Elinor Ostrom has transformed economics by showing communal ownership works in capitalism too

Elinor Ostrom
Elinor Ostrom

Derek Wall on Strom winning the Nobel prize in Economics for refuting the “tragedy of the commons.”

Ostrom’s work is important to socialists because it shows that it is possible to run economic systems without private property or state control.

Marx famously argued that socialism would lead to communism based on the commons, where democratic planning would put people in control.

Ostrom has shown that even in a capitalist society such commons can be made to work.

This is important because other economists have argued the commons can never work and thus property can and must be privatized. Worse, they use a “lifeboat” analogy in which the weak should be tossed overboard for the good of the rest wealthy. Her Nobel prize comes for her refutation of this Randian apologia for greed and selfishness.

In fact, people-based commons are still the most widely practised form of property found in the world’s rainforests – and they work.

Ostrom’s work has already been used widely. For example, Alaskan policy-makers have used her ideas to create a system of sharing oil revenues.

Ostrom argues that resources and ecosystems are generally better maintained by local communities than corporations or the state, although she is careful to note that small isn’t always beautiful and sometimes other institutions are necessary.

As states continue to wither across the planet, her ideas may find widespread acceptance as locals band join together to do what the state no longer can.