This is another very easy to read piece on Elinor Ostrom's work that was written by Kevin Gallagher (professor of International Relations at Boston University and a research fellow at the Global Development and Environment Institute) for his Guardian column.
The title is 'Elinor Ostrom breaks the Nobel mould'.
In a nutshell, Ostrom won the Nobel prize for showing that privatising natural resources is not the route to halting environmental degradation.
In most economics classes the environment is usually taught as being the victim of the "tragedy of the commons". If one assumes, like many economists do, that individuals are ruthlessly selfish individuals, and you put those individuals onto a commonly owned resource, the resource will eventually be destroyed. The solution: privatise the commons. Everyone will have ownership of small parcels and treat that parcel better than when they shared it.
Many environmental experts also reject the tragedy of the commons argument and say the government should step in.
Ostrom says the government may not be the best allocator of public resources either. Often governments are seen as illegitimate, or their rules cannot be enforced. Indeed, Ostrom's life work looking at forests, lakes, groundwater basins and fisheries shows that the commons can be an opportunity for communities themselves to manage a resource.
In her classic work Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Ostrom shows that under certain conditions, when communities are given the right to self-organise they can democratically govern themselves to preserve the environment.
We will be discussing these issues in a few weeks when we start to focus on so-called market failures and, as I mentioned in one of my two sections, her work will help me provide a basis for evaluating the typical conclusions derived from analyzing the 'tragedy of the commons'.
The whole Guardian article is found here. Enjoy.
PS: An interesting account of her work is found here.