The foundation of PERC has always been high-quality academic research rooted in the principles of property rights and markets. It was this focus on research that led to Terry Anderson and Donald Leal’s influential 1990 book Free Market Environmentalism—the first comprehensive argument for “rethinking the way we think” about the environment.
With the third edition of the book forthcoming, PERC recently held a workshop to tackle the hard questions for free market environmentalism. This workshop paired long-time PERC scholars with younger scholars who came to ask the tough questions. As one might imagine, this pairing led to heated debate at times, but overall it enhanced the experience around the conference table. This special issue highlights some of the papers presented.
PERC welcomes open and informed discussion, and the pages in this issue serve as such a forum. The articles are more academic in tone than our typical pieces—think fullbodied Bordeaux rather than Pinot Noir—but we found them enlightening and hope you do as well.
SPENCER BANZHAF suggests that cap-and-trade is “the free market based approach to complex multilateral problems like climate change.” Free market environmentalists, he argues, should applaud this approach over more costly government regulation while working to push free market ideals further into policy.
Free market environmentalists do not usually look to government as part of the solution to environmental problems. But when they do, governance by the smallest entity possible is the preferred choice. SARAH ANDERSON challenges this claim by asking, is smaller always better?
CHARLES KOLSTAD goes broad to explore both “The Promise and Problems of Free Market Environmentalism.” Free market environmentalism has a lot to offer for problems pertaining to natural resource allocation, but according to Kolstad, “the case for FME is weaker when dealing with environmental goods, such as providing clean air.”
JONATHAN ADLER dives deeper into the pollution problem by evaluating the common law as a free-market solution. He suggests that it is time for free market environmentalists to reconsider what made the common law attractive in the first place, and develop new ideas to “resolve pollution problems while respecting property rights and facilitating market exchange.”
To stir up a little more controversy in the pages of PERC Reports, we’ve included JAMIE WORKMAN’S “Impressions” of the wolf saga. Could the political conflict over wolf recovery efforts be resolved via economics? Let the bidding begin.
Also be sure to read G. TRACY MEHAN’s review of Marc Reisner’s book Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, published 25 years ago. This is a classic of American conservation literature and is still illuminating important lessons in the political economy of limited resources.