Walter E. Williams

Disagreement with the world's environmentalist wackos doesn't mean that one is for dirty air and water, against conservation and for species extinction. Dr. Richard Stroup, Montana State University professor of economics and senior associate of the Center for Free Market Environmentalism, explains commonsense approaches to environmental issues in his new book, Eco-nomics: What Everyone Should Know About Economics and the Environment.

Stroup starts out with the first lesson of economics: There's scarcity. That means more of one thing means less of another. California's San Bernardino County was just about ready to build a new hospital. That was until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department discovered that the endangered flower-loving Delhi Sands fly was found on the site. The county had to spend $4.5 million to move the hospital 250 feet; it also had to divert funds from its medical mission to pay for mandated Delhi Sands fly studies.

Question: Was it worth it? On the benefit side, we have the survival of some Delhi Sand flies, but what about the cost side? How much pain and suffering and perhaps loss of human life was there because millions of dollars were diverted from the hospital's medical mission?

Stroup's analysis warns us that we must always attend to a regulation's unanticipated side-effects. In other words, beneficiaries of a regulation tend always to be easily detected, but the victims are invisible.

David Lucas owned shoreline property that the South Carolina government told him he couldn't develop, even though his next-door neighbors developed their property. South Carolina's regulation made his shoreline property virtually worthless. Lucas sued, and the U.S. Supreme Court forced the South Carolina government to pay him $1 million. Once the state was forced to pay Lucas $1 million, it changed its mind about the worth of keeping the shoreline undeveloped. In fact, it sold it to a developer.

South Carolina's actions demonstrate that incentives matter. Costs born by others will have less of an effect on our choices than when we bear them directly. Environmentalists love it when the government can force private citizens to bear the burden of their agenda, as opposed to requiring that government pay landowners for property losses due to one regulation or another. It's cheaper, and that means government officials will more readily cave in to environmentalists' demands.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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