Only economists can rescue the planet

Written by Ed Dolan Wednesday, 26 October 2011 07:24
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Gernot Wagner’s But Will the Planet Notice? is the book I would like to get my neighbors to read.

The ones who use canvas shopping bags, take short showers, recycle, and think that is enough. The ones who think “environmental economics” is an oxymoron. The ones who think concepts like markets, incentives, and property are the roots of our planetary problems, not the keys to solving it.

Wagner can speak to these people as a member of the same club. He is careful to point out that he, too, pays his dues—no plastic bags, no meat, no car, and a day job with the Environmental Defense Fund. But he also has a Ph.D. in environmental economics. That means that even though he may live like your average green progressive, he thinks differently. He thinks recycling is nice, but not enough, and that only economists can save the planet.

Actually, I took the bit about economists saving the planet from the jacket, not from the book itself.

Wagner’s real argument is not that economists, but that markets offer the best chance of saving the planet. Markets don’t guarantee success, he says, but trying to work against them is a sure recipe for failure.

Wagner is a firm devotee of the idea that the polluter should pay—what I like to call the TANSTAAFL principle. His tool of choice for putting a price on pollution is cap and trade, but he has no objection to gasoline taxes, parking fees, highway tolls, property rights for lobster fishers, and other incentive mechanisms as the specifics of each case dictate. He is dismissive of the objection that “making pollution into a commodity” removes the moral stigma associated with it.

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Ed is the author of the recently published, There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch*-a-libertarian-perspective-on-environmental-policy-*there-aint-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch.html

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 11:44

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