Polycentricity, Self-governance, and the Art & Science of Association

Abstract

When considered as a unified project, the Ostroms’ themes of polycentricity, self-governance, and the art and science of association have strong intellectual roots and connections with Austrian economics. In this paper, we show the close relationship between the Ostroms and the Austrians. We then describe how contemporary Austrian economists can be inspired and can further the work of the Ostroms in the areas of civil societies and self-governing communities, the use of fieldwork and case studies, and public economies and coproduction. Although there are perceived tensions between the Ostroms and the Austrians, we contend that these can be reconciled and pursued as fruitful areas of research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See “Elinor Ostrom, Winner of Nobel in Economics, dies at 78” in New York Times, June 12, 2012; “Elinor Ostrom Obituary” in The Guardian, June 13, 2012; and “Elinor Ostrom: first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics, dies at 78” in The Washington Post, June 13, 2012.

  2. 2.

    Journals that have the most citations to Governing the Commons: World Development, Ecological Economics, Human Ecology, Ecology and Society, Society and Natural Resources, Marine Policy, Environmental Management, Development and Change, Environment and Development Economics, Forest Policy and Economics, Ocean and Coastal Management, Journal of Environmental Management, Public Administration, and Conservation Biology. See, Frank van Laerhoven and Erling Berge (2011) “The 20th Anniversary of Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons,” available here: http://www.thecommonsjournal.org/index.php/ijc/article/view/290/194#fn2

  3. 3.

    See: “Elinor Ostrom dies at 78; first woman to win the Nobel in economics” in Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2012; “Nobel looks outside markets” in Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2009; “Elinor Ostrom, Winner of Nobel in Economics, dies at 78” in New York Times, June 12, 2012; “Elinor Ostrom Obituary” in The Guardian, June 13, 2012; “Elinor Ostrom: first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics, dies at 78” in The Washington Post, June 13, 2012; “First Woman wins Nobel prize for economics” in CNN, October 12, 2009; “Two Americans are Awarded the Nobel in Economics” in New York Times, October 12, 2009. In all of these, there is one mention of Vincent as her research partner in studying polycentric governance, The Guardian article states “The couple evolved a distinct ‘Bloomington school’ of political economy, premised on notions of polycentric governance that Vincent had pioneered in the early 1960s.”

  4. 4.

    Lin says, “Undertaking this study gave me a deep respect for individual case studies based on intensive fieldwork” (E.Ostrom 2010a: 6) and that these “early efforts to understand the polycentric water industry in California were formative for me” (E.Ostrom 2010b: 408).

  5. 5.

    Lin says “I participated with colleagues in the study of polycentric police industries serving U.S. metropolitan areas to find that the dominant theory underlying massive reform proposals was incorrect” (E.Ostrom 2010b: 408).

  6. 6.

    Hayek (1946 [1948]) also employs this conception of man and explains how this was the original understanding of man in economics, as put forth by Adam Smith. In fact, the entire political economy of Smith was about accepting human limitations and finding a set of institutional arrangements where individuals can do the least harm—a social system which “makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid” (Hayek 1946, 12).

  7. 7.

    We will discuss the potential tension between Hayekian and Ostromian perspectives on spontaneous order in section 5.

  8. 8.

    For example, Vincent cited Kirzner’s work on the information generating properties of entrepreneurship within a competitive market system (V. Ostrom 1997: 107).

  9. 9.

    Bish (2014) provides a detailed description of this seminar and the early developments of public choice at UCLA.

  10. 10.

    For a more detailed understanding of the connection between the Ostroms, Buchanan, and Public Choice, see Aligica and Boettke 2009, pgs. 116–136.

  11. 11.

    See V. Ostrom (1972) and Ostrom et al. (1961), where this approach and the nature of polycentric governance is introduced and discussed in greater detail. Aligica and Boettke (2009: 7–51) provide a summary of these early developments and the Ostrom approach to public economies.

  12. 12.

    See also Boettke and Snow (2014) who argue that Buchanan’s main puzzle and challenge to political economists can only be solved by connecting the work of Hayek, the Ostroms, and Buchanan.

  13. 13.

    See for example: Anderson and Hill (2004), Leeson (2005; 2006; 2007), and Grube and Storr (forthcoming). Boettke (1993) analyzes the underground economy of the Soviet Union and Skarbek (2011) studies governance of prison gangs, which are ‘outside’ of the law.

  14. 14.

    Civil societies and independent sectors have been noted for their ability to reinforce community rules, to monitor the behavior of state and local authorities, to serve as social safety nets, and even to directly produce public goods such as disaster relief (e.g. Jacobs 1961; Cornuelle 1983; Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2010). Leeson’s (2009) work on pirate democracy and constitution-making can serve as an important illustration of this notion, though it is not usually referred to as a work in ‘civil society.’

  15. 15.

    See for example, Chamlee-Wright and Storr (2011). They document how funds available from the federal government for Hurricane Katrina relief caused community-based interest groups to reallocate social capital away from mutual assistance and provision of club goods, and instead towards lobbying and eventually rent-seeking activities.

  16. 16.

    Tabellini (2010) discusses the growth-enhancing cultural traits. Williamson (2011) details the mechanisms by which these cultural traits (trust, individual self-determination, and respect) can influence development and growth.

  17. 17.

    See for example Wagner (2012a) who applies invisible-hand mechanisms to public finance. Wagner explains that this framework requires recognition that “fiscal phenomena arise through processes of competitive interaction among politically-based enterprises which cannot be reduced to some simple act of choice, regardless of whether the chooser is a king or a median voter. While it is conventional to speak of a budget as originating from a chief executive, those budgets are the outcome of an on-going competitive process that lies beneath the surface just as the bulk of an iceberg lies beneath the surface” (299).

  18. 18.

    See for example Smith, Wagner, and Yandle (2011) “A Theory of Entangled Political Economy with Application to TARP and NRA.”

  19. 19.

    See (Boettke 1990: 70–76) for an overview of criticisms of spontaneous order theory. Also, Boettke and Coyne (2005) rebut the idea that there is no room for conscious action in spontaneous order. They argue that people can and do plan, but that central direction will have unintended consequences that are outside of the actor’s control. Consequently, “what is needed is a set of institutions that allow individuals to act purposefully and make adjustments to the unintended consequences of those actions” (Boettke and Coyne 2005: 154).

  20. 20.

    Here again, Leeson’s (2009) work on pirate democracy is illustrative of this point: pirates created their own constitutions that were reflective of their specific needs on onboard. These laws that governed pirates were not imposed on them by a central authority, but rather, the rules ‘spontaneously emerged’ from their community.

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Boettke, P.J., Lemke, J.S. & Palagashvili, L. Polycentricity, Self-governance, and the Art & Science of Association. Rev Austrian Econ 28, 311–335 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11138-014-0273-9

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  • Keywords
  • Vincent and Elinor Ostrom
  • polycentricity
  • Austrian economics
  • institutions
  • self-governance

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