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October 13, 2009

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Woman shares Nobel Economics Prize

AMERICANS Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Economics Prize yesterday for their analyses of economic governance - the way authority is exercised in companies and economic systems.
Ostrom was the first woman to win the prize since it was founded in 1968, and the fifth woman to win a Nobel award this year - a Nobel record.
Ostrom, who has devoted her career to studying the interaction of people and natural resources, told the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm by telephone that she was surprised by the Nobel.
"There are many, many people who have struggled mightily and to be chosen for this prize is a great honor," she said. "I'm still a little bit in shock."
The academy cited Ostrom "for her analysis of economic governance," saying her work had demonstrated how common property can be successfully managed by groups using it.
Williamson, it said, developed a theory where business firms can serve as structures to resolve conflicts.
"Over the last three decades, these seminal contributions have advanced economic governance research from the fringe to the forefront of scientific attention," the academy said.
It said the United States winners' research showed that economic analysis can shed light on most forms of social organization.
"Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized," the academy said.
"Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories."
One notable publication Ostrom wrote in 1990 examined both successful and unsuccessful ways of governing natural resources - forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands and irrigation system - that are used by individuals.
Williamson was cited for arguing that markets and hierarchical organizations, such as companies, represent alternative governance structures that differ in their approaches to resolving conflicts of interest.
Issues of governance have been at the heart of the ongoing world economic crisis. The failure by boards of directors, for instance, to police excessive compensation, or prevent bonuses that reward excessive risk taking, can be considered a corporate governance issue.
The economics prize was the last award to be announced this year. It's not one of the original Nobel prizes, but was created by the Swedish central bank in Alfred Nobel's memory.
Nobel Prize winners receive 10 million Swedish kronor (US$1.4 million), a gold medal and diploma from the Swedish king on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.
In the biggest surprise of the awards, US President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday.
American scientists Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak shared the Nobel Medicine Prize for discovering a key mechanism in the genetic operations of cells, an insight that has inspired new research into cancer.


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