Vincent and Elinor Ostrom and public ownership of natural resources

Michael Giberson

Among the news stories in response to Elinor Ostrom’s sharing of the Nobel prize for economics, an article from Alaska which mentions the important role played by Vincent Ostrom in the development of that state’s treatment of natural resources.  Both Ostroms worked on related ideas and management of natural resources was central to the work that Elinor Ostrom was recognized for by the Nobel prize committee.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

A political scientist at Indiana University, [Elinor] Ostrom studies the management of common resources, like fish, grazing lands and forests. She shed light on examples around the world — including Alaska’s fisheries — in which people have worked cooperatively to sustain their resources rather than destroying them.

Her husband and academic collaborator, Vincent Ostrom, is also well-regarded in Alaska. As a hired consultant in the mid-1950s, he was a key figure in the drafting of the Alaska Constitution’s natural resource article, which enshrined the idea that the residents of Alaska — rather than the state as a political entity — own the state’s mineral wealth.

That idea has carried forward into the distribution of state oil income as Permanent Fund dividend checks, the management of its fisheries and even the settlement of Native land claims, said Mead Treadwell of Anchorage, who chairs the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

…[Elinor Ostrom] has cranked out many academic papers refuting the conventional wisdom that people inexorably exploit public resources — like grazing lands — for their own need, and that the only way to keep those resources from obliteration is through private or government control of the land.

“She showed it doesn’t have to be that way,” Treadwell said.

Ostrum’s work isn’t about rebelling against authority. It’s about working together to solve problems, according to [Anchorage writer Charles] Wohlforth.

How different would development patterns be in many of the oil exporting nations of the world if royalties from the development of mineral wealth were paid directly to residents rather than governments.

(HT to Tom Fowler at NewsWatch: Energy, who notes a kind-of similar practice in Texas in which oil and gas royalties are paid into the state’s “Permanent School Fund.”)

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2 thoughts on “Vincent and Elinor Ostrom and public ownership of natural resources

  1. Pingback: Mike Linksvayer (mlinksva) 's status on Tuesday, 13-Oct-09 17:53:25 UTC - Identi.ca

  2. How different would development patterns be in many of the oil exporting nations of the world if royalties from the development of mineral wealth were paid directly to residents rather than governments.

    Things would be different not merely the oil exporting nations, Michael, but also at home. Federal and state ownership of resources has led not merely to bureaucratized management, but to prolonged rent-seeking and political battles.

    Privatization of some resources is desirable, but if royalties were passed through to citizens, we`d have better management, and less opposition to resource usage. And think of what climate change politics would look like if politicians were discussing rebated carbon taxes.

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