8 Mar 2008

Lease a Forest, Save a Tree

The economist has two stories on entrepreneurial ecology, e.g, leasing forests to save them for the animals and from the loggers. The sad story is that many environmentalists are unable or unwilling to pay to save the forests. They prefer laws that require the forests be set aside -- at a cost to the people who lose income from them. Scenic perhaps, natural perhaps, but not sustainable. People living with nature who have no income are more likely to poach and illegally cut trees to put food on the floor (They are often too poor to have tables.)

There is a big literature in economics on willingness to pay/accept money for various non-monetary items (whales, forests, clean air). Skeptics claim that the values assigned are unrealistic because people are not really required to pay their own money for things they say are "so valuable." (See also #4 here, where I point out that yuppies want taxpayers to fund their nature parks.)

Bottom Line: If we want things to stay around we have to support them. We pay the Rolling Stones for concert tickets, the Church for services, the farmers market for fresh, local food. If we want nature and clean air, we have to pay those who own and protect it. There's no free lunch.

Clarification: When I went from non-monetary (whales) to monetary (tickets), I was not trying to mix both into one to claim that they were the same. I was implying that current "non-monetary" items should be (and can be) managed through markets using prices. Although a preserved forest may be a public good that benefits all and a felled forest may be a private good that benefits loggers, those who want the public good must overcome their collective action problem (free-riding, etc.) to find a way of aggregating their purchasing power to out-bid the logging firms. That's an important point, and I am glad to reinforce it. (The cited articles make it as well.)

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