Property and Emerging Environmental Issues - The Optimists vs. The Pessimists
1 William & Mary Brigham-Kenner Property Rights Conference Journal 405 (2012)
17 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2012
Date Written: October 22, 2012
Can property rights and markets address environmental issues? Some say yes and some say no. This article tracks the debate through several iterations, beginning with the 1980 bet between by the biologist Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon. The former bet that the world was exhausting its natural capital and that a particular basket of minerals would therefore increase in price, while the latter bet that human ingenuity would substitute for natural capital and make prices fall. The optimistic Simon won that bet, but another version of the debate was soon to come, with free market environmentalists asserting that property and markets can evolve even for diffuse environmental resources. But more pessimistic commentators point out that success is not assured, and that social and political factors, and even past property rights regimes, can present substantial obstacles. The upshot appears to be that if one is to be optimistic about property and market approaches, one must be optimistic about social and political factors as well.
Keywords: property rights, markets, environmental issues, freemarket
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