Nobel Prize Goes to Ostrom and Williamson

In a stunning upset, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson have won the Nobel Prize in Economics over President Barack Obama.

Lynne Kiesling of Knowledge Problem is pleased:

Both Ostrom’s work on governance institutions and common-pool resources and Williamson’s work on governance institutions and the transactional boundary of the firm contribute meaningfully to our understanding of how individuals coordinate their plans and actions in decentralized, complex systems.

Arnold Kling stresses the implications of their work for issues of decentralized knowledge and centralized power.

The official description of Ostrom’s work by the Swedish Bank identifies some implications for regulation:

The main lesson is that common property is often managed on the basis of rules and procedures that have evolved over long periods of time. As a result they are more adequate and subtle than outsiders — both politicians and social scientists — have tended to realize. Beyond showing that self-governance can be feasible and successful, Ostrom also elucidates the key features of successful governance. One instance is that active participation of users in creating and enforcing rules appears to be essential. Rules that are imposed from the outside or unilaterally dictated by powerful insiders have less legitimacy and are more likely to be violated. Likewise, monitoring and enforcement work better when conducted by insiders than by outsiders. These principles are in stark contrast to the common view that monitoring and sanctioning are the responsibility of the state and should be conducted by public employees.

Paul Dragos Aligica and Peter Boettke of George Mason University showed excellent prescience in publishing a book this summer on the work of Ostrom, her husband Vincent, and their colleagues at Indiana University, Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School.