Freeman

ARTICLE

Book Review: Man and Nature The Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York 1993 221

SEPTEMBER 01, 1994 by RAYMOND J. KEATING

pages • $14.95 paperback

Environmentalists would have us believe that free individuals interacting in the marketplace destroy the environment. In fact, such radicals view man as intrinsically hostile to the environment. Unfortunately, much of the public, most of the media, and a majority of elected officials in the United States, seem to have accepted this myth as truth.

Man and Nature provides a valuable antidote to this perverse view of man and his environment. FEE has assembled some of the best essays published in The Freeman over the years that addressed environmental issues. And as many of us have come to expect from this monthly journal, these essays present well-reasoned and persuasive arguments from a free-market perspective.

The issue of property rights lies at the very core of most environmental debates. Michael W. Fanning’s outstanding essay “Attack in the Adirondacks” documents the destruction of property rights—and a way of life—by New York state government in the Adirondacks. Similarly, Paul D. Kamenar provides a case study of the federal government’s flagrant enforcement of the Clean Water Act against an individual in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

In addition to drawing attention to the dangerous whittling away of individuals’ property rights, Man and Nature offers numerous examples of how the enforcement of private property rights and reliance on the marketplace can solve current environmental problems. For example, Elizabeth Larson’s essay, “Elephants and Ivory,” illustrates a means of saving Africa’s elephants from extinction. When the Zimbabwe government “transferred the responsibility for elephants from government and wildlife agencies to the farmers and herdsmen on whose land the elephants live, the elephant population in Zimbabwe grew by 5 percent a year, according to Zimbabwe’s Department of Wildlife.” The critical point is that “[f]armers and herdsmen in Zimbabwe own the elephants roaming their lands.” Now, a big-game hunter buys a permit from a nearby village in order to shoot an elephant. Larson notes: “The hunters—by giving the rural Zimbabweans a reason to consider the elephants creatures of value instead of dangerous pests—play a vital role in Zimbabwe’s elephant management program.”

After reading this book, one gains an appreciation for how the breakdown of English common law regarding property rights—especially during the Progressive Era—translated into environmental woes. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, in his entry “Why Socialism Causes Pollution,” tells the reader of two fundamental lessons derived from environmental degradation: “First, it is not free enterprise per se that causes environmental harm; if so, the socialist world would be environmentally pristine.” He continues: “The heart of the problem lies with the failure of our legal institutions, not the free enterprise system . . . . The English common law tradition of the protection of private property rights—including the right to be free from pollution—was slowly overturned. In other words, many environmental problems are not caused by ‘market failure’ but by government’s failure to enforce property rights . . . . Potential polluters must know in advance that they will be held responsible for their actions.”

DiLorenzo’s second lesson, and a fundamental point emphasized throughout this book, “is that the plundering of the environment in the socialist world is a grand example of the tragedy of the commons.” That is, where there is no owner, there exists the inclination to abuse or deplete.

Among the many other notable essays are George Reisman’s and Robert James Bidinotto’s entries. They provide in-depth criticisms of the philosophies that undergird the environmental movement.

In fact, Man and Nature tears down the foundations upon which the environmental movement rests. Myths surrounding socialism, overpopulation, animal rights, waste disposal, and much more are obliterated. The notion that government action is the only answer to environmental problems is not only refuted, but supplanted with proof that government action has generated many of these problems. Man and Nature illustrates that even in the case of the environment, a free market—with secure property rights—works best for everyone. []

Raymond J. Keating is Director of New York Citizens for a Sound Economy.

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September 1994

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December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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