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Big Think Interview With Elinor Ostrom
Elinor Ostrom was awarded the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in the Economic Sciences for her analysis of economic governance and commons law. She is the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in Bloomington and Research Professor and the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University in Tempe. She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D from UCLA and is the author of numerous books, including "Understanding Institutional Diversity."
Question: How has being raised in the depression affected you?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, I think being raised during the depression is a very important thing in my generation. I think it meant that I had to learn very early how to work hard and how to be independent and so maybe part of it is that you just learn that you've got to be independent and that the world isn't going to come with you with all sorts of gifts.
Question: Was your family enthusiastic about your field of study?
Elinor Ostrom: Not very enthusiastic. My mother wasn't even enthusiastic about my going to college, but I had good friends in graduate school who were very, very encouraging and I still retain some of those colleagues through all the years, and they made a huge difference.
Question: Was it difficult to find work in your field as a woman?
Elinor Ostrom: Early years it was a challenge to find a position, so in the early years I think being a woman was a big handicap. Pursing the kind of work I have been doing was not very much appreciated across the social sciences, but I just got fascinated with what I was doing and so being a stubborn son of a gun, I just kept going.
Question: How did you deal with opposition from your colleagues?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, trying to do really good field work and then I was very fortunate, I was able, after being a graduate of UCLA during the Vietnam war and eighty entering students and a fair administrative load, I was able to teach my first graduate seminar and I had outstanding graduate students, some of whom have become colleagues and I work with all, have worked with for many years. And I then worked with undergraduate students so that I was able to blend research and teaching in a very active way in Indianapolis studying policing in black communities in Chicago, again studying policing. And that was so interesting that I wasn't so concerned about what my colleagues thought. I just got interested in what I was doing.
Question: How were you treated by your male colleagues?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, it was a big controversy at UCLA in the political science department. They had not had a woman in their program for many years and there were four of us out of forty admitted in the year I was admitted to a doctoral program and there were many of the faculty who were extremely upset. But again, I had many friends that helped me through it.
Question: Do you take issue with those who call your theories “implicitly socialistic”?
Elinor Ostrom: Yes. I don't think they are supporting socialism as a top-down theory. A lot of socialist governments are very much top down and I think my theory does challenge that any top-down government, whether on the right or the left, is unlikely to be able to solve many of the problems of resource sustainability in the world.
Question: Have you experienced a divide in economics?
Elinor Ostrom: There is a strong divide between micro and macro and my theories are all in the micro area. But there's a big challenge in trying to understand why people make the decisions they do and particularly why they make decisions in dilemma-type settings, where our traditional theory had predicted that they would make decisions not to cooperate and they frequently make other decisions.
Question: What are the dangers of this separation between macro and micro?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, I'm more concerned about the broader separation of the social sciences. I think that is a real danger because we can, I call them the silos, if everyone works in their silo, rather than learning from one another, so I work across disciplines and always have. My PhD committee, I had sociology, engineering, economics, and political science on it.
Question: Should the social sciences be more integrated?
Elinor Ostrom: Yes. But it's not integration, it's that people are learning their own discipline. I don't want to get rid of the disciplines entirely, but it is then that people learn how to work together and that the, we have very bad incentives. If you publish outside your discipline, frequently inside your discipline, that's not counted for tenure. And so there are very substantial dis-incentives to do interdisciplinary work. So interdisciplinary and integration are different.
Question: Can you explain your work regarding the tragedy of the commons?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, Mensor, no, sorry, not Mensor, he came later, Gerharten wrote a very stirring article in 1968, published in science, and he imagined a pasture opened to all and posited that if that were the case, then everyone would bring their animals on and they would keep bringing more and more and more and they would eventually overuse the commons. What he went on to say was that they were trapped and could not themselves get out of it. And what our theoretical work and empirical work has shown, is that in many instances, but not all, people have found ways of agreeing on their own rules and extracting themselves from the problem.
Question: Is there an alternative to top-down government or free market solutions?
Elinor Ostrom: Yeah. This is the, this concept of polycentricity of enabling both market and governments at multiple scales to interact with community organization so that we have a complex nested system. and it ain't pretty in the sense that it's nice and neat and many people have tried to get rid of creative solutions that are complex, but society is complex, people are complex. And for us to have simple solutions to complex problems, not a good idea.
Question: Can your research on the commons teach us about climate change?
Elinor Ostrom: If the community at play were only the entire planet and we simply wait until the big guys make a decision, we're in deep trouble. Our theoretical work on polycentricity here is very relevant in that while in any greenhouse gas omission, does have a global effect, it may also have, and usually does, local and regional effects. So we need to be thinking about how to enhance the ways of organizing around the local and regional so as to produce more externalities that are positive at the global.
Question: Have there been any particularly misguided government actions in this area?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, a great number of the policies laid down, let's take the policies for eastern Africa related to the pasture area that the Masai occupied. The Masai had been there for centuries and had figured out a way of grazing over a great distance so that in an area where the rainfall was limited and spotty, they were able to maintain that range land in very good form. It didn't look pretty, as that's the way it was, but if you graze down too far, and then you let some other things come up and don't graze in an area and you get big bushes, then you end up with ruining the functioning of it. Well, when the Brits came in, they gave half of it—well, I shouldn't say that, not half—they gave a very large segment away to colonial farmers and to set up a big reserve. The Kenyan government in the 1950's onward kept giving away, giving away, giving away. They finally created group ranches, but the group ranches weren't large enough to really enable them to maintain the kind of system that worked. They the have been privatizing themselves, the Masai, their land, so it would not be given away again by the government, and working out arrangements so that family and friends can share and they're recreating the movement of the cattle around, and Esther [IB] has done a wonderful job of studying this over time and they may, the local people may again find a way of coping with a very difficult and challenging environment.
Question: If you could have dinner with anybody, who would it be?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, I would like to have a dinner with John R. Commons, who was a very distinguished labor economist at the University of Wisconsin and whose work I've read multiple times and I still assign to my students. He was struggling with trying to understand how to enable labor to organize more effectively and wrote some of the initial legislation for labor law in Wisconsin and elsewhere. And he had a very interesting philosophy about rights having a counterpart to duties. And so if somebody has a right, somebody has to have a duty! And I would love to discuss with him some of those philosophical foundations.
Question: What other industries need to adopt commons-oriented economics?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, all of the water industry in the United States is dealing with a common pool resource and so there are many private and public firms, and many of them do very well and others don't. Some are not good at all.
Electricity is also using common facilities, but both with electricity and water, they both have an arrangement in many cities where when you actually use it, in the household, you now have converted the water in the household to a private good. And so, it is again, showing this difference between the water in the lake or in the river, and the water that's in the pipe and gone into the household and you turn the tap and now it's private good.
Question: How does information on the internet vary from natural resources?
Elinor Ostrom: Okay. We've made a distinction in our work between public goods and common pool of resources. Both of them have a problem of keeping people out, it's difficult to exclude people from a large fishery or an internet. But my use of knowledge does not take away from your use of knowledge, there's no subtractability.
Now, on the internet, there are problems of congestion from time to time and we've been building and building and building so that we keep making it bigger and bigger and the problems of congestion are not as great, but we have problems then when we develop freeware, who is encouraged to do so, how do we give credit where credit's due, and there are lots of people who said, "Oh, you'll never have people contribute to making freeware." Well, wrong. They do. So there's a, there are many similarities, but it is a somewhat different problem and Charlotte Hess and I have been working on that one and Charlie Schwike at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Question: Does the internet show the benefits of governing by informal rules?
Elinor Ostrom: Well, they're not so informal. Over time, Doug Van Houweling and others who have been involved in developing those rules have tried to be sure that there were reasonable rules and it's a challenge, this is not an easy thing to organize. But people have been working on it very hard. There are problems of scam and all sorts of problems of this sort. But even in farmer's markets around the world, you sometimes will find some people coming in a vegetable stand and having rotten fruit underneath the good fruit. So I don't know any institution that works perfectly in all circumstances.
Question: How does economics differ between renewable and non-renewable resources?
Elinor Ostrom: Yeah, it's a big problem and Gary Libecap has done an excellent variety of very good economic articles on oil wells. And there your problem is timing rather than how much you take out now. Because if you take out oil too fast, the soil around it collapses. And so oil companies have had to invest heavily in getting good technical geologic information and then developing agreements among them as to the way they're going to extract. And to that extent, while the oil is in the ground, it's a common pool. But like water, once it's pulled out, it becomes something that can be packaged. And here, the problem of getting good timing is a very big one. In the Middle East, oil has been run pretty much as an oligopoly and a part of our problem is the pricing of an oligopoly is not necessarily a fair pricing.
On the other hand, we do need to have more resources that are used for heating and transport priced higher, but then can that money go into public coffers that then invest in new solar innovations, wind power, and a variety of other techniques, rather than into an oligopolous pocket.
Recorded on: October 25, 2009
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.
Be fruitful and multiply<p>Scientists in the United Kingdom collected data on more than 13,000 mothers and their children. Most of them were religious, but 12 percent were not. The data included information on their church habits, social networks, number of children, and the scores those children achieved on a standardized test.</p><p>In line with previous findings that religious women have more children than secular women in industrialized countries, a connection between at least monthly church attendance and fertility was confirmed. However, religious parents showed they could avoid the pitfalls that having more children can bring. </p><p>Typically, more children in a family leads to reduced cognitive ability and height in each <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/37/6/1408/729795" target="_blank">child</a>. Some studies find that children do less well in school for each <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13524-016-0471-0" target="_blank">additional sibling they have</a>. This makes a kind of intuitive sense, as parents with more children would have to divide their time, energy, and resources among more people as families expand. One would expect that the larger families would also lead to things like lower test scores. </p><p>Despite the expectation, the children of religious parents didn't have lower scores on standardized tests. There were small positive relationships between the size of the mother's social network, the number of co-religionists helping out, and the children's test scores. However, this association was small, didn't show up in all of the testings, and was unrelated to other variables. </p> These effects might be explained by the size and helpfulness of the social networks around the more religious. Women who went to church at least once a month had more extensive social networks than those who never go or who attend yearly. These social networks of co-religious people mean that there are more people to turn to for help with child-rearing, a point also demonstrated in the data. The amount of aid women got from their fellow churchgoers was also associated with a higher fertility rate. <br> <br> Conversely, an extensive social network was associated with fewer children for secular women. This finding is in line with <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1207/s15327957pspr0904_5" target="_blank">previous studies</a> and suggests that the social networks comprised of co-religious individuals differ from those found elsewhere.
So, how quickly should I join a local religious group?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="6RrmYM8M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9eb4740a7d1e10108a75fd2ed627a90f"> <div id="botr_6RrmYM8M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/6RrmYM8M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The study is not without its faults, and more investigations into the relationship between fertility, childcare, ritual, and social networks are needed.</p><p>These findings all show correlation, not causation. Though it might be said the results point towards causation, various alternative interpretations of the data are apparent. The authors note that most religions are explicitly pro-natal. It is possible that religious women have internalized these values and simply choose to have more children than secular women do.</p><p>This idea is similar to a potential interpretation of why large social networks have the opposite effect for secular women. The authors suggest that, in some cases, these more extensive social networks are associated with work and exert an anti-natal influence. Again, the people who build such networks may be people unlikely to have large families under any circumstances.</p><p>However, the researchers' hypothesis endured. The help religious women get from their church-based social networks allows them to have larger families than those who lack these support systems. In some instances, these support systems also prevent the adverse effects of larger families. </p>
The community religion offers<p>As we've mentioned <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/what-is-secular-humanism" target="_blank">before</a>, religion offers a community, and a community provides social capital. As religion continues to decline in the West, the social bonds of faith communities that used to tie social communities together begin to decay. However, as has been noted by a variety of observers for the last few decades, fewer and fewer new organizations appear ready to replace religion as a source of community in our lives.</p><p>While many different organizations might offer social support that religion once provided the whole of western society, this study shows that different social circles can differently affect the people in them. This finding must be considered by those trying to find new communities to join or the authors of future research. </p><p>The community offered by religious groups provides real benefits to those who join them. As this study shows, having the support network religious community offers allows some parents to avoid pitfalls that bedevil those lacking similar support. It suggests that previous studies demonstrating that group ritual offers benefits like increased amounts of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612472910" target="_blank">group trust</a> and <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1069397103037002003" target="_blank">cooperation</a> are onto something and that those benefits have a variety of applications. </p><p>While this study is not without its blind spots, it offers a strong starting point for further investigations into the nature of ritual in our modern lives and how local support networks remain vital in our increasingly globalized world. </p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.