Colony Collapse Disorder: The Market Response to Bee Disease

Saturday, January 14, 2012


We live in an imperfect world full of problems. That fact contributes to the ongoing media drumbeat over imminent catastrophe. Horror stories sell; news items about incremental improvements are not interesting except to people in the industries working to make life a little bit better.

One horror story is that of Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious phenomenon affecting honey bees. Based on media reports alone, one might believe that crops are at risk of going unpollinated and that we are heading towards a “silent spring”—one in which the familiar springtime buzzing of the bee is no more.

Two prominent agricultural economists, Randy Rucker and Wally Thurman, look at the bee problem in a new light. The problem still exists but gets little news because, once again, the sky did not fall. People in the beekeeping industry reacted to the problem so swiftly that pollination continued and the food supply was saved.

Colony Collapse Disorder is one of the many episodes PERC has examined over the years, showing how people resolve real problems. Too often it is presumed when reading about environmental issues in the doom-and-gloom media that politicians are needed to save the day. In the case of colony collapse, luckily it never got to political intervention. As is often the case, the uncoordinated market quietly resolved what had been posited as a major crisis.

Click here to read the study [pdf].

Randy Rucker is a Professor of Economics at Montana State University and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Economics and Agricultural Economics. Rucker’s research covers a broad array of topics including energy, fisheries, and pollination markets. His research has appeared in such publications as the American Journal of...
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Wally Thurman is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University and a PERC Senior Fellow. Thurman was a PERC 2003 Julian Simon Fellow, a Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, and a recipient of that organization’s Outstanding Graduate Instructor Award as well as awards for his published...
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