Essential Women of Liberty: Elinor Ostrom

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Published by the Fraser Institute, the Essential Women of Liberty includes a new book (and accompanying website and animated videos), which spotlight the lives and ideas of women who helped shape the free and prosperous societies we enjoy today. This essay authored by Jayme Lemke, an economist at George Mason University, examines the key insights of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics.

Born in Los Angeles in 1933, Ostrom completed her PhD in political science at UCLA in 1965, despite opposition from contemporaries who disapproved of women in postgraduate studies.

Ostrom is best known for her research on local problem solving and how to manage resources shared by different groups and people while not being owned by anyone—also known as “common pool resources.” This area of analysis, where she made enormous contributions, would shape her entire academic career.

Her focus on problem solving at the local level led to her 1990 book Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collection Action, which documents how people around the world use self-governing mechanisms to manage and sustain shared resources such as fresh water, forests and fish populations.

In 2009, she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics. She died in 2012 at age 78.

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