Environmental Protection and Economic Well-Being: The Economic Pursuit of Quality

By Thomas Michael Power | Go to book overview

Chapter Six

Beauty and the Beast:
Quantitative Evidence on the Economic
Importance of Environmental Quality

1. Introduction

In the previous chapters we tried to make several points. First, we insisted that the pursuit of quality is a dominant objective of all economic activity, including activity in the commercial marketplace. Second, we explained why, in many situations, commercial businesses cannot adequately provide the goods and services we want and why we feel uneasy depending on commercial activities to provide certain valued things. Third, we showed that environmental qualities, social and natural, often are among the things the commercial market cannot provide in the way we wish. Finally, we showed that, despite the failure of commercial markets to provide these environmental goods or to value them adequately, there are tools that will allow us to estimate their economic value.

What we wish to do in this chapter is use those tools to provide some feeling for the relative size of these environmental values. To do this we will attempt to measure their relative importance in terms of both what we would sacrifice to obtain them and the commercially available goods and services we would demand as compensation for their loss. That is to say, we will attempt to state those values in dollar terms.

We will deliberately begin with the most "aesthetic" of these environmental qualities, scenic beauty. We will then turn to environments that are usually characterized in moral or cultural terms: wildlands. We will follow that up with one of the most "practical" aspects of environmental quality, its capacity to keep us healthy and alive. We consider the economic damage done by air pollution in raising morbidity and mortality rates. We also look at crime and the value of security from it.


2. Beauty: The Economic Value of Visual Quality

In those criticisms of environmental preservation that pose as economic, one of the most common targets is the concern with visual appearance. Environmental-

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