Elinor Ostrom and the Bloomington School

Building a New Approach to Policy and the Social Sciences

Editors: Jayme Lemke and Vlad Tarko

Agenda Publishing, 2021

Available for order on Amazon.


When Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, she drew unprecedented attention to the Bloomington School research program in institutional economics and political economy. The Bloomington School approach is special for so many reasons. First, an essential part of the success of the Bloomington School has been its ability to learn from a variety of different perspectives across the social sciences. Depending on their specific analytic or economic purposes, Elinor Ostrom and colleagues adopted and adapted conceptual tools from a wide variety of sources. This book attempts to build on that tradition of building disciplinary bridges by highlighting some of the most important of these connections. Second, the Bloomington School approach embraced multiple methods. The scholarly approach of Elinor Ostrom and her collaborators was to embrace insight wherever it could be found, be that through field work, case studies, game theoretic modeling, laboratory experiments, big data analysis, or less usual methods, like their incorporation of satellite imagery analysis to study deforestation. Finally, an important part of what is special about the Bloomington School is the extent to which their model of scholarly and civic engagement brought them together as a working group and enabled them to integrate themselves within their community. In no small part due to their craftsman-in-the-workshop model of scholarship is now connected to numerous other research centers around the world that the Bloomington School has inspired.


“The essays contained in this very useful collection, by discussing the Ostroms’ main ideas and comparing and contrasting their work with that of several other approaches to social science, provide a very helpful resource for those interested in learning more about the Bloomington School, its relations to other schools of thought, and how it can be used to advance our understanding of important issues in political economy. The editors and contributors are to be congratulated on a fine achievement.” — Paul Lewis, “The Bloomington School, as seen from Virginia“, Cosmos & Taxis 2022.

“For those interested in Elinor Ostrom’s wide-ranging contributions to the social sciences, Elinor Ostrom and the Bloomington School provides a useful entry point and overview. … For historians of economic ideas, this volume nicely complements the raft of scholarship being produced by those affiliated with George Mason University on the Ostroms. As such, it will prove useful in understanding how the Bloomington school wound up in Fairfax.” — Marianne Johnson, History of Political Economy, 2022.


1. Introduction: The Bloomington School in Context
Jayme Lemke and Vlad Tarko

2. Public Choice Theory: Reuniting Virginia and Bloomington
Emil Duhnea and Adam Martin
The Calculus of Consent
Bloomington and the Calculus
Commons Concerns

3. New Institutional Economics: Building From Shared Foundations
Michael D. McGinnis
A Shared Foundation: Methodological Individualism and Bounded Rationality
Subtle Shades of Meaning: Institutions, Organizations, and Property Rights
A Question of Emphasis: Rent-Seeking, Credible Commitments, Public
Entrepreneurs, and Polycentric Governance
Opportunities for Closer Integration: Transaction Costs, Process Narratives,
and Social Foundations of Order

4. Elinor Ostrom as Behavioral Economist
Vlad Tarko
The limits of rational choice theory
Intrinsic preferences, norms, and nested social dilemmas
Between holistic theories and the “logic of collective inaction”

5. New Economic Sociology and the Ostroms: A Combined Approach
Alice Calder and Virgil Henry Storr
Tocqueville as an important contributor to both fields
Four commonalities in their approaches to social science

6. Foundations of Social Order: The Ostroms and John Searle
Adrian Miroiu and Adelin Dumitru
Institutional and non-institutional facts
Individualism and holism
Shared communities of understanding
The Institution of Language
Conclusion: Epistemological Implications

7. Environmental Policy from a Self-Governance Perspective
Jayme Lemke and Jordan Lofthouse
The Environment as a Common-Pool Resource
Global Environmental Policy from a Bloomington Perspective
Institutional Solutions to Incentive Problems and Knowledge Problems
Concluding Words for Policymakers

8. Learning from the Socialist Calculation Debate: Is Efficiency in
Public Economics Possible?
Peter Boettke
The institutional framework determines the outcomes of the invisible hand
The allocation of resources in non-market settings
The information rationale of polycentricity

9. Public Administration from “Intellectual Crisis” to Contemporary
“Governance Theory”
Dragos Paul Aligica
Public choice as a foundation to the study of public administration
The metropolitan reform debate
The allocation of resources without market prices
Implications of thinking in terms of polycentricity
The empirical validity of polycentricity
From the metropolitan debate to the study of the commons

10. Rethinking Federalism: Social Order through Evolution or Design?
Rosolino A. Candela
Institutional Analysis in Ostromian Political Economy: Between James
Buchanan and F.A. Hayek
Polycentricity and Federalism: Bridging the Dichotomy between Institutional
Construction and Evolution
Polycentric Governance Unraveled: The Case of Italian Unification and its
Impact on Sicily