Nobel economist argues for public ownership

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics was also a key voice for the notion of public ownership of a state’s natural resources, including oil and natural gas.
That’s an idea Alaskans are fond of, notes the Anchorage Daily News, and one that Texans should like, too, since the higher education system here is partially funded from oil and gas leases on state lands.
Elinor Ostrom, 76, who shared the prize with Oliver E. Williamson 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.

Her work challenged the conventional wisdom that people will only exploit public resources for their own need (“the tragedy of the commons”, as it’s often called), and that the only way to keep those resources from obliteration is through private or government control of the land.
But it wasn’t an anti-government, anti-authority perspective. Rather it’s about how using proper environmental controls, economic stability and equal shares among the users, can help people together sustain for centuries the resources they depend on.
In a brief session with reporters in Indiana on Monday, Ostrom said “What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement of the people involved — as opposed to just having somebody in Washington … make a rule.”

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