Cross-posted at Grist.
A recent post on Grist attempted to dismantle the intellectual foundations of free market environmentalism—the application of markets and property rights to solve environmental problems. But far from toppling a burgeoning movement within modern environmentalism, it succeeded only in misrepresenting the subject.
To recap: Clark Williams-Derry claimed that while free market environmentalism may be effective in some areas of the environment (e.g., fisheries management), its reliance upon unrealistic assumptions about the real world largely relegates it to useless intellectual theorizing. In particular, the Coase theorem—an important component of market-based environmentalism named for Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase—amounts to “a quirky but not particularly relevant bit of theoretical math.”
While there is certainly much more to free market environmentalism than the work of Coase (see Terry Anderson and Donald Leal’s book Free Market Environmentalism for more details), I focus here mostly on the misinformed critique of Coase that has been used to discredit free market environmentalism.
So, who is Coase, what is his theorem, and what does it have to do with free market environmentalism?