In October 2009 the Nobel Prize for economics went to a woman for the first time. What is another departure from the norm is that her work has gone beyond the established boundaries of what economics “should” be about. The “Co-operation theory” put forward by Elinor Ostrom is both refreshing and optimistic as it considers what economic wisdom could be. She has studied what happens when groups in society, from the family to community level manage resources (water, fish, land and forests, for example). Through co-operating, the research showed the results were surprisingly good. This approach side steps the conventional choice of either the central Government regulating things on our behalf or the free market being allowed to run wild.
She argues that while International agreements are a good start, we need not wait for experts/geniuses to solve problems such as managing the environment in a sustainable fashion. Co-operative steps taken by groups may have, cumulatively, a huge effect.
This idea of a new economics is finding allies in unexpected places. Consider the New Economics Foundation and the Happy Planet Index asking if competitive economic growth, for its own sake, has really brought people as much satisfaction and prosperity as we thought. How about faith based environmental groups adding a spiritual dimension through “Operation Noah”? Maybe economics is no longer a distant, mysterious force. As more and more people get a glimpse of another way of doing life and business, based on a spirit of co-operation, why would anyone settle for anything less?