Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), was the first female economist to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics (2009). His work has enjoyed great recognition due to his research on the management of common goods.

The American economist, political scientist and professor did not have it easy during her childhood, nor during her youth. Nevertheless, his perseverance led him to graduate in Political Science at the University of UCLA. Deciding to continue his academic training, in 1965 he received a PhD in Political Science. It was precisely at the University of UCLA where he was responsible for investigating and analyzing how groups could cooperate to solve problems in common.

Ostrom’s investigations have been very useful for his contributions on the management of common goods. And, if individuals collaborate in the resolution of problems and in the management of common resources, it is possible to achieve an efficient management of common goods.

Where Ostrom placed more emphasis was on the study of the management of common resources such as rivers, forests, grasslands or irrigation systems. Traditionally it was said that these types of resources were not well managed. However, Elinor Ostrom argues that, through cooperative practices or habits, natural resources can be preserved and the destruction of the environment avoided.

Excludability and rivalry

It should be noted that Elinor Ostrom classifies goods based on two characteristics: exclusibility and rivalry. Thus, an excludable good is one from whose consumption a certain individual may be excluded. On the other hand, it should be remembered that a good is considered a rival when a person consumes it and decreases the consumption of another person. Well, using criteria as exclusibility and rivalry are four types of goods.

  • Goods of low rivalry and difficult exclusion:They are pure public goods, such as the sun.
  • High-rival goods and difficult exclusion:They are known as impure public goods. Take as an example a library.
  • Low rivalry goods and easy exclusion:Impure private assets, such as cable television.
  • Highly rivalgoods and easy exclusion: Pure private goods, for example, clothing.

the government of the Commons

In connection with the classification of Ostrom assets, the American economist brings the following ideas about the government of common goods:

  • It was said that for a common good to be managed correctly, the intervention of the state or its privatization is necessary. However, the American economist argues that the community itself can manage common resources in a sustainable way, without over-exploiting them.
  • Communities can self-manage common resources. For this, it is necessary that the rights and duties are regulated through contracts.
  • For the exploitation of common resources it is necessary to establish limits. It should be clear who, how and when can exploit common resources. These agreements must be supervised and whoever breaches them will be sanctioned for this, all without forgetting that a series of mechanisms must be designed to resolve the differences.
  • Reliable, credible and lasting agreements must be designed to preserve common resources.

Thus, against the arguments that Garrett Hardin presented in the ” Tragedy of the commons“, Elinor Ostrom, through real documented situations, argues that it is possible to cooperatively manage the common resources, which will ultimately benefit everyone.

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