Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini
Chapter 27: Public choice and the environment
Bruce Yandle 1 Introduction From the beginning of the discipline, economists have focused on environmental issues. After all, the availability of land, rivers, and harbors is fundamental to the wealth of nations. In his review of North America’s promising prosperity, Adam Smith ( 1976, Bk II, ch. VII, p. 77) spoke glowingly of the availability of good harbors and ‘plenty of good land’ in the American colonies. Later, ‘land’, a catchall term that included all the commonplace gifts of nature, was regularly listed as one of the factors of production, and neoclassical economist Nassau Senior ( 1938, p. 92) even went so far as to identify ‘proprietors of natural resources’ as a component of the economic order. Generally speaking, the early concern of economists was with the supply of water, air, light, and land, not with the quality of these resources or what we today call environmental quality. But writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill ( 1973, p. 7) suggested that ‘if from any revolution in nature the atmosphere became too scanty for the consumption … air might acquire a very high marketable value’. The environmental revolution that began in the late 1960s for the developed world changed all of this. Air and water quality, pollution and related concepts of externalities and public goods captured the attention of economists (Cropper and Oates 1992). The count of articles on the environment published in economics journals is one important proxy that illustrates the attention the discipline has devoted...
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