Thursday, September 01, 2005


In Priceless , Ackerman and Heinzerling write:
"Nature is unable to tell us about its own values and needs for protection. There is no Lorax who speaks for the trees; all we can do is ask about society's valuation of the existence of forests. If whales were consumers, swimming up to the market with cash held in their fins, economists could interview them about their willingness to pay for not being harpooned. Instead, we are left with contingent valuation of the existence of whales as our only option for assigning a number to their lives.

This is, in a sense an advance over the individualism of the market economy. Calculation of existence values recognizes the role of social decision making; it asks, as market economics usually does not, what the population as a whole thinks about a topic. But at the same time, the expression of social priorities through existence values asks us to view ourselves only as consumers; it attempts to replace voting with shopping." (p. 176)
I'm just not sure what a person is to make of this. I think economic analysis of environmental policy issues has numerous strengths and weaknesses, but it seems almost silly to suggest that one of the weaknesses of environmental economic analysis is that all it can do "is ask about society's valuation of the existence of forests."

I've read 3/4 of Priceless and I've not found the authors to, yet, explicitly describe their alternative to the use of economic analysis. I wonder if their alternative to economic analysis can also survive their Lorax criticism?

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