Guest post by Jonathan H. Adler, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a regular contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy. In my past two posts I’ve made a brief case for approaching environmental problems from a property rights perspective. In the first post I noted that Garrett Hardin identified private property (or something formally like it) as a solution to the “tragedy of the commons,” and suggested that this sort of approach has been under-utilized in modern environmental policy. In a second post I discussed how the recognition of property rights in fisheries have, in fact, prevented the tragedy of the commons in marine fisheries. This is because transferable property rights, where properly defined and effectively enforced, align an owner’s incentives with the value of the underlying resource. Fisheries are in trouble the world over, but property-based management regimes are a demonstrated way to prevent overfishing and fishery collapse. The creative extension of property rights to ecological resources could help address many environmental problems. Particularly in the case of natural resources, property rights are a viable and demonstrated means of enhancing sustainability, particularly when compared to the available political alternatives.
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