elinor ostrom + ownership

Let me preface this post by saying that my knowledge of economics is limited at best. Indeed, I am putting off taking ECO1001 until the last possible moment. I do, however, know a fair amount about motivation. And that’s what this paper — as well as Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Memorial Prize acceptance speech — is about.

Ostrom begins by breaking down the components of the basic social-ecological model, or SES: resource systems, resource units, users, and governance systems. She asserts that every SES is complex and unique, so restoration or preservation efforts must be tailored to fit each SES; there is no easy, universally applicable fix. This is where public policy often falls short.

Ostrom then goes on to argue that if users are properly motivated, they can maintain equilibrium within any given SES — without government intervention.

The tragedy of the commons¬†is an important ecological concept that assumes that all users will act in their own self-interest. Based on Ostrom’s research, this is not at all true. Users are willing and able to take ownership of their actions, but user behavior depends on whether or not valid motivational factors are present. For example, if an SES ¬†is predictable (meaning that it has followed certain patterns in the past and will likely follow those same patterns well into the future) then users are more likely to turn to management. The predictability of system dynamics is an important factor because:

1. It highlights the fact that the users themselves are in control and,

2. It does not underestimate the users’ capacity to understand the situation at hand.

Another factor to consider is prior knowledge of the SES in question. If users are conscious of the way their own actions affect the resource system, resource units, and even each other, then they will organize in pursuit of management. In other words, communication is key.

Ostrom insists that “simple blueprint policies do not work.” In order to create a successful rules regarding SES management, governing forces must do their research beforehand. No two systems are exactly alike, but for whatever reason, the policies always imply the opposite.

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