Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Daniel A. Farber and Anne Joseph O’Connell
Chapter 14: Public Choice and Environmental Policy
Christopher H. Schroeder1 I. Introduction: public choice and environmental policy This chapter reviews the contributions that public choice research and scholarship have made to our understanding of the decisions of governments responding to environmental issues. The literature examined concentrates on domestic policy making within the United States, although occasional reference is made to the growing literature that studies European and international decision making. Much of this literature is theoretical, while a growing portion of it is descriptive. At the same time, public choice analyses are routinely invoked in discussions about the appropriate role of government in addressing environmental problems, where the implications of this literature takes on normative implications as well. This chapter considers the theoretical, the descriptive and the normative dimensions of the literature. A portion of the public choice literature, especially some of its influential early work, depicts government as a system in which all participants ignore welfare-improving actions in favor of ones that advance their own narrow self-interests, and where participants representing economically powerful special interests predominate. The results are government decisions that routinely benefit industry and concentrated wealth at the expense of broad citizen concerns about environmental quality. The normative implication seems clear: anyone concerned with the public interest or simply opposed to being victimized by the self-interested motives of someone else ought to avoid putting important environmental decisions in the hands of such a system, if possible. More recent work has exposed several flaws in this descriptive account. One constant throughout the literature insists on...
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