Laura E. Huggins

The point here is not that maintaining biodiversity lacks merit. Rather, it is that pursuing such goals through detached and high level bureaucracies can miss the mark. The risk of doing so increases as those who will pay the price, such as todays high-income earners, become easier political targets. In addition, top-down conservation efforts are less likely to succeed when measuring a policy-success is difficult. It is hard to distinguish whether a medicinal cure or new biofuel should be counted as a policy-success or as a discovery that would have happened anyway.

Top-down programs to maintain or expand biodiversity options lack accountability on both dimensions. Bottom-up approaches, on the other hand, benefit from information reaching decision makers faster and from competitive markets encouraging an efficient use of that information. After reviewing several unsuccessful centralized attempts to preserve biodiversity, Professor R. David Simpson argued for arms-length payments to people in return for changing their land-use practices. Simpson appreciates that public support for businesses like ecotourism can work toward such ends, but points out they also keep wasteful enterprises alive and enrich those that would succeed on their own.

Real market strategies succeed by anonymously creating environmental and economic opportunities. Politics, instead, often supplants the invisible hand of economic efficiency with the visible hand of inefficient redistribution.

Laura E. Huggins

Laura E. Huggins is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and at the Property & Environment Research Center (PERC). Dr.Falaschetti is executive director of PERC, a think tank that builds productive environmental solutions on sound economic principles.