We note the passing of one of our most distinguished authors: Elinor H. Ostrom, who died of cancer on June 12 at the age of 78. Ostrom's achievements are numerous but must start with being the first - and so far the only - woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, in 2009. She was also listed as one of Time's 100 most influential people in April. She founded a pathbreaking workshop in political analysis with her husband Vincent, who came to Indiana University in 1965. She later joked that she had gotten a job there because they needed someone to teach a 7:30 AM class.
The crux of Ostrom's work was the idea of the commons, large natural resources that individuals must overcome their inherent selfishness to govern. As the Nobel committee put it:
Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes.
That idea informs the four books of ours which she coedited, especially Understanding Knowledge as a Commons and The Commons in the New Millennium. Her work's influence cut across many disciplines, though - as one reviewer of The Commons in the New Millennium wrote, ""It is hard to imagine a person who would not learn something from examining this book."
Ostrom leaves her husband. She will be missed.