Pollution and Property: Comparing Ownership Institutions for Environmental Protection

Pollution and Property: Comparing Ownership Institutions for Environmental Protection

Pollution and Property: Comparing Ownership Institutions for Environmental Protection

Pollution and Property: Comparing Ownership Institutions for Environmental Protection

Synopsis

All solutions to environmental problems depend on the imposition of private, common, or public-property rights in natural resources. Who should own the resources: private individuals, private groups of "stakeholders", or the entire society (the public)? Contrary to much of the literature in this field, this book argues that no single property regime works best in all circumstances. Environmental protection requires the use of multiple property regimes--including admixtures of private, common, and public-property systems.

Excerpt

The basic environmental problem is to prevent the overuse and abuse of “environmental goods, ” including clean air, water, and wildlife, by controlling access and use. As control implies the assignment of private (individual or common) or public rights and duties with respect to otherwise open-access resources, this book posits that all approaches to environmental protection ultimately are property-based. On this view, even government regulation constitutes a property-based approach to environmental protection. Regulations impose private duties with respect to the use of environmental goods, and in doing so necessarily create concomitant public rights of enforcement. Consequently, the choice in environmental protection is not whether to take a property-based approach but which property-based approaches to use under various circumstances.

As to the latter question, there is no universal, first-best propertybased solution to all environmental problems in all circumstances. This book assesses the utility of public, common, and private property-based approaches to environmental protection, and finds them all useful but within limits. Each has advantages and disadvantages, which may be maximized or minimized, respectively, depending on the ecological, institutional, technological, and cultural circumstances. One property system may work better than another in one set of circumstances, but compare very poorly under different conditions. No single property regime is demonstrably superior to all others, in all circumstances, across all dimensions of policy concern.

That conclusion should not surprise anyone. Yet much of the existing literature on relations between property and environmental protection either presupposes or argues normatively in favor of one property system or another, regardless of circumstance. This book, by contrast, seeks to describe relations between property and environmental protection more realistically, in their full complexity. Thus, its purpose is largely positive. The book also offers some normative arguments in favor of multiple property systems and admixtures of property systems. In part, those arguments constitute resort to a default position because of the difficulties . . .

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