Economic thinking about the environment

Unlike me, Mark Thoma is an actual economist, and he’s got a great post on his Environmental Economics blog taking apart the idea that environmentalism and economics are at odds. It doesn’t lend itself to quoting, but he offers up the example of Central Park in New York City, a major public amenity to which you really can assign an economic value. Even if a lot of individual economists do focus on the short-term effects of public policy on GDP, say, that doesn’t mean an economist’s approach — which is, after all, about figuring out how human beings actually behave, rather than how we wish they would — is worthless for thinking about the environment. Thoma:

We had to fight to get economics courses into our environmental studies program here, and that is common across programs. It’s better than it once was, but communication between the two groups could be further improved. I think environmentalists have trouble trusting that economists are interested in something other than maximizing GDP at the expense of the environment, and here is resistance to the idea that certain things can be assigned a value. There are other problems as well including the fact that economists have been very poor ambassadors of their profession.


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