that field and its importance to understanding the process of economic development.

Bill Dennis highlights that the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders actually beat the Nobel Prize committee to the punch. Lin and Vincent were the first recipients of the Funds Lifetime Achievement Award.


David Henderson in the WSJ provides a very useful summary of the importance of the Nobel winners research:


Pete: "Only because they DON'T UNDERSTAND Hayek and instead think of Hayek as 'perfect market' person. The modern debate in philosophy, politics and economics has a lot of confused opinions circulating."

I know. I see I was writing a post telling them that while you were writing this post.

Henry Farrell obviously doesn't know all that much about this subject. Which is quite depressing.

I'll read some of Ostrom when I get a spare six months to read my backlog of books. ;)


I've read only a tiny fraction of L. Ostrom's work. My focus has been on the so-called common property issues. I find her work interesting, but not terribly insightful--no giant such as Hayek, Coase, North, or Williamson. I've occasionally used excerpts of her research in courses, but it wasn't well received by students.

In terms of her approach to common property, it seems overly interested in centralized solutions--those managed by a coercive power such as a tribe, village, irrigation authority, or similar 'small is beautiful' institution. Ancient village traditions can be just as coercive as the meanest police state--an hypothesis that never seemed investigated in her work. Rather, Ostrom seems to prefer a softer, rosy view of local coercive units. As far as I know, the idea that trade and market create value and capital (e.g., Hayek and de Soto) never entered her work. Finally, my reading is that her focus in always on the institutions as a moral force apart from the existence and choices of individuals.

Nevertheless, Peter's view gives me hope. I'll have to look more closely at the work cited in the blog. More hope and change. Great.

Best to all.

One ancient tribal system worth studying is that of the Scottish clans. Originally clan lands were administered by a clan chief who took an oath to "preserve inviolate all the ancient customs of the people." It was these same clan chiefs who later conducted the Clearances - action to move tenants to the extremities of the lands whereby they eventually starved or forced to emigrate.

Originally the lands fell under the Celtic Patriarchal system, following the Norman invasion this changed to a feudal system.

Change was wrought by invasion and a force far greater than the clans.

Without security of title enforced by a sovereign property was not secure.


Tribes and such may be coercive, but to call them "centralized" seems somewhat off. Let us be clear, and Ostrom is one who has shown this point, which you may not like: open access resources get overexploited in a regime of pure, Nash equilibrium, individualism. The whole point is that to manage a commons requires some sort of collective decisionmaking, and these arrangements that bring about cooperation over time in the face of prisoner's dilemma cheating generally involve some sort of punishment of cheaters, as in what the lobster gangs of Maine do to those who violate their arrangements. Some sort of coercion is necessary to pull this off.

I was reading through the preface of Williamson's Economic Institutions of Capitalism, a book I ordered a few weeks back along with Governing the Commons**, and he cites Menger and Von Mises. I was very impressed.

As I have written elsewhere, I think this is a big poke in the eye for Max U economists. I had an email conversation with a Columbia Economist this year and he had no idea about VOC's critique of neoclassical models of inflation. As you say Dr. Boettke, NCE is void of institutional considerations (North, 1990, ad nauseam). How they can continue in this way is beyond me. And the prediction that Fama would win this year struck me as absurd.

It is too bad Mancur Olson isn't around to get the award. I think he really belongs in this cohort.

**It is too bad that I didn't place a bet on my recent book purchases. I would be very wealth! Alas, I am a poor grad student.

Where is Nepal - the research countrysite of the winner - in your long article? It's a pity to miss the name of the country which was the source of Ms Ostrom's findings and revelations, and you blew it! Poor journalism, ideed!!


Not sure if you are still checking this thread, but if so, can you clarify why you said the Forbes piece was "wrong"? I skimmed it and it seemed defensible to me. Obviously neither you nor David Henderson would have described their work that way, but is there anything in the Forbes article that is factually incorrect?

(I'm not challenging you, I'm sincerely asking a question.)

Ostrom explicitly endorses Hayek's model of economic science and Hayek's explanatory strategy. See:


Wow an interesting model. Thank you for sharing.

I had never heard about her until now but she sounds to be deserved member for nobel award considering pioneering work on rational choice theory and institutional analysis. Surely, she would be amazing and talented person.

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