In case you’re struggling for a dissertation idea…

Like many people, I had never looked at Ostrom’s 1990 book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, until Monday morning, when the news from Stockholm sent me scurrying for a copy. Smarter guys than me, indeed most of the economics profession, had never heard of Ostrom. (Steven Levitt, of the University of Chicago, describes in an edifying way how he looked her up on Google.) I knew at least that she and her husband, Vincent, also a political scientist, had a big following at George Mason University.

That is David Warsh commenting on last week’s Nobel pick in his excellent Economic Principals blog.

I see this and two words appear in my brain: arbitrage opportunities.

There are vast amounts of relevant knowledge in related fields, seldom exploited. The economists have been pouring into the economics and psychology gap, but the economics-politics gap is just starting to close. Politics and behavioral psychology is still wide open territory.

Even within the disciplines there are gains from exchange. Just the other day I listened to a group of grad students suggest that political theory (i.e. philosophy) wasn’t answering questions relevant to other fields of politics. Sounds like a research frontier to me. Why, for instance, has political science left the human rights and humanitarian debates to ex-journalists?

To end on a different note, I’m thrilled with the prize going to Ostrom. I’m partly influenced by one of her former students (my wife) but Ostrom and her ideas were also a great influence on one of the great civil war scholars I know. Her ideas are some of the most influential in the field of political economy, and it’s a treat to see it recognized.