Pesticides and Property Rights

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Two PERC researchers, reviewing the history of the banned pesticide DDT, have concluded that violation of private property rights lies at the heart of the conflict over DDT. In “Property Rights and Pesticides,” Roger E. Meiners and Andrew P. Morriss argue that excessive government spraying of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s caused environmental harm that led DDT to be banned.

That decision has tragic consequences today, as DDT remains the most effective pesticide available for countering the plague of malaria that kills one million people per year, the authors say.

If the spraying in the 1950s and 1960s had been done privately, opponents could have successfully protected themselves and their property from DDT. But such lawsuits failed because the government was presumably pursuing the public interest. A There is no doubt that the plaintiffs could have won injunctive relief against a private party who chartered a plane and sprayed even a harmless substance on the plaintiff’s land, write Meiners and Morriss.

Today, DDT is erroneously viewed as severely harmful, they say. Restrictions on its use condemn millions to suffer and die from malaria, a chronic disease carried by mosquitos.

Roger E. Meiners is a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas at Arlington. Andrew Morriss is the Galen J. Roush Professor of Business Law & Regulation and associate dean for academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Both Meiners and Morriss are Senior Associates of PERC.

“Pesticides and Property Rights” (PS-22) is the latest in the PERC Policy Series edited by Jane S. Shaw and produced by Dianna Rienhart. It is also available in hard copy from PERC.

Download the full report, including endnotes and references.

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