- Paperback: 241 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; Revised edition (February 3, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312235038
- ISBN-13: 978-0312235031
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,518,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Free Market Environmentalism Revised Edition
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The book makes its case effectively, and open-minded people on all sides of these debates can learn something from the book. Chapter 2, "Rethinking the Way We Think," is particularly valuable in making the reader think a second time about things she thinks she knows. The selection of topics in the rest of the book (fencing ranches in the western US, bureaucratic land-use mandates, user fees for recreation in national forests, global warming) is pretty random but tolerably representative. Some suggestions are more plausible than others.
The ideological side of FME wants to make markets look like the solutions to all problems. The real FME claim is that, if government chooses to achieve some environmental goal, it can achieve that goal at least cost by developing market solutions. For example, tradable emissions permits achieve a given level of emissions efficiently, but you still have to decide the emissions level politically, and have bureaucrats enforce the levels. Similarly, user fees might raise the value that national forests place on recreation use, and might reduce crowding at some sites - - but the "real" market solution would be to sell national forests to the highest bidder, sell national parks to Disney, and so on.
Anderson and Leal don't actually propose such sell-offs but the ideological version of FME would advocate them on the basis of logical consistency. A healthier recognition of the limits of FME, and the role of politics, would serve their agenda better.
The ideology also infects Anderson and Leal's language -- "bureaucrats" not "administrators" or "government officials," for example -- and, as another reviewer points out, they'd rather just deny the existence of global warming because the problem is not amenable to market solutions.
The global warming example also highlights that the FME "solutions" to tough problems often involve mitigation, not solution. For example, Anderson and Leal propose that the US stop subsidizing beachfront development so that sea-level rise and greater hurricane frequency do not damage even more property than otherwise. That's a fine point, but it does nothing to address the underlying problem of global warming.
That said, the book is very much reading, especially if you are predisposed to dislike it. FME can enrich the toolkit of the environmental community, and can also point the pragmatic part of that community toward reducing political opposition to various environmental programs. Even if you're skeptical of markets, you shouldn't be scared to read about them.
They wrote in the first chapter of this 1991 book, for "Neo-Malthusians... governmental control---which means political control---is seen as a necessary check on the environmental ravages of free markets. This book will challenge this common perception and offer an alternative way of thinking about environmental issues, markets, and political choice. This way of thinking does not always provide solutions... The development of free market environmentalism has progressed from an examination of the relatively easy problems of land and energy development to the tougher problems of water quality and quantity."
The authors frankly admit that "managers in the private sector would dump production wastes into a nearby stream if they did not have to pay for the cost of their action" (pg. 10), and that a system of private water allocation "may not provide a sufficient supply of instream flows for wildlife habitat and environmental quality" (Pg. 14). They also concede that lumbermen "made attempts to raise the prices of processed wood through cartels." (Pg. 43)
They assert, "free market environmentalism presupposes well-specified rights to take actions with respect to specific resources. If this rights cannot be measured, monitored, and marketed, then there is little possibility for exchange... Private ownership of land works quite well for producing timber, but measuring, monitoring, and marketing the land for endangered species habitat requires entrepreneurial imagination." (Pg. 21)
The authors assert that a "market solution" to water pollution is "troublesome," that a free market solution to water pollution "seems elusive," and that "a case can be made for some regulatory authority, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to control the level of pollution." (Pg. 138-139) They further admit the difficulties with air pollution, "Because it is difficult to identify the polluter, the harm, and the recipient..." (Pg. 155) They also concede that "the property rights approach offers no panacea. Property rights are costly to define and enforce"; nevertheless, free market environmentalism "moves us in the direction of a bargaining process between the polluters and the receptors of pollution." (Pg. 167)
This book is a refreshingly candid free market defense, but one which owns up (rather than glossing over) to the difficulties in their approach.
Some people might not believe its notion that the private sector will always do the right thing. And, of course, it won't. However, this book is a good guide to the growing movement to find a better way to protect the environment.