Common Goods, people and the Market

“What are we talking about when we refer to ‘common goods’? We are talking about goods and resources that, rather than being bound by ideas of property or belonging, assume by their own natural and economic vocation functions of social interest, serving the interest not of public administration but those of a given collectivity and the people who make it up. And so, common goods require a different rationale to the one that has dominated the economic, social and political debate for so long. We refer here to the binary logic that always forced us to choose between public and private property. In the case of commons, the direct relation between common goods and the people making up the totality tells us what needs there are and what are the necessary goods for satisfying them, thus modifying the juridical conception that has held up structures of property since the establishment of Roman law. People have needs that are not met by the rigidity implied by property structures. We are not talking about just another type of property: this is the very opposite of property, the non-transmissibility of common goods being a key element in the debate.”

Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012),  the Nobel Prizewinner who died last June, wife of Vincent Ostrom, a fellow political scientist, pioneered “The commons: beyond the market vs. state dilemma.” Value is created through the logic of sharing with others in an open and even casual way. Innovation is no longer a monopoly, unassailably colonised by mercantile initiative.

Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)”The commons breaks with the individualistic vision as conceived by the capitalist tradition, a vision that has progressively transferred the idea of rights to individual people. The commons take inclusion and everyone’s equal right to access as its starting point, while property and the idea of the state that upholds it is based on a rivalry of goods, and thus on exclusion and concentration of power in institutions that insure and protect it.”


“The new social reality that is configuring itself via technological change has multiple effects and is opening new avenues for social and scientific innovation. It is clear that the internet, as a platform for communication and exchange, has generated and will continue to generate numerous initiatives that break the traditional models of creating wealth or knowledge, for instance.”

What distinguished the successful attempts to manage commons from the unsuccessful ones in her empirical studies were summed up by Anarchy Without Bombs:

1. Clarity in the boundaries and rules.

2. Local input and acceptance of these rules.

3. Active involvement of those most likely to be using the commons in the monitoring of use.

4. Methods for dispute resolution.

5. Sanctions for violators.


Read more about it in Joan Subirats article: The commons: beyond the market vs. state dilemma

Joan Subirats is part of a cross-disciplinary group which has been meeting in Barcelona for some months to discuss the commons.


8 Principles for Managing a Commons
Elinor Ostrom, YES! Magazine
Advice on how to govern our commons by Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom:

1. Define clear group boundaries.

2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.

3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.

5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.

6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.

7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.

8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.
(Feb 26, 2010)


  • The internet as the multiplier of common goods (
    It is important to understand that the debate over the commons coincides with great technological changes that demand and invite us to work from a scientific perspective, which is necessary to increase the capacity for innovation and cross-fertilisation, and from a social perspective, to ensure processes of social change and transformation. Clearly some of these dynamics will make more sense from academic perspectives and others from more political and citizen-led perspectives. This is at once its appeal and its weakness.
  • Elinor Ostrom, 1933-2012 (
    We note the passing of one of our most distinguished authors: Elinor H. Ostrom, who died of cancer on June 12 at the age of 78. Ostrom’s achievements are numerous but must start with being the first – and so far the only – woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, in 2009. She was also listed as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in April. She founded a pathbreaking workshop in political analysis with her husband Vincent, who came to Indiana University in 1965. She later joked that she had gotten a job there because they needed someone to teach a 7:30 AM class.
  • Missing Elinor Ostrom( my work over the years I have often been directed to the worlds of Elinor OstromElinor Ostrom, and toward speaking to her in person. Alas, the latter choice is now off the table. She diedyesterday, at 78, of pancreatic cancer.On Monday evening, in the Q&A during my talk, I was asked about the relevance of Ostrom’s work to mine around VRM and The Intention Economy. I answered, with regret, that my sourcing of Ostrom was limited to a bibliography entry, after I had to reduce the curb weight of the book from 120,000 words to 80,000. So here’s one section, recovered from the cutting room floor:
  • Elinor Ostrom Reading List (
    As noted earlier, Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman to have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, died on Tuesday.For those interested in more information about Professor Ostrom, here’s a brief reading list
  • Elinor Ostrom (
    In 1968 Elinor Ostrom read an article by Hardin which illustrated his theory by taking the example of a cow pasture open to everyone. Hardin argued that everyone would want a share in the common resource, which would rapidly become overgrazed. But Elinor Ostrom knew from her own experience that the “tragedy” described by Hardin did not always happen in practice. She was, moreover, convinced that the solutions proposed by Hardin could be counterproductive.
    Elinor Ostrom argued that most common resources are well-managed when those who stand to benefit are close to the resource and to each other.

    In fact, she argued that communities themselves had developed out of the need to come together to work out how to avoid over-exploitation of common resources and ensure fairness. The “Tragedy”, as she saw it, typically occurs when there are one or more “stakeholders” who are outside the community social-economic system, who impose their solutions, exert political power or change the rules to gain an advantage for themselves.
    Elinor Ostrom was sharply critical of the “top-down” approach to such issues as climate change. Although she acknowledged that there was a role for international agreement, she felt that directing the question of climate change primarily at governments missed the point that actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be taken by individuals and communities too. Nothing, as she observed, had changed since the Rio Summit of 1992: “The world has not been able to protect its global commons and the situation has deteriorated.”

  • Remembering Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate (
    she said, economists were “wrong to indicate that people were helplessly trapped and the only way out was some external government coming in or dividing it up into chunks and everyone owning their own.”
  • Elinor Ostrom, Only Female Nobel Winner in Economics, Dies at 78 – Bloomberg (
    “Indiana University has lost an irreplaceable and magnificent treasure with the passing of Elinor Ostrom,” Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said. “Throughout her lifetime, Lin has brought distinction to the university through her groundbreaking work, which received the ultimate recognition in 2009.”
  • More Wisdom from Elinor Ostrom (
    Garret Hardin wrote “The Tragedy of the Commons” in support of private property rights. In the commons, he argued, there was a free for all. Because no one had an incentive to protect the whole commons, everyone would over graze their sheep, and the pasture would be degraded. He used the example of the actual commons in England, with details in his economic parable about putting up fences, etc.
  • Elinor Ostrom (1933 – 2012) – Nobel prize winner reinvigorated the concept of the Commons (
    “The problem is that people can overuse [a shared resource], it can be destroyed, and it is a big challenge to figure out how to avoid that.”
    The most effective approach to protect commons is what she calls “polycentric systems,” which operate “at multiple levels with autonomy at each level.” The chief virtue and practical value of this structure is it helps establish rules that “tend to encourage the growth of trust and reciprocity” among people who use and care for a particular commons. This was the focus of her Nobel Lecture in Stockholm, which she opened by stressing a need for “developing new theory to explain phenomena that do not fit in a dichotomous world of ‘the market’ and ‘the state.’”
  • Honoring Elinor Ostrom (
    A collective sigh of sadness went around the Creative Commons community yesterday when we heard that Elinor Ostrom passed away. Elinor is greatly admired for her pioneering studies on the governance of common-pool resources (the Commons) and collective action across the fields of economics, social science, politics and policy.Her seminal book ‘Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action’, was published in 1990; however, Elinor’s work on common property began in the 1960s. Her studies showed that “ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources,” and resources held in the commons may reduce potential over-use or under-investment, and so enable sustainability.
  • Vincent Ostrom, RIP (
  • What Elinor Ostrom Means For All Of Us (
    I was saddened to see that one of my personal inspirational figures, Professor Elinor Ostrom, died last Tuesday, June 12th of pancreatic cancer.  Ostrom’s work was absolutely integral to my own development as both an academic, and a member of humanity.  As a PhD candidate in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois, Ostrom’s work drives my passion for co-ops as a counterpower or corrective to corrosive systems of dependency.
    Ostrom remains an academic unlike many others.  She transcended the debates found in most of the dogmatic Marxist, libertarian and heterodox economic circles by subverting the ideological divides, understooding that complex questions would require involved and complex answers, complex because the findings would have major social and economic implications:- Are individuals motivated by considerations other than crude selfishness?
    – Are individuals forever locked in a struggle against each other for power and control?
    – Can individuals overcome substantial barriers to address critical issues such as climate change?Ostrom (and her husband Vincent who survives Elinor and also a principal theorist in polycentric institutional orders) explored these questions by trying to understand how the “science and art of association” is utilized by real people situated in social dilemmas. The evidence of Ostrom’s work points to yes; humankind has the capacity to develop community based solutions and act concertedly to avert disasters.
  • elinor ostrom: 1933-2012 (
    Elinor Ostrom passed away, after a bout with pancreatic cancer.
    + > institutional change and rule configurations
  • The commons: beyond the market vs. state dilemma | openDemocracy (
  • Elinor Ostrom, RIP (
    Ostrom’s theories are often seen as an alternative to traditional libertarian thought, which emphasizes the importance of private property and markets. However, it actually fits well with libertarianism defined more broadly as advocacy of the superiority of private sector institutions over government. In some respects, Ostrom’s norm-based approach to dealing with tragedies of the commons is actually less dependent on government than the more traditional libertarian approach of relying on exclusive private property rights…..
  • Elinor Ostrum, theorist of “the commons”, dies (
    Ostrom provides a critique of three influential models – Garrett Hardin’s ‘tragedy of the Commons’, the ‘prisoner’s dilemma game’, and Mancur Olson’s ‘logic of collective action’. She observes that the three models are interesting and powerful because they capture aspects of the problem of free-riding. The models predict that those using common resources will not co-operate to achieve collective benefits.
    Ostrom recognised that “inaction in Rio would be disastrous, but a single international agreement would be a grave mistake”. She argued, though: ‘We cannot rely on singular global policies to solve the problem of managing our common resources: the oceans, atmosphere, forests, waterways, and rich diversity of life that combine to create the right conditions for life, including seven billion humans, to thrive.”
  • Elinor Ostrom’s Legacy: Managing Resources Without Government or Private Property (
  • From One Nobel Prize Winner to Another: Vernon Smith on Elinor Ostrom’s Contribution to Economics( >
    Jun 12, 2012 Economics Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, who passed away today, made significant contributions to the scholarship on the development of

    Oct 13, 2009 In honor of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, it’s worth recalling a mention of Ostrom’s work
    Oct 13, 2009 Eilinor Ostrom is a wonderful choice – coming far outside the normal
  • Elinor Ostrom, RIP (

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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4 Responses to Common Goods, people and the Market

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