Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom Doesn't Get Private Property Rights

She's some kind of promoter of a micro-management technocracy for what she calls "common pool resources".

Below is from a book review by Scott London of Olstrom's Governing the Commons (My emphasis.)
This study looks at the problem of collectively managing shared resources. Because of the book's unassuming nature and rather formal scholarly tone, it's easy to pass it over as just another academic work. But together with such books as Herman Daly and John Cobb's For the Common Good, Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce and Vandana Shiva's work on restoring the commons, I consider it one of the more far-sighted and genuinely significant works to emerge in recent years on environmental resource management.

Ostrom uses the term "common pool resources" to denote natural resources used by many individuals in common, such as fisheries, groundwater basins, and irrigation systems. Such resources have long been subject to overexploitation and misuse by individuals acting in their own best interests. Conventional solutions typically involve either centralized governmental regulation or privatization of the resource. But, according to Ostrom, there is a third approach to resolving the problem of the commons: the design of durable cooperative institutions that are organized and governed by the resource users themselves.

"The central question in this study," she writes, "is how a group of principals who are in an interdependent situation can organize and govern themselves to obtain continuing joint benefits when all face temptations to free-ride, shirk, or otherwise act opportunistically."

The heart of this study is an in-depth analysis of several long-standing and viable common property regimes, including Swiss grazing pastures, Japanese forests, and irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines. Although Ostrom insists that each of these situations must be evaluated on its own terms, she delineates a set of eight "design principles" common to each of the cases. These include clearly defined boundaries, monitors who are either resource users or accountable to them, graduated sanctions, and mechanisms dominated by the users themselves to resolve conflicts and to alter the rules. The challenge, she observes, is to foster contingent self-commitment among the members: "I will commit myself to follow the set of rules we have devised in all instances except dire emergencies if the rest of those affected make a similar commitment and act accordingly."

This book is aimed chiefly at policy-makers, bureaucrats, and resource users, rather than scholars...

Ostrom concludes that "if this study does nothing more than shatter the convictions of many policy analysts that the only way to solve common pool resource problems is for external authorities to impose full private property rights or centralized regulation, it will have accomplished one major purpose."


  1. Ostrom's (Olstrom?) solution: "I will commit myself to follow the set of rules we have devised in all instances except dire emergencies if the rest of those affected make a similar commitment and act accordingly."

    Since value is subjective, resource users are always and everywhere acting in the "dire emergency" mode and so this pledge is no solution. It seems likely to decline into a central government regulatory scheme. The only good that could come of this study is if people recognize that it is a dead-end.

  2. She sounds like she's describing a market with property rights but is wary of being a 'fundamentalist' or is too ignorant of that which she is describing to realize that she is just talking about a free market.

    Who is she to decide and designate what is a 'common pool resource' and what is not?