Monday, October 12, 2009

Another brush with the Nobel in Arizona.

Elinor Ostrom, an Indiana University social scientist who also has a "research professor" appointment at ASU, is one of the joint winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics. (It's awarded by the Nobel Foundation; it's a Nobel Prize.)

Arizona's previous brushes with the Nobel include:

  • IPCC, Peace, 2007 (Jon Overpeck of the U of A was a co-lead-author.)
  • Roy Glauber, Physics, 2005
  • Vernon Smith, Economics, 2002

Willis Lamb and Nico Bloembergen were both hired by the Optical Sciences Center (now the College of Optical Sciences) years after their awards. Glauber serves the OSC in what I understand to be an advisory capacity and his Adjunct Professor title is largely symbolic. As I understand it, Ostrom is much more a part of ASU than Glauber is of U of A. Smith was at George Mason by the time he won his award, but the bulk of his work was done at Purdue and the U of A. Overpeck was one of a few dozen co-lead authors on the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

Interesting that Ostrom's was the first Nobel for someone affiliated with the party school in Tempe--the rest were all connected to the U of A. Smith's was probably the closest to a Nobel for work done at one of the state's megauniversities. Neither institution can claim a Fields Medal, John Bates Clark Award, or similar high honor, either. It should in no way disparage the research being conducted to note that Arizona's universities are in this respect always bridesmaids and never brides.

Alex Tabarrok nicely summarizes Ostrom's contributions, and it looks like Evan Lisull beat me to this post.

Like the work of maybe-UA prof Glauber, maybe-ASU prof Ostrom's work is very accessible at a high level. A review in the December 19, 2006 issue of PNAS of her work on effective and ineffective institutions for forest stewardship is relatively light reading which will give a "feel" for her institutional economics research program and findings regarding commons problems. Google Scholar turns up loads more and much of it is more interesting than my usual readings during sample incubations.

Note that modern conservation and environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy are taking this work very seriously. Note that the takeaway message is minimally "there are people studying what does and does not work in commons problems" and perhaps "neither government micromanagement nor assignment of property rights are always or even usually effective, and not all spontaneous or autochthonous rules work, either". (Place your bets on when the first glibertarian says "Ostrom says that law is unnecessary and bad and she got the Nobel Prize--Ha!") And note also that this is yet another Nobel for someone putting Hayekian ideas on sound, mainstream footing.

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