Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

James K. Boyce

Comprising a decade’s worth of essays written since the publication of the author’s pathbreaking book, The Political Economy of the Environment (2002), this volume discusses a number of diverse environmental issues through an economist’s lens. Topics covered include environmental justice, disaster response, globalization and the environment, industrial toxins and other pollutants, cap-and-dividend climate policies, and agricultural biodiversity.

Chapter 9: Globalization and our environmental future

James K. Boyce

Subjects: environment, environmental economics


In the early 1990s, the environmental movement in the United States underwent an acrimonious split over whether to support the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some environmental groups backed the treaty, maintaining that ‘the best way to ensure that Mexico’s environment is cleaned up is to help Mexico become a prosperous country, and that means NAFTA.’ Others opposed it, arguing that ‘the competition to attract investment will result in a lowest common denominator for environmental statutes’ and that ‘the country with the least restrictive statutes will become the floor, and others will harmonize downward to that floor.’ Despite their differences, both sides shared a common assumption: Mexico’s environmental practices were inferior to those of the United States and Canada. The only point of contention was whether free trade would pull the United States and Canada down to Mexico’s level, or lift Mexico to the plane of its northern neighbors. Partly as a result, both sides were oblivious to what may turn out to be NAFTA’s most serious environmental impact, discussed in the preceding chapter: the erosion of Mexico’s rich biological diversity in maize (‘corn’ in US parlance), as Mexican campesino farmers abandon traditional agriculture in the face of competition from cheap corn imported from the United States.

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