An economist to the rescue!

The Nobel Prize of Economics 2009 went to a woman (shared) this year – a first: Elinor Ostrom.

She has been working on matters concerning common pool resources CPR. The old example here is what happens to grassland and fisheries when everybody has an unrestrained right of use. Policy analytics are increasingly looking for an alternative approach as both government-based solutions and privatization have drawbacks in many cases.

How do we best collectively manage shared resources used by many individuals in common such as fisheries, groundwater basins and irrigation systems. Purely personal interest – also called greed – often leads to problems.

The use of cooperative institutions that are organized and governed by the resource users themselves are in many cases successful. Temptations like free-rides, shirking or opportunistic behaviour can be reduced. She gives examples like Swiss grazing pastures, Japanese forests and irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines.

Ostrom suggests a set of eight “design principles” common to each of the cases: clearly defined boundaries, monitors who are either resource users or accountable to them, graduated sanctions, mechanisms set by the users themselves to resolve conflicts and to alter the rules. The challenge is “to foster contingent self-commitment among the members”. Ostrom stresses specific solutions for all cases.

Ostrom has shown us a third way that could be useful in many ways – enlarging the space for our thinking. A cause crying for these kinds of solutions are (maybe) environmental resource management on a global scale.

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