The Economics of Social Ecological Systems

Elinor Ostrom’s article, “A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems” is very successful in its attempt to connect human behavior and human interaction regarding the usage of ecosystem resources. Right off the bat, it was shrewd of Ostrom to label the ecosystem as an SES, or social-ecological system. I noticed that many of her ideas paralleled the rudimentary theories found in macroeconomics.

When Ostrom first mentions the idea of government intervention, she parallels the idea of the “invisible hand” that is often required in capitalism to regulate the economy and prevent a crash in the market. Similarly, Ostrom notes that the same principles should be applied to SES’s and political influence should be used to ensure the abundance of resources in the environment. This is particularly true when Ostrom describes the application in larger and smaller ecosystems. Her ideas can very well be applied to the estuaries surrounding New York City, however, they would prove to be futile if attempted on the Atlantic Ocean. Simply speaking, it is easier to collaborate in a smaller geographic zone because there is less bureaucracy and it is more efficient to bring together those in the region. In the oil business, the OPEC countries collaborate on oil production and price to maximize their benefit. They are a smaller group of oil producers, in a close proximity, who are able to maximize their resource. However, this same practice would be futile in the fashion industry where there are hundreds of thousands of companies around the world.

As I read this paper my interpretation of it gradually progressed from an environmental science paper to an economics paper. This may have due to my personal interest in markets or because Ostrom may have been striving for her audience to perceive it that way. The ideas set forth in this paper are valuable to the influencers in the estuaries surrounding New York City and can make use of them to bring change in the area.

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