Here is the Washington Post obituary of Dr. Elinor Ostrom who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. I first ran across her work and the Indiana School of Public Choice when I was in graduate school in the 1970s. Elinor and her husband Vincent had an major influence on my academic career. She will be missed.
In essence, Dr. Ostrom contended that individuals and communities could effectively manage their own collective resources — such as fisheries, forests and water supplies — without the intrusion of government regulation or private industry.
“What we have ignored,” she said after her Nobel Prize was announced, “is what citizens can do .?.?. as opposed to just having someone in Washington or at a far, far distance make a rule.”
For much of Dr. Ostrom’s career, many economists were deeply influenced by the principle of the “tragedy of the commons.” Named for the overgrazing of pastures during the 1800s, the parable suggests that individuals acting in self-interest will ultimately deplete a resource — such as a pasture — that is open to everyone.
Scholars used the parable to demonstrate the need for government regulation or control by private industry. Dr. Ostrom disputed this, pointing to empirical evidence she had gathered around the world to prove that local knowledge, cooperation and enlightened self-interest could be more effective than regulatory leviathans.
Here is the Cafe Hayek post with two links to evaluations of her work by friends of ours at the time she won the Nobel Prize. One is by Pete Boettke and the other is by one of her former students. Both are well worth reading.