Archive for the ‘Mt. Pelerin’ Category

John Baden: is this free market enviromentalist stalwart a Mt. Pelerin misanthrope/watermelon?

December 16th, 2007 No comments

[snark meter – medium] 

John Baden, a former logger and oilman, has long been a pillar of the “free-market” environmentalists.  He founded and leads the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE) and founded and headed the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), both based in Bozeman, Montana.;

But don’t let his Mont Pelerin Society ( membership fool you; John is very green on the outside and, with so much green, might he not be more than a little pink on the inside?

He recently summarized advice he had given (on request) to policy advisers for a Democratic presidential candidate and a Republican one.  Allow me to quote freely (emphasis added):

“Both parties need help—but in opposite directions. Republicans need sensitivity to Green issues, Democrats sensibility regarding incentives.”

We are … eager to help all candidates develop sound policies, ones we believe will foster responsible liberty, environmental quality, and modest prosperity. Over the decades, we’ve made compelling, well-respected arguments against the Green tradition of greater bureaucratic powers, increased federal control, and heightening paranoia over environmental issues.

“From the Civil War until the first Earth Day in 1970, the West’s politics, culture, and economy were oriented toward the exploitation of its natural resources. But the extractive sector no longer drives the Western economy and hasn’t for several decades. Today’s economic drivers are amenities, services, and symbolic manipulation, not the traditional material stuff of wood, wheat, water, and minerals. …

“Here’s the reality some politicians ignore at their peril: we’ve high-graded our best, most accessible resources. The richest ores, finest timber, and best dam sites have been developed. The easy fruit has been picked and the Western economy can no longer rely on the extractive sector. No ghost dance will bring them back.

“Ray Rasker notes that since 1970, “Montana has added over 150,000 new jobs, and not one of the new net jobs has been in mining, oil and gas, farming, ranching, or the woods products industry.” The extractive industries are notoriously unstable, and commodity prices always undulate. The timber industry, for example, has largely abandoned the West for the Southeast and foreign countries. …

Now, increased opportunities in the West are created by high-tech enterprises and services. The service sector includes professional occupations in law, health care, software, data processing, education, and finance. Although they are not the traditional Western jobs, these occupations, like those in extractive industries, depend upon open space and natural resources.

“Why? Because professionals seek locations rich in environmental amenities, e.g., wilderness, open space, fish and wildlife, and recreational opportunities. Data indicates the West’s roadless public lands, wilderness areas, free-flowing rivers, national parks and forests, open ranges, and healthy wildlife habitats generate much of our economic growth. Folks don’t move here by accident nor do they do so to maximize income—quality of life trumps.

“The GOP and the Democrats compete for well-off and well-educated voters, those David Brooks describes in Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, and the Democrats are clearly winning. This is no accident; the nation has become immensely wealthy, and with wealth and education comes heightened environmental sensitivity. When Americans become wealthy most think, or at least posture, Green.

President Clinton capitalized on these demographic realties when he set aside 40 million acres of National Forest as roadless areas. Many fiscal conservatives and the vast majority of Westerners applauded the decision, even those who disliked Clinton.

These roadless areas were undisturbed for good reason; most have low economic value. Without explicit or implicit subsidies, resource extraction on these lands is infeasible. Federal lands are political lands where heavy subsidies are the norm. Traditional politics have ignored or discounted the full costs of exploitation. Citizens now demand more honest accounting of both economic and environmental costs.

A candidate who hopes to capture the West’s electoral votes should not take seriously any campaign policy that ignores links between ecology and economics. Westerners are Greener, more sophisticated, and better informed than 30 years ago. Few are dependent on traditional resource exploitation. A good candidate will discern the implications and propose appropriate policies. 

Inquiring minds want to know:

– are only those in the American West “Greener, more sophisticated, and better informed than 30 years ago”, or is this true across all developed and emerging economies?

– does “heightened environmental sensitivity” come with “wealth and education”?  Or is such “heightened environmental sensitivity” simply a ploy by the educated wealthy to use the tools of the state to restrict access by brave captains of the extractive industry to the public lands of the West (the better to go fly fishing)?

– outside of the struggle for control over “public lands” in the West, are there any other areas where voters oppose policies that “ignore links between ecology and economics”?

if “heightened environmental sensitivity” does come with “wealth and education”, what do we make of the concern that enviros, scientists, industry leaders, and politicians around the world all express concern about climate change and the pressure of economic activity on unowned commons like the atmosphere, oceans and tropical forests/wildlife?  More uninformed nonsense, led by evil man-haters?

By not stridently demanding privatization of public lands, John Baden sounds like an “incrementalist” rather than a pure libertarian, and by urging policies that favor recognition of the relatively higher values in environmental amenities than in extractive industries, he sounds very much like an environmentalist statist.  

Does it help us to better understand him, or the problems that concern him, if we call him a misanthropic “watermelon”?


Warning:  If you are an Austrian, you have just been gravely polluted by reading this.  Seek help immediately, and recite the “Corrigan Creed” (or as some may have it, the “Reisman Rule”) at least five times.

(If you missed it, the Corrigan Creed is here: