Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Last week, Professor Jayati Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, argued that the Nobel Prize for Economics was in need of an overhaul. For too long, she complained, the prize has been won by economists in a more-or-less neoclassical mould. The prize has never been awarded to a woman, and only twice to economists from developing countries. This would have to change, she concluded, if the prize was to retain any ‘wider legitmacy’ beyond the confines of Western academia and policymaking.

Here at nef, we could think of plenty of deserving economists who would break the mould: Herman Daly, Manfred Max-Neef and indeed Professor Ghosh herself. But we’re pleased that it’s gone to Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to have won the prize.

Ostrom’s work focuses on the management and protection of natural resources, making her an excellent choice in an age of ecological debt. She argues that the solution to the over-exploitation is neither increased Government control nor mass privatisation of vast tracts of land. Instead, she claims, the people best able to take care of these resources are those who live closest to them.

Through exhaustive studies of fisheries, forests and water supplies, Ostrom found that common control and shared decision-making was most likely to lead to the resources being used sustainably. Her work is a vindication of the ideas found in peasant and indigenous people’s movements the world over.

Ostrom was also one of the originators of one of nef‘s key concepts: co-production, a means of engaging people and communities to develop solutions to problems that would otherwise be tackled in a top-down manner. Ostrom first developed the concept in the 1970s, when she was asked to explain to the Chicago police why the crime rate went up when the police came off the beat and into patrol cars. She used co-production as a way of explaining why the police need the community as much as the community need the police.

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