October 13, 2009

Elinor Ostrom's Economics "Nobel" Prize

Political scientist Elinor Ostrom became the first woman winner in the four decades of the Economics quasi-Nobel Prize. I wasn't familiar with her name, but her field of of study is a good one, so she's probably a good pick. She works on the question of the various ways people arrange to avoid "the tragedy of the commons" of over-exploitation of common resources, such as fisheries.

As I noted in VDARE.com in 2005, Jared Diamond offers a succinct explanation of the possible solutions in his bestseller Collapse:

In another important section, Diamond illustrates how ethnic diversity makes environmental cooperation more difficult. He praises the Dutch as the most cooperative nation on earth and attributes their awareness of and willingness to tackle problems to their shared memory of the 1953 flood that drowned 2,000 Netherlanders living below sea level. (Unfortunately, he doesn't mention whether Holland's rapidly growing immigrant Muslim population remembers when the dikes failed 52 years ago.)

Diamond notes that there are three possible solutions to what Garrett Hardin called "the tragedy of the commons," or the tendency for individuals to over-consume resources and under-invest in responsibilities held in common, leading to ecological collapse.

  • Government diktat.
  • Privatization and property rights -- but that's impractical with some resources, such as fish.
  • "The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for the consumers to recognize their common interests and to design, obey, and enforce prudent harvesting quotas themselves. That is likely to happen only if a whole series of conditions is met: the consumers form a homogeneous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the resource to their heirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize and police themselves; and the boundaries of the resource and of its pool of consumers are well defined." [My emphasis]

A classic supporting case that that Diamond doesn't bring up: American shrimp fishermen in Texas were universally denounced as racists in the late 1970s when they resisted the government's efforts to encourage Vietnamese refugees to become shrimpers in their waters. French director Louis Malle made a movie, Alamo Bay, denouncing ugly Americans fighting hardworking immigrants.

What got lost in all the tsk-tsking is that fishing communities always resist newcomers, especially hardworking ones, because of the sizable chance that the outsiders who don't know the local rules or don't care about them will ruin the ecological balance and wipe out the stocks of fish.

The evidence Diamond assembles indicates, although of course he never dares to state it bluntly, that the fundamental requirement for dealing effectively with environmental danger is: start with a population that's limited in number, cohesive, educated, and affluent.

Needless to say, mass immigration from the Third World works against all those characteristics.

(To his credit, Diamond's bestseller is clearly unenthusiastic about Latin American immigration into his own LA. To his discredit, you have to be a pretty acute reader to notice his heretical leanings.)

A quick Google search finds Nobel Laureate Ostrom also cautiously expressing Doubts About Diversity in her book The Drama of the Commons.
... Alesina et al. (1999) find that ethnic diversity is associated with lower public goods funding across the U.S. municipalities because different ethnic groups have different preferences over the type of public good ... In the kind of rural societies considered in this chapter ... the effectiveness of social sanctions weakens as they cross ethnic reference groups. In this vein, Miguel (2000) constructs a theoretical model where the defining characteristics of ethnic groups are the ability to impose social sanctions within the community against deviant individuals and the ability to coordinate on efficient equilibria in settings of multiple equilibria. With data from the activities of primary school committees in rural western Kenya, Miguel then shows that higher levels of ethnic diversity are associated with significantly lower parent participation in parent meetings, worse attendance at school committee meetings, and sharply lower teacher attendance and motivation.

If social groups (not solely ethnic groups) are defined as those whose boundaries coincide with the effective monitoring and enforcement of shared social norms ... this is one way of understanding the notion cited earlier of cultural homogeneity, a variant of what many authors have called social capital or social cohesion. ... Irrigation organizations that cross village boundaries can rely less on social sanctions and norms to enforce cooperative behavior ...

There are basically two ways to get people to play nice with a common resource such as shrimp or irrigation water: violence or ostracism. The latter works most effectively regarding marriage -- if you don't play by the rules, nobody respectable will let your kid marry his daughter. But when newcomers who don't ever want their children to marry your children arrive and start exploiting your irrigation system or fishery (or whatever), then the old non-violent traditions break down, and people start turning to violence or its threat, whether anarchic or government-based (e.g., socialism and property rights are based on the threat of the government's monopoly on violence).

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Mark said...

Speaking of "the commons" and such:

It's funny, odd and strange that just as "zero population growth" got to within the realm of the possible - by simply closing a few doors, rather than coercing American families to breed less - the Left suddenly stopped obsessing about it.

I wonder why?

mm said...

Interesting points. However modern countries run as much on institutions as resources. Often institutions are necessary for an efficient exploitation of the resources. These institutions work because of the people they attract. Mass Third World invasion causes the highly skilled to make a beeline, effectively dumbing down these institutions. Eventually they are so run down they become dysfunctional. This is what happened in Rhodesia and South Africa. After the nimble-footed high-IQ whites smelt the coffee and left ahead of black takeover, blacks basically muscled out the remaining whites. Most of these institutions had large savings which were immediately pilfered by the ruling parties (ZANU-PF and the ANC). Those institutions which did not immediately collapse became dysfunctional due to the resulting inefficiency, corruption and nepotism. Some remain in name only, as skeletons of their former selves. The breakdown of the infrastructures in both countries is a testament to this process.

So your theory does not account for the employees who make these structures function but are very sensitive to bad governance which automatically comes with Third World immigration. The resources (shrimp) remain, but those who know how to manage it left voluntarily to protect themselves.

Josuah Lawrence Chamberlain said...

This is an excellent post, but why did it take so long for you to get around to this issue considering how rock bottom fundamental it is.

Now if amnesty is passed, there will be a huge voting block created over night that will vote to increase immigration. The US population will reach the one billion mark rather quickly....there will be no end in sight for US population growth..we may have a situation worse in the US than China and India. I think we all can agree that racial balkanization and a population of one billion...and still rapidly growing... will with very high certainty-probability one-cause a collapse of human civilization within the US.

This is why I am very intolerant towards any compromise on immigration. Shut all immigration down. Deport illegal aliens; Deport the foriegn;Deport the foriegn fifth columns(don't pretend they don't exist). There is a horrific catastrophe in the making....and there is very little time to avoid it....the dirt bag Ted Kennedy of course won't be around to see his gift to White America blossom in all its full glory.

Gil said...

Gee is S. Sailer saying both strategies are deplorable: passive force versus aggressive force? On the other hand are that which reside in the commons worth protecting? Would Americans like to have the multitudes of passing Passenger Pigeons covering their houses and cars in poop? If the Passenger Pigeons had survived in large numbers would there be annual culls with the attendant protests? Does not that which resides in the commons ultimately doomed to misuse and ruination?

Professor Hale said...

Not much of a thesis overall. Government Diktate and private property are really just subsets of the third option. Under private property, the property owner is the cohesive population with common interests. Likewise for a government control.

Bob said...

Nice to see you not blindly bashing economists!

Here are some OT but interesting race statistics:

First, changes in population by race in congressional districts:


Bottom lines is the whole country is getting more hispanic, inner cities on the coast are the rare places that are getting whiter (especially Harlem!), and exurban areas have rapid black and hispanic growth.

#2: Online dating interactions by race:

Main points are that white males are the most attractive males and middle eastern females are the most popular women.

Also surprising is that among okcupid users (largely young and liberal), 54% of white females and 40% of white males "strongly prefer" to date within their own race.

Among non-whites of both sexes, only 20% "strongly prefer" to date within their race.

Lots of other interest data on the blog.

David said...

Great post.

David said...

Diversity-plus-egalitarianism has many implications for social efficiency. Here (OT?) in one case.

"Christina, which, according to its Web site, is the largest school district in Delaware with some 17,000 students, made its policy zero-tolerance because of concerns over racial discrimination. Studies have shown in other districts that when school officials are given discretion over such cases, African-American students are disciplined at a disproportionately high rate.

"'The idea was to avoid discriminating against any student and to treat all students the same,' George Evans, president of the Christina school board, told NBC News."

To stop black kids having knife fights, this kid is sentenced to 45 days in reform school.

The only way to keep proportions "fair" (er, "just") is to INCREASE the number of whites nailed, and, logically, DECREASE the number of blacks punished.

Deckin said...

In your VDare column you mention that Diamond rarely allows himself to be drawn into debates. I've no doubt that's true, but it doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I'm still looking for a link, but once (I believe around 2003 or so) Diamond was a guest on NPR's Talk of the Nation and the host unwittingly allowed just such a debate (with a worthy opponent) to break out. Victor Davis Hanson called in to talk about Guns, Germs, and Steel and was put through onto the air!

What ensued was, as I recall, a point by point smack down by Hanson that left Diamond audibly flummoxed. The host mercifully cut it short and it was forgotten. But I wonder if you could find VDH, he might have a better recollection of the event.

jody said...

in other nobel news, peace prizer obama has quietly sent 13,000 additional "diplomats" to afghanistan to "negotiate" things further.

neil craig said...

Which probably explains why incest is frowned on everywhere (there are genetic arguments against it but they aren't THAT overwhelming as all animal breeders know). It also explains why Rome ceased to be a republic & became an empire.

Robert said...

This kind of analysis is why I read your blog! It doesn't matter that I sometimes disagree with you, a reader just doesn't get this kind of discussion in the MSM.

Grim said...

Diamond got the some truth across by feeding into the stereotypes of that the church of progressivism puts out. He did everything possible to speak truth, but if he goes to far he will be excommunicated as a hieratic (I.E. racist). That's why he takes stupid positions like people in new Guinea are super smart! Praising god while telling a truth the church hates is a smart tactic.

Anonymous said...

Grim - so think our problems originate with the stranglehold the church has on discourse. Mmmm kay....

Anonymous said...

You make an interesting point about fishing communities, but I'm not sure I buy it. After all, it seems to me that it's only recently that it's even become possible to overfish most fisheries (ocean fisheries anyway). Without big Western style industrial fishing boats, isn't the sea effectively limitless, with plenty of fish for all comers?

Steve Sailer said...

"After all, it seems to me that it's only recently that it's even become possible to overfish most fisheries (ocean fisheries anyway)."

A classic problem are near-shore fisheries, such as New England lobster grounds. There are complex customs regulating which families can do what when. If you move to the village and go into the lobstering business, you'll soon find your boat at the bottom and your lobster traps smashed.

Anonymous said...

A classic problem are near-shore fisheries, such as New England lobster grounds.

So it isn't all fishing communities that need to protect resources, but only some. I wonder where the Texas shrimpers fit in? I don't know if shrimp are a near-shore or open ocean resource, and in any case this was a 20th century affair, so industrial fishing may already have been a factor, and customs that would have been unneeded earlier may have already grown up to protect the shrimp, and perhaps the Vietnamese were violating these customs.

But was that in fact the case? Racism still remains as a possible explanation for the conflict, but it's interesting to see a different explanation proposed. What would be particularly interesting would be a detailed examination of the conflict that took both of these possibilities into account. Do you know of any?

OneSTDV said...

I recall reading in an iSteve article that one of the top economists is a post-op tranny (male to female).

Has "she" ever won a Nobel Prize?

Mark said...

Racism still remains as a possible explanation for the [Texas shrimpers] conflict, but it's interesting to see a different explanation proposed.

How 'bout that being a different race made the new (government sponsored/child labor-law violating) competition easier to identify?

When the new competition stands out in any way, it's easier to blame them for your woes.

Dalrock said...

On a related note, I've noticed that in my city illegals tend to crowd everyone else out of any free public area. Go to any public park, etc and 80% of the people there are illegals. Over time I could see this leading to reduced taxpayer support for public amenities or move to more fee based parks, since this wasn't the original intent. While most wouldn't say it out loud, most middle class people here no longer feel welcome in the free parks.

Anonymous said...


Mozilo's friends on the Hill
Democrats block probe of Countrywide scandal

albertosaurus said...

If you only know Jared Diamond through his first book Guns, Germs and Steel you probably consider him just another pathetic boob desparately searching for any argument to prove that whites are no better than anyone else. Yes while it is true that almost all science, art, literature, architecture, engineering, law and government were created by white Europeans - Diamond concludes IT WASN'T THEIR FAULT.

He became a media star by assuaging the guilt of white people. He tried to follow up on that success with his second book Collapse. That book tried to tap into the fears that everything we have built will collapse - largely because we are naughty.

Diamond is nothing if not a slave to his weltanshuung. But almost inadvertantly some facts leak out.

Collapse first tells the story of the Vikings in Greenland. Diamond concludes that the Europeans failed to adapt to the changing conditions whereas the Inuit (Skraelings) did just fine. Diamond makes it moral tale about how brittle European white civilization is.

Diamond research seems reliable and he writes well. It's only his agenda driven conclusions that are a problem. So just ignore the silly moral lessons. For example you might ask yourself what ever happened to the Vikings and the Skraelings? One group fell back to Scandanavia and built Volvos. The other group continued to scrape out a stone age existence squating on the ice and eating blubber. Take your choice.

Diamond also tells the story of the Easter Islanders. This story warns us that humans are using up the earth - that civilization itself is not sustainable. Somehow this cautionary myth loses its force when more facts are disclosed. Diamond discloses a lot of those facts and Easter Island is then seen to be an exception rather than a signpost on the road to our doom.

Finally Diamond writes about what happens when oil companies drill in pristine tropical rain forests. The oil exploitation saves the forest and saves the birds.

I'm certain that most people who buy Collapse expect to have their deepest fears about the environment fulfilled. In fact it does just the opposite.

If you worry about climate change what should you do? Do what the Vikings did. Stay where it's warmer and build some civilization.

Worried about environmental sustainability? Is it our fate to use up all the world's resources and then huddle naked on barren soil? No. Only barren isolated islands have such problems.

Are you worried about industry ruining the jungle? Diamond argues that we need more oil wells in the bush. He also likes the government to use machine guns from helicopters to exterminate those messy natives - but oil wells he thinks are fine.

Collapse could have been promoted as an argument against environmental hysteria. But Diamond knows which side of his bread gets buttered.

Josuah Lawrence Chamberlain said...

Anon at 10/13/24

Distrust of strangers in the nation state context-the nation understood in terms of a tribal-blood context-is perfectly normal. Not only normal,but very defensible. In certain situations , allegiance to your gentic tribe is the morally normal thing to do. If you want to call this racism I'll accept the charge. It would just menan that everyone-including the Vietnamese are racist. The racism charge is getting might worn out and ...mighty boring.

I do not trust anyone who warmly and openly accepts thousands of Somali Muslims into a rural White State such as Maine. These people-mostly weird Christian types and Liberals are knowing forcing economcally strugling rural White Americans to compete for the scarce resources of the nation with non-White foriegners. They chose the foriegner over their own kind. I chose my own kind. Conflict is completetly predictable.

jody said...


i don't see south africa collapsing. more like, going downhill, degrading, and becoming like white flight areas of the US. third worldification of the city and suburbs, but remaining functional due to the europeans who keep things running. 5 million europeans can keep that nation sputtering along for decades.

i know south africans, so i get an inside report on how things are going there. if south africa had really collapsed, and turned into nigeria, it would not be hosting the world cup. south africans would not still have an industry in mining, defense, energy, and so forth. there wouldn't be a movie called "district 9", because nations that have totally collapsed produce nothing, let alone 30 millon dollar films.

that's the true future of the US - and is actually MORE depressing than collapse. europeans heavily relied upon to keep things running while at the same time being discriminated against by their own government and physically assaulted on the street.

Bob said...

The M to F economist is Deirdre McCloskey. She's sort a libertarian Milton Friedman protege, and that part of the profession is in current disgrace. Hopefully this will last.

Pic of here and some other MtF academics are here:


Anonymous said...

OneSTDV: Deirdre McCloskey

Anonymous said...

"The latter works most effectively regarding marriage -- if you don't play by the rules, nobody respectable will let your kid marry his daughter."

Steve stop fantasizing, do you know any White friend or any American friend for that matter that had a say who his daughter will marry? We are not in gone with the wind era you know. Wake up.

Anonymous said...

"On a related note, I've noticed that in my city illegals tend to crowd everyone else out of any free public area. Go to any public park, etc and 80% of the people there are illegals. Over time I could see this leading to reduced taxpayer support for public amenities or move to more fee based parks, since this wasn't the original intent. While most wouldn't say it out loud, most middle class people here no longer feel welcome in the free parks."

That's what happened with blacks in the mid 20th Century in big East Coast and Midwest cities. But it wasn't just parks, it was schools, hospitals, stores, buses and streets. And it was more than whites not feeling welcome. Attempting to use any kind of public accommodation or even walk down the street was seriously dangerous. That's what really caused white flight: millions of muggings, rapes, burglaries, "random" assaults and murders of whites by blacks.

mm said...

I'm from South Africa, my extended family still lives there, I’m there twice a year and I own a house there. Yet I am investing as little as possible because compared to the old South Africa the place is collapsing. I no longer have any confidence in the future of that country. Zimbabwe is close by and the ANC admire Mugabe and want to institute his "land reforms" in South Africa too. Hardly any ministry still works; you cannot get anybody with half a brain on the phone; you need to bribe your way around and cannot trust the cops anymore. There are power cuts, the drinking water is no loner safe and if there is anything which needs fixing, it takes forever and they leave a mess. We don't even have to talk about the crime or the conditions of hospitals. As in any developed country, these things were a given in the old South Africa, it was like breathing fresh air you did not have to worry about them they just functioned.

What is the 5-10 year future? Should I invest 30 grand to repair that house in SA or not? Will there be mass attacks against whites in the next few years or not? What will it do to the exchange rate? Will they begin expropriation or not? What happens if they deice to squat in our neighborhood? Many questions, no answers. To me that is a collapsing country.

Mr. Anon said...

"Political scientist Elinor Ostrom became the first woman winner in the four decades of the Economics quasi-Nobel Prize"

"Quasi-Nobel Prize" is a better description than "Nobel Prize". A better description still would be a "Non-Nobel Prize". For the Nobel Foundation to have anything to do with it is a gross usurpation of Alfred Nobel's will (as HE never saw fit to award such a prize), and a breach of their responsibilities as his fiduciaries.

The Swedish State Bank can no more award Nobel prizes than I can award Victoria Crosses.

David said...


I recommend the John Galt solution to your friends: work on getting out of the country, and let the parasites perish.

stari_momak said...

The M to F economist is Deirdre McCloskey. She's sort a libertarianMilton Friedman protege

Now there's a surprise.

Dutch Boy said...

Yes, we Dutch are a cooperative lot but it produces a great deal of frustration when we have to deal with the notoriously uncooperative human race (whose reigning ethic is summarized in the unofficial Spanish national motto: "Viva yo!")

Dutch Boy said...

J. L. Chamberlain's plan is the logical answer to the whole immigration issue but would require a revolution to implement. Since such a revolution is highly unlikely, we must proceed to Plan B.

ben tillman said...

Privatization and property rights -- but that's impractical with some resources, such as fish.

Chapter 12 of Matt Ridley's "The Origins of Virtue" covers this topic beautifully.

ben tillman said...

A classic problem are near-shore fisheries, such as New England lobster grounds.

In chapter 12 of "The Origins of Virtue", Matt Ridley addresses just this case and notes that it was addressed by property rights -- territorial exclusivity for a number of "harbour gangs". These property rights, moreover, were enforced by the fishermen themselves, not by any third-party government.

ben tillman said...

Racism still remains as a possible explanation for the conflict....

No, it doesn't. "Racism" is a pejorative term, and, in the context of any conflict of interest, the racists must always be the aggressors if "racism" is to retain its pejorative connotation. Because the Texas shrimpers were simply defending their property, they cannot have acted in a "racist" manner.

That is, unless "racist" just means "white".

Anonymous said...

You can read Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" for free here.

jody said...


it seems to me that south africa has declined far less than even a nation like iraq. iraq was somewhat functional between 1991 and 2003. it was even slowly developing it's own oil. after the US invasion, iraq actually did collapse, and is non-functional today. nothing happens there now, except people killing each other. iraq does not even produce oil anymore. foreign contractors, under US army guard, do all of the oil work in iraq. there isn't even electricity in some places that there used to be.

a collapsing nation cannot host the world cup. would the world cup come to iraq? iraqis cannot even build one international quality soccer stadium, let alone several.


my friends are dual citizens of south africa and the US. if they wanted, they could never set foot in south africa again. but they are there several times a year for a few months. they like it. i'm sure lots of south africa sucks and is going way downhill. but not total collapse. top gear filmed there and is going back. jeremy clarkson and richard hammond are excited about returning to south africa.

would they be excited about going to nigeria or egypt or...iraq?