Post image for Lee Alston

Lee Alston

November 17, 2015

It’s been just a little over a year since Lee Alston, formerly a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been in place as the director of the Ostrom Workshop at IU Bloomington, and it’s been a year of some major steps forward.

Alston earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction from IU Bloomington in 1973, the same year political scientists Vincent Ostrom and Elinor Ostrom founded the Workshop. He is an expert in the study of how institutions, beliefs, and contracts shape economic and political outcomes. For example, in the forthcoming co-authored book Brazil in Transition: Beliefs, Leadership, and Institutional Change (Princeton University Press, 2016), Alston and his co-authors assess how economic and political transition in Brazil over the past 20 years has strengthened the country’s democratic institutions.

Writing in an op-ed in the prestigious news publication Financial Times, Alston notes that despite the country’s current economic upheaval, “some things have turned out better than expected. The government has made a credible move to stabilise markets, appointing as finance minister Joaquim Levy — a no-nonsense fiscal conservative. … [A]ll manifestations of dissatisfaction have taken place within institutional and constitutional rules. Any suggestion of coups, military takeovers or violence is more or less universally rejected. Just three decades since the dictatorship ended, democracy is the only game in town.”

Best of all, Alston continues, “those in charge of holding the government to account, especially the judiciary, public attorneys, the TCU and the federal police … have investigated, prosecuted and even imprisoned previously untouchable business leaders and politicians involved in corruption.”

Brazil, Alston writes, is a “perennial country of the future”, where a return to sound fiscal policy and economic prosperity is possible.

Likewise, the possibilities for the Ostrom Workshop are exciting and bright, says Alston. In June, Alston and colleagues completed a three-year Strategic Plan, which leverages the Ostrom Workshop’s leagacy of research on governance processes—the formal and informal rules that guide human behavior—as well as the IU Bloomington campus’s strong foundation in the social sciences.

“The visibility of the social sciences is often hampered by the sheer size of this university and the large number of germane units distributed across different schools. There is a need for solutions that will bring people together and foster new collaborations,” Alston wrote recently as a guest on Through the Gates, the IU Bloomington blog from Provost Lauren Robel and the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.

Going forward, Alston says, the Ostrom Workshop will be stimulating governance problems across different fields of study. In the nest year, the Workshop plans to establish two programs centering on the governance of natural resources management and political, legal, and economic development. Workshop scholars and students will address crucial questions such as: How should we better regulate the use of water, from the local to the global level, in light of the risks that climate change poses worldwide? And: How can we better understand economic and political stasis and change in order to inform policymaking? Potential new research areas include studying the governance of information and innovation, financial organizations, international organizations, health, and education.

As new undergraduate fellows, graduate students, and faculty join the Ostrom Workshop’s activities, Alston says, “we are excited to be building the foundation for a vibrant, expanded intellectual community of social scientists working together toward common goals.”