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S G Sterrett

Thanks for this post. We watched Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize Lecture in an undergrad course I designed and taught at Carnegie-Mellon, and I tried to get then-colleagues in Philosophy interested in some of her basic papers on game theory and tragedy of the commons, etc. I was not successful in the latter. I hope that you will be.

Vernon L. Smith

In December, 2009, soon after Lynn Ostrom’s Nobel recognition was announced, I attended a Coase conference in celebration of Coase’s 100 birthday. There was much gossip at the opening reception about the Nobel Committee’s choice. A prominent Chicago economist said to me: “I think the committee should choose people whose work is better known.” This reveals far more about Chicago (similarly for the NY Times obituary) than about Ostrom’s work. There were many others of us who knew it and had long made use of it in our research and teaching. See my Forbes piece on her award cobbled together the day of the surprise announcement.


At the Chicago celebration—consistent with what people knew of Ostrom’s work-- I also learned that a great many there did not understand what Coase had accomplished nor why it was so important. Thus, there were many references to the Coase Theorem, a label not due to Coase but George Stigler. In fact the so-called Coase theorem—property right assignments are irrelevant in a world of zero transactions cost—had nothing to do with Coase’s important contributions any more than to Ostrom’s. All you have to do is read what Coase wrote and pay attention to what he is saying instead of to what you already think. That is not easy, as it is an unconscious human frailty shared by us all, scientists or not, to seek confirming evidence of what we thing we know. Here is a piece that gets Coase right.

Ostrom was a long shot to get a Nobel, but there were many others: Leo Hurwicz, Bill Vickery, Herb Simon, Ronald Coase and my own award.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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