Nobel Victory for the Commons

It has been a record haul for women at the Nobel prizes this year. But more heartening for me was the Nobel for economics going to a political scientist, who has worked painstakingly to show that privatising natural resources is not the answer for stemming environmental degradation.

US-based Elinor Ostrom’s studies have challenged established economic thinking that natural resources can either be owned by the State or the private sector. They have shown that fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins can be managed better as common resources by communities. 

I don’t know who should celebrate more for this recognition, economists or political scientists? But, as The Guardian’s Kevin Gallagher says in his column, the Nobel prize for Ostrom is a call to economists to spend a lot more time analysing human behaviour, rather than assuming that we are all rational selfish individuals.

Unlike many economists, she has based her findings on rigorous empirical and theoretical work (which also includes satellite analyses to measure depletion of resources).

More importantly, Ostrom has certainly shown the way to the world towards forging a symbiotic relationship with the environment. Ostrom’s insights should be used by economists and environmentalists to give a fresh perspective to problems ailing the world economy.

Even as I celebrate Ostrom’s win, I feel quite alarmed to read the UN’s annual report on global food security which has warned that hunger across the world is increasing. The report confirms that more than one billion people - a sixth of the world's population - are undernourished.

If that puts a spoke on the Millennium Development Goals, even more disheartening for is the news that the poorest countries and poorer people are suffering the most from global hunger. The FAO says Asia and the Pacific has the largest number of hungry people (642 million) followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 265 million. It’s time for Governments and policy experts to take insights from Ostrom’s work and evolve enlightened approaches to solving global hunger.

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