What the Hobbit can teach us about self-governance

Those who believe in a small state and self-regulated markets could claim JRR Tolkien and Elinor Ostrom as two of their own

This year's Christmas blockbuster looks likely to be the first part of the Hobbit trilogy, which is released this week. JRR Tolkien's prequel to the Lord of the Rings follows the story of Bilbo Baggins, plucked from his comfortable life in the Shire to accompany treasure-seeking dwarves on an adventure.

Tolkien became a cult figure among hippies in the 1960s, for whom LOTR worked on a number of levels: peace-lovers versus warmongers; military-industrial complex versus local smallholders; the lust for power versus individual freedom. These days he would have celebrated the victory of the people of Totnes in their campaign to keep a branch of Costa out of their town.

Yet those who believe in a small state and self-regulated markets could also claim Tolkien as one of their own. The Shire had hardly any government: families, for the most part, managed their own affairs and the only real official was the mayor, who oversaw the postal service and the watch.

Hobbits enjoyed a pipe and a mug of ale: it is unlikely Tolkien would have been a fan of smoking bans and minimum unit prices for alcohol. Like Elinor Ostrom, he might even h