RIP, Elinor Ostrom

Cite this Article
Joshua D. Wright, RIP, Elinor Ostrom, Truth on the Market (June 12, 2012),

Nobel Laureate (and UCLA alumna) Elinor Ostrom has passed.

From the IU press release:

The entire Indiana University community mourns the passing today of Distinguished Professor Elinor Ostrom, who received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her groundbreaking research on the ways that people organize themselves to manage resources.

Ostrom, 78, died of cancer at 6:40 a.m. today at IU Health Bloomington Hospital surrounded by friends. She was senior research director of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Distinguished Professor and Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, and professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

She is survived by Vincent Ostrom, her husband and colleague. She also leaves behind a large extended family of colleagues, collaborators, staff and friends, in Bloomington and on five continents, who worked closely with her during an extraordinary 50-year career.

Ostrom shared the 2009 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, also known as the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, with University of California economist Oliver Williamson. She was the first woman and remains the only woman to be awarded the prize. …

In addition to her positions at IU, Ostrom was founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University. Known as a dedicated and tireless teacher and mentor, she chaired or served on dissertation and advisory committees for more than 130 Ph.D. students and took a continued interest in their careers.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences to Ostrom “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” Through a multidisciplinary approach that combined theory, field studies and laboratory experiments, she showed that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources. Her work countered the conventional wisdom that only private ownership or top-down regulation could prevent a “tragedy of the commons,” in which users would inevitably destroy the resources that they held in common.

Ostrom was born Elinor Awan on Aug. 7, 1933, in Los Angeles. She often talked about the influence on her life of being a child of the Great Depression, helping her family grow food in a large garden and knitting scarves for soldiers during World War II. As a self-described “poor kid in a rich kid’s school,” Beverly Hills High School, she swam competitively and competed on the debate team.

Although her parents didn’t have college degrees, she worked her way through UCLA, graduating in three years, and then worked in the private sector before entering graduate school. Despite resistance to admitting women to doctoral programs, she earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA.

Dissertation research on Los Angeles’ West Basin groundwater resource introduced Ostrom to the study of common-pool resources, in which multiple users have access and potentially compete for a limited supply of goods or services. Later, at IU, she studied police departments in Indianapolis and Chicago.