Elinor Ostrom As a Role Model

Lynne Kiesling

It’s no secret that Elinor Ostrom has always been a role model for me; the KP archives contain many references to her work and accomplishments from both of us, and much of my thinking in my own work rests on ideas and inspirations that I have drawn from her work. Lin passed away yesterday morning, and I’ll take the liberty of speaking for Mike to say that we’ll mourn the loss of her brilliant work, her inspiration, and her generous and cheerful spirit.

In September 2009 I gave a talk at the workshop at IU, on the Olympic Peninsula Project and how the behavior of the homeowners on the real-time pricing contract provided evidence of self-organization in a complex system. Lin was a generous and gracious host; in addition to her enthusiasm for the paper and her probing questions about it, she was exceedingly kind in spending the previous evening with me at dinner and then at a walk around a nearby lake that she enjoyed and was happy to share with me as we talked about our many mutual interests and acquaintances. We interacted a few times after that at conferences, but that experience in Bloomington is one that I will cherish.

It’s poignant for me that on the day Lin died, I was giving a congratulatory speech to the 2012 senior class inductees of Phi Beta Kappa (Alpha of Illinois chapter). I focused my remarks on the animating principles of Phi Beta Kappa, as articulated by National Secretary John Churchill:

ΦΒΚ stands for freedom of inquiry and expression, disciplinary rigor, breadth of intellectual perspective, the cultivation of skills of deliberation and ethical reflection, the pursuit of wisdom, and the application of the fruits of scholarship and research in practical life. We champion these values in the confidence that a world influenced by them will be a more just and peaceful world.

As I encouraged our new members to carry these principles forward into the world with their diligence, inquisitiveness, and creativity, Lin was in my mind as the embodiment of these principles of freedom of scholarly inquiry, integrity, and practical application of knowledge.

Pete Boettke has a lovely memorial of Lin, the conclusion of which urges us to carry her work forward:

Lin leaves behind a tremendous intellectual legacy.  We have much work to do, and we will honor her by getting on with that task.  She also leaves us with a lasting impression as a personal role model for how to pursue one’s career as a teacher and mentor to future citizen/scholars, and also as a scholar in the field of political economy seeking to understand the foundations of social cooperation across time and place in collaboration with other intellectually curious scholars across academic disciplines.  Vernon Smith once summed up Lin’s personality as “humble and hard-working”, and I can only add to that she was “gracious and giving”.  Think about how much can be accomplished when the very best of us exhibit such traits and set the example for all the rest of us to strive to emulate.

Here are the New York Times obituary and Wall Street Journal obituary.

3 thoughts on “Elinor Ostrom As a Role Model

  1. Noteworthy post, Lynne. I didn’t know Lin Ostrom, but I have to believe she’d appreciate your words.

  2. Sadly, Elinor Ostrom believed in government central planning. In “Green from the Grassroots,” she told us that “[w]hat we need are universal sustainable development goals….” Keeping in mind Hayek’s essay about the use of information, who on any central planning board has the information, most of which is peculiar to time, place, and circumstance, to know the appropriate allocation of any good or service. The answer is no one.

    Scarcity is a fact of life. All economic goods are scarce. If they were not, they would not have a price. True sustainability is not about the supply of scarce goods and services, it is about the allocation of scarce goods and services. Granted, it is imperfect, but the closest man can come to finding a sustainable allocation is through the price mechanism. And then, it is only through prices that are created by the voluntary exchange of private property.

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