Lecture to explore links between Ostrom research, free-market environmentalism

Elinor Ostrom showed that groups and individuals working at the local level can manage shared resources without resorting to private ownership or government regulation. Vincent Ostrom explained polycentric governance, multiple centers of decision-making that operate independently and effectively.

Terry Anderson draws on both to explore the potential for free-market environmentalism, which applies markets and property rights to protect the environment from exploitation and neglect.

Terry Anderson

Terry Anderson

Anderson, an economist at the Hoover Institution and a widely published writer on environmental policy, will present the inaugural Ostrom Lecture on Environmental Policy Wednesday at Indiana University Bloomington. The lecture, “Who Owns the Environment? Lessons from the Legacy of Elinor Ostrom,” starts at 4:30 p.m. in Woodburn Hall 120.

The lecture is sponsored by the Ostrom Workshop, which IU Bloomington political scientists Elinor Ostrom and Vincent Ostrom established in 1973. Both Ostroms died in 2012. Video of the lecture will be streamed at the Ostrom Workshop website.

Anderson said he will contrast the dominant paradigm for environmental protection — a “command and control” approach that makes use of laws, regulations and taxes — with the argument that private ownership offers better incentives for protecting resources.

“In between those two is ‘governing the commons,’ as Elinor Ostrom described it,” he said. “That’s what I will talk about, and I will provide examples of how her ideas have manifested themselves in this area, addressing where they can be even more effective and where they may not be effective.”

Anderson is the John and Jean De Nault Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the William A. Dunn Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. He is the author of numerous books including “Free Market Environmentalism,” co-authored with Donald R. Leal; and “Environmental Markets: A Property Rights Approach,” with Gary Libecap.

He says property rights can create incentives that produce more effective management of natural resources and better protection of the environment. Another premise of free market environmentalism is that markets produce greater wealth, which is needed to protect resources. But Anderson concedes the argument is often met with skepticism.

“Despite the work I’ve done, and despite Elinor Ostrom’s great, great work and example, by and large command-and-control remains the go-to approach for most people,” he said. “It isn’t because community approaches can’t work. It’s that politics dominates.”

In the lecture, Anderson will cite examples of how the Ostroms’ work aligns with successful examples of market-based environmental protection. In one case, explored in his book “The Not So Wild, Wild West,” cattlemen’s associations developed rules and enforcement mechanisms to prevent overgrazing. In another, Bolivian environmentalists worked with local communities to replace logging with beekeeping as a means of economic support.

Citing Elinor Ostrom’s research, Anderson says people closest to the resources tend to make better decisions about how to manage it. He believes states will manage much of the massive federal land holdings in the American West more appropriately than the national government. But he adds that not all resource management decisions can be made locally. If the issue is global — like reducing greenhouse gases — even a state as big and developed as California can’t have a significant impact acting on its own.

“The question is, ‘What is the appropriate jurisdiction?'” Anderson said. “The jurisdiction for managing migratory waterfowl can’t be Bozeman, Mont. – or even Montana. It has to be an international agreement involving Canada, Mexico and the U.S. On the other hand, if you’re talking about managing elk or pheasants or ground squirrels, that can be done at a more local level.”

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