Eco-nomics by Richard L. Stroup
Review by Lauren Blankenship
If you asked most people what they think of capitalism, they will likely
conjure images of the little man from the Monopoly game exploiting workers, defrauding consumers, and destroying the environment trying to make a buck. You might hear a long rant blaming profit-centric corporations for disappearing forests, the poisoning of water supplies with reckless toxic waste disposal, or oil spills killing birds and baby seals. These allegations are usually accompanied by claims that more regulation of the “free” market by central government could save the day.
Economist Richard Stroup in Eco-nomics, attempts to build a case to the contrary. Eco-nomics was published a decade ago, but Stroup’s discussion of the counterproductive and politicized results of governmental attempts to protect natural resources applies as well to day’s environmental debates. Eco-nomics offers students critical background knowledge for students debating this year’s marine natural resource topic.
Stroup begins his work by offering a simple yet profound summary of core economics integral to a sound understanding of environmental policy struggles. Focusing on the idea of scarcity, he utilizes it to rebut ten common dilemmas people are concerned about regarding natural resources. Questions like, “In a land as rich as the United States, why do we face so many difficult choices about the environment?” and “What do profits achieve for the environment?” are addressed by Stroup in a clear, succinct manner. Every piece of analysis is accompanied by a real world instance in which the point being made is shown to apply in practice as well as theory, which debaters will appreciate.
One chapter examines market solutions to resource problems, and Stroup emphasizes how a respect for property rights turns conflict into cooperation, utilizing profit incentives to reduce environmental waste. He first defines the nature and scope of these rights, which particularly aids inexperienced debaters in easily understanding the role of government with direct application to the resolution. Stroup continues to establish ten different observations on the role of property rights in environmental preservation, contending not only that property rights are essential for the environment to be protected, but that if any of their necessary elements are missing, a perverse system of inefficiency and destruction will result from the kind of corporatism—government and business working together to benefit politically at the public’s expense—that we have in America today.
Stroup’s final chapters chronicle just how abysmal the government’s track record is for fulfilling its promises to better the environment. Debaters looking for impact on this legacy of environmental devastation will here find a gold mine of supporting cases. Stroup’s original thesis, that modern environmental crises are more about improper control over resources rather than a lack of them, is reinforced here. He ventures deeper, offering specific reasons why government attempts to “go green,” though occasionally well-intentioned, are economically illiterate and doomed to failure. His conclusion is a simple one and applies to a much wider spectrum of controversy. Stroup sees the environment as just another social arena markets, not governments, are most capable of solving social problems.
Eco-nomics will expose debaters to a new way of seeing the environment. Rather than dismissing nature’s significance or elevating it to a delusional station of value, students will be challenged to understand the economic realities of scarcity, choice and profit as the surest ways of encouraging responsible stewardship of the earth’s bounty. Who knows? Maybe capitalism’s popular persona in “Monopoly” might be seen as the friend to Mother Nature that he actually is.
|Lou Carabini and Lauren Blankenship with Lou’s book Inclined to Liberty.