Nobel laureate Ostrom says democracy is not just voting

10:22, June 07, 2010      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

2009 Nobel laureate in economics Elinor Ostrom said that democracy is not just voting, it is about sharing information and then making decisions for all.

Elinor Ostrom (L) and Xuefei Chen

“If you think democracy is just voting? No, it is about getting better information and get into discussion and think about what people are going to do, don’t trivial democracy, it is not just voting,” Ostrom said in a recent interview with People’s Daily Online in Stockholm during the World Bank meeting on development politics.

Ostrom explained the reason behind the Samaritan’s dilemma concerning the western assistance to the developing countries.

She said it is true that when people meet the Samaritan dilemma, it is better to take the Chinese philosophy of not just giving a fish to someone, but teaching them how to fish when you want to help them.

“I am concerned that we organize at multiple levels, who is doing what and where, we teach that we are going to do it perfect. Citizens can be aware of what is going on, and if anything goes wrong, they can go to voice it,” Ostrom said.

Having been to China several times, she said many things happening in China is very positive.

“What China is doing is investing heavily in green energy, if their production of solar and wind power can speeded up but not just sold outside China, right now those investment are being made to sell, and right now a lot of Chinese energy use is not green, so for the next five to ten years it will not be sustainable in terms what it has done to the globe because it is such a big population using non green energy. There can be a policy adopted somewhat rapidly to enhance the availability of green energy to more families in China, then yes, it is sustainable,” Ostrom said.

Ostrom said that we should be worried about the planet.

“We as individuals or families , we need to make all efforts we can to bike, walk instead of using a car when we go out, to insulate our buildings better, right now we are remodeling our research center and making it more sustainable, “ Ostrom said.

“If we do not, we may not have a human used earth in the future, nowadays many people make fancy life styles towards sustainable direction,” she said.

“I am very concerned about how we get green energy into developing countries because the large population is to survive in farm and get income if we can have better cars and equipment and machines, people won’t need big families, they need big families to survive,” Ostrom said.

Talking about ownership, Ostrom said mixture of different systems usually works. She gave a good example of how private ownership and community organization could work for a better care of the commons.

“There are ways people who owns the apartment could become more self organized in their own buildings to create a building association, there are many problems coming up, such as what kind of medical help is needed and how to take care of the garbage, there are ways of enhancing the voice and involvement of individuals, they own the building but they don’t have much voice in terms how the building was operated,” Ostrom said.

“Private ownership in terms of management is that people are still private, but they also organize at the community level, sometimes private ownership is not enough. You need something in addition to private ownership and a space, most of the things in the world work are a mixture, “she said.

“Mixture may be better, but there is no way to avoid corruption or dictatorship at the community level perfectly, but if people learn how to work together, and challenge, you can still make it work,” she said.

“To have a genuinely democratic society, people must have the opportunity to discuss, make decisions, sometimes make errors and learn from making errors. Test and experiment and we need to do that and then change, if you get an arrangement, after two years, something change, you have to adapt, there is no scientific decision forever, when it changes, you have to change and adapt to it,” Ostrom said.

Many of Ostrom’s research are about problems and solutions in our society, her works include Trust and Reciprocity: Interdisciplinary Lessons from Experimental Research (2003, with James Walker), about Challenges and Adaptations, Understanding Institutional Diversity and Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice as well as Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice.

By Xuefei Chen, People’s Daily Online correspondent in Stockholm, [email protected]


  • Do you have anything to say?


Special Coverage
  • Premier Wen Jiabao visits Hungary, Britain, Germany
  • From drought to floods
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
  • Giant red lantern lights up in Tiananmen Square to celebrate the coming National Day on Oct. 1. (Xinhua/Li Xin)
  • A ceremony is held in Taipei, southeast China's Taiwan, on Sept. 28, 2011, to commemorate the 2,562nd birthday of Confucius (551-479 BC), a Chinese thinker, educationist and philosopher. (Xinhua/Wu Ching-teng)
  • The world's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner for delivery arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, capital of Japan, on Sept. 28, 2011. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, whose buyer is All Nippon Airways (ANA), will implement a flight of ANA on Oct. 26 from Tokyo's Narita Airport to Hong Kong in south China. (Xinhua/Ji Chunpeng)
  • A Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows what is believed to be human jawbone found inside a mass grave near Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, Libya, Spet. 27, 2011. The NTC on Sunday said they had found a mass grave containing the bodies of 1,270 people killed by Gaddafi's security forces in a 1996 massacre at Abu Salim prison in southern Tripoli. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
  • Rescue workers and local residents search for survivors after a building collapsed in old Delhi, India, Sept. 27, 2011. At least 10 people were killed and 35 injured when an old three-storey building collapsed. More than a dozen people are still feared trapped under the debris, police said. (Xinhua/Partha Sarkar)
  • A visitor has flying experience in the windmill castle of Jinshitan National Holiday resort in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province, Sept. 27, 2011. The castle is a 23-meter-high building with 21 meters in diameter. The castle uses wind tunnel to make objects floating in the air. It is the first indoor stadium in China, which enables people to have flying experience. (Xinhua/Zhang Chunlei)
Hot Forum Discussion