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Celebrating Women in Economics

3 min readBy: Ellen Kant

In recognition of International Women’s Day, we would like to honor the contributions that women have made to the advancement of economics and taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. ation theory and policy. Although many women have facilitated progress in our understanding of economics and taxation, as the first (and only) woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom’s contributions and work provides an excellent example of the critical role women have played in the field. Her work on governance issues continues to be highly relevant as these are addressed in national, state, and local debates.

Dr. Ostrom’s work on common-pool resource problems and her models on public goods and public choice have provided insight for a wide variety of topics including budget appropriations and taxation. For example, budget allocation in academic research has often been described as a budgetary commons. A discrepancy between the perceived and actual costs of a budgetary outlay occurs because participants internalize the full benefit of the outlay, but costs are dispersed through taxation to the whole public. Thus, some claim that a tragedy of a commons results. Ostrom’s work focusing on natural common-pool resources cautioned against this oversimplification because it often results in inappropriate policy enactment. Therefore, she described a variety of factors that distinguish the complex and multiple problems or dilemmas facing common-pool issues like taxation and appropriations.

Finally, her studies of self-governing common resource pools find that characteristics that foster their success include a long time horizon, a lower discount rate, a stable membership, accurate information regarding the resource’s condition, correct projections of future benefits and cost, and consideration of local conditions or norms.

Ostrom’s contributions to our understanding of common-pool resources will continue to facilitate policy making to ensure that appropriate policy prescriptions are enacted by policy makers regarding inlays and outlays of governing bodies and has laid the foundation for many more women economists to influence and change how we perceive economic problems in the future.

At the Tax Foundation, we have been grateful for the contributions of many pioneering women in the fields of economics and tax policy from under our own roof. In the early 1940s, we were joined by several women, including Jo McBay, senior researcher, Phoebe C. Main, junior researcher, and Mary Fernholz, statistician. Since that time, we have strived to ensure that women are not only adequately represented in our field, but also respected in our field. From Elsie Watters’ unparalleled study of unemployment insurance systems in the 1980s to Elizabeth Malm’s current stewardship of our Annual State-Local Tax Burden Rankings and her news-making work debunking bad state tax policy proposals, women have made an indelible mark on our work.

We are pleased on this day, and every day, to honor these path-blazing, brilliant women who continue to demonstrate to the world that, to paraphrase President Obama’s proclamation, no wall or ceiling will keep our daughters, our sisters, our mothers from their dreams.