Aprofessor of natural resources management and economics explores the work of Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), the first woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, for her work focused on the governance of commons.
As Nordman notes, the term commons (also known as common-pool resources) refers to goods that can be depleted if overused but which are difficult to exclude people from using, such as water, fish, and land. Prior to Ostrom’s work, the methods for managing commons were largely influenced by the work of ecologist Garrett Hardin. In his 1968 essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” he argued that overpopulation was a large part of the problem and believed that the only ways in which common-pool resources could be properly managed were through market forces or governmental regulation. Ostrom felt that there was another way. Based on her research, she argued that communities were capable of solving their own resource problems without restrictions or government intervention. In this compelling work, Nordman explores numerous examples that support Ostrom’s claim, such as the coordination of groundwater withdrawals in Los Angeles, the formation of “lobster gangs” in Maine, and the ancient water court in Valencia, Spain. “Each Thursday at noon,” writes the author, “as they have for the last one thousand years, members of this unique court conduct a public hearing in which they resolve disputes over irrigation water.” As Ostrom noted, institutions that have successfully managed their communal resources tend to follow a recognizable pattern. These principles emerge organically through community interactions over time, and those institutions that do not succeed are frequently missing one or more of these principles. In clear language, Nordman details and examines these principles and communities that have successfully adopted them. He also shares details of his interviews with members of other communities that have created collaborative systems for sharing their resources.
An intriguing exploration of pioneering research in natural resource management and the economist who led it.