AWRA Water Blog

A Nobel Laureate for Us Common WaterWonks

nobellaureateIt is not too often that those of us in the water community can claim some disciplinary kinship with a Nobel Laureate, especially one from the economics realm. But this year we can take pride in seeing Elinor (Lin) Ostrom of Indiana University share the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

She is the first woman to win this particular Nobel, first awarded in 1969. She is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

And she is not an economist – well, maybe a political economist –  but was trained as a political scientist.

Her connection to water comes via her specialty: common-pool resources and their governance. She wrote her PhD dissertation (UCLA) on groundwater management, and that was just the beginning (see quote at bottom).

Here’s what the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in recognizing her for her analysis of economic governance, especially in the commons:

“Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized,” the academy said. “Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories.”

She’s the first Nobel Laureate whose material I read long before she won her prize. I have read a number of her papers, and her 1990 book, Governing the Commons, also comes to mind. I’ve also met several of her students.

Her is a link to her IU CV with a number of hot links to her publications.

And, for some additional significance of her award, the Indiana Daily Student said it all in its editorial:

Additionally, because of the nature of Ostrom’s work and her position in the political science department, it is a demonstration of the increasing importance of interdisciplinary focus in research.

Previously, Ostrom herself has stressed the importance of developing an “interdisciplinary language” among researchers. This, she says, is necessary because the problems and issues with which they are dealing cross disciplinary lines and cannot be solved by looking exclusively through one prism.

Finally, the award is an indication of the increasing relevance of testing established theories about numerous economics against actual situations, especially as dozens of developing countries make their way out of poverty and into the globalized economy.

You can find more links at the IU site.

David Zetland has a great post over at Aguanomics about Ostrom and her co-winner , Oliver Williamson.  David is pleased at the awards, and says both are people who deal with the messy realities of how things get done in an imperfect world. 

Dr. Williamson, at UC-Berkeley, can now get a lifetime free parking space in the Noble Laureate Grove. Go, Ollie!

So are you wondering what some other economists thought about Ostrom’s award? Zetland has that covered, too.  I doubt you’ll be surprised at some comments.

“I grew up in Los Angeles … The ocean is right there. And if you pull the groundwater down, surprise, surprise, the saltwater comes in. And if they had not found a way of reducing the quantity of water they pumped, and doing a variety of other things, they would have had to give up the groundwater basin to saltwater. I was very fortunate, I started that as a seminar paper, and I kept going and going.” — Elinor Ostrom

One thought on “A Nobel Laureate for Us Common WaterWonks

  1. Carlton Krumpfes

    I tip my hat to Elanor Olstrom as the Nobel Laureate creates awareness of the troubling drinking water epidemic of the future. Elanor is a spokesperson to remind us all to unite and take action in a bottled water boycott. The bottled water boycott is a battle cry for consumers to form a collective conscious in a process to rescue the planet, influence big business, save money, improve health, and quench the globe’s thirst with cleaner, healthier, cheaper water for all.

    Carlton Krumpfes

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