Elinor Ostrom 1933 – 2012


Here is a lady of whom I had never heard.  From Matt Yglesias’ write-up

Her best-known research has to do with management of the commons. Standard economic thinking about the commons focuses on the idea of a “tragedy” of the commons. The town has a patch of grass that’s the common possession of everyone who lives there. Everyone who owns sheep wants their sheep to eat some of the grass. And everyone who owns sheep has an interest in avoiding overgrazing in order to ensure that the grass will continue to be there for years to come. But since exercising personal restraint won’t stop you from overgrazing the commons, and my personal overgrazing won’t greatly exacerbate the overall problem it’s in each individual sheep-owner’s interest to just feed as much grass as possible to his sheep. In the end, the grass all ends up dead even though nobody wanted that outcome and it’s left everyone worse off.

And her concern about “overgrazing the commons” is exactly the problem we face with capitalism as it is practiced today.

Once somebody, anybody, gets a little, they want more.  They can never get enough.  They corner the market on widgets, they manufacture and sell 100% of the widgets in the world and is not going to be enough.

The concept of “take some, leave some” is for people that do not understand the modern economic system.  But the old model of take only what you need allowed the world to be self-sustaining for four and a half billion years.

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