tribute to lin ostrom for nobel prize


Dear Colleagues,


IIMA has a particular reason to feel happy about Noble prize for Dr.Elinor Ostrom.  More than a decade and half ago, she spent several days at the campus and delivered a   lecture at the Institute, interacted with the students and saw a film Skokie.   I was not aware about her family link with the II World War.  But, tears in her eyes at the end of the film show led to an extended discussion with the students of ISPE and other participants.  This film is about a small town near Chicago where white supremacists wanted to take out a position and National Civil Liberty Association wanted to support their right to do so even after admitting the unfortunate mission and its possible consequence for the people.   Those who are interested can see the film.  


Many participants of the Summer School on Common Property Resource Institutions we ran at the Institute for six years ended up at her Workshop, Indiana as fellows.  Two of our students had more intimate connections.  Aseem Prakash, Professor University of Washington, Seattle did his Ph.D on Corporate Strategy for Environmental Conservation at SPEA at Indiana.  In that year, he was the only student of ours who managed to get fellowship, thanks to Lin’s support.  Arun Agarwal, who did his Ph.D on CPRs at Duke did his Post-doctoral work at Berkeley and has continued his work with Lin for over a decade. 


Her husband, Vincent Ostrom is a great conservative thinker and both of them founded the Workshop as an Ashram.  I had the opportunity to spend sometime with her and Vincent way back in 1984-85 when the first international conference on common property resources was organized by US National Academy of Sciences. 
One of the most remarkable contributions Lin and Vincent Ostroms made to the studies of Commons is the communitarian culture they created at the Workshop.  It was a place where young scholars rubbed shoulders with their seniors and pushed the frontiers of knowledge forward.  She did not merely study institutions but also built them.  The International Association for Study of Common Properties as well as the International Journal on Commons are two other institution building contributions of hers.  Despite being a very strong willed person, she never asserted her institutional role over her academic one.   Like all other academics, she may have had her biases but she made them explicit and did not allow them to affect her respect for those who disagreed.


It will be wonderful to have her with us again and build stronger linkages in the field of institution building and conservation of resources through people’s own institutions.  A small database on Indigenous Common Property Resource Institutions is available for those interested at


I feel extremely happy that many colleagues find her work relevant and interesting.  Today when transactional economics is overtaking institutional economics, the prize is a reminder of certain longstanding community values which will perhaps never lose their relevance.  The work of Williamsons has influenced lot of research in transaction cost economics, vertical integration and the rest.  It is ironical that when the world has given up the model of vertical integration, his work should find new lease of life.  I only hope that his stress on understanding and managing transaction costs gets more attention than the corporate strategies to outsmart small players.  Some of the problems which led to economic meltdown could be traced to the specific strategies large corporations chose to reduce their own transaction costs. 


Anil K Gupta