Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


To use or conserve environmental and natural resources effectively is complex. Many economists believe that institutional solutions built around markets and property rights can help improve results. This approach addresses what Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto termed the “missing lessons of U.S. history”— institutions whose designers may not have understood the outcomes that would occur, but the results were generally beneficial. However, technical economic analysis generally fails to persuade many at the policy level. Adding a focus on the practicality of solving issues by voluntary action will enrich the policy discussions. To do so requires economists to provide concrete examples of how to resolve environmental issues.

In this Article, we contrast the narratives given to support markets and property rights and state-centered solutions. The analysis suggests how to frame issues to increase opportunities for market and property rights solutions to be more broadly considered. In short, economists must stop talking past the dedicated environmentalists who have learned to communicate effectively with the public but often lack cost-effective alternatives to address environmental problems that economists can provide. Better narratives allow economists to join the public conversation successfully.

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