Congressman Barney Frank said on MSNBC this week that he and fellow Democrats “are trying in every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area” [Video here.] I don’t believe that its just a grab for more power. Frank and his fell Democrats really believe that if they “increase the role of government in the regulatory area” then consumers will benefit.
Frank would do well to look at the work of one of the winners of the Economics Nobel Prize this year. Elinor Ostrom’s work shows that free people, given the chance, solve what many “experts” think are problems that require state intervention. That’s the subject of my op-ed today.
Ostrom made her mark studying the “Tragedy of the Commons” – the problem in which public resources are overused or under- maintained. But she points out that there is also an “opportunity of the commons.” While most politicians conclude that, depending on the resource, efficient management requires either privatization or government ownership, Ostrom finds examples of a third way: “self-organizing forms of collective action,” as she put it in an interview a few years ago. Her message is to be wary of government promises.
She has studied, for example, self-governing irrigation systems in Nepal and found successes never anticipated in the textbooks. “Irrigation systems built and governed by the famers themselves are on average in better repair deliver more water, and have higher agricultural productivity than those provided and managed by a government agency.... [F]armers craft their own rules, which frequently offset the perverse incentives they face in their particular physical and cultural settings. These rules may be almost invisible to outsiders...”
In Governing the Commons she writes about self-governed commons in Switzerland, Japan, the Philippines, and elsewhere that date back hundreds of years. For example, in the alpine village of Töbel, Switzerland, herdsmen “tend village cattle on communally owned alpine meadows” under rules of an association created in 1483. The rules govern who has access to the grazing lands and how many cows a herdsman can place there, preventing overgrazing. The cattle owners themselves run the association and handle the monitoring. Sanctions are imposed for violation of the rules but compliance is high.
Barney Frank – as well as the global warming doomsayers telling us to reduce our carbon footprint by eating our dogs – ignore the simple solutions that individuals find on their own.