September 13, 2005

Angels of our better nature

David W. Orr attacks what he calls "free-market environmentalism," free markets in general and ultimately just freedom in Conservation Biology (Free Marketeers on the Edge: a Response to McCoy and Atwood, subscription required). He writes:
[Property rights] do not work when people are foolish or shortsighted or ignorant of the effects of their actions, or irrational or just hard-pressed for cash.
Orr prefers to take property rights from "people" and give them to others that are more clever, farsighted, knowledgeable, rational and resourceful than "people." Let me call these others "the angels of our better nature".
[Property rights] do not work very well at the corporate level where the imperatives of short-term shareholder value often lead to capricious, destructive, and illegal behavior in the service of near-term profitability.
So let the angels of our better nature wisely, constructively manage corporations in the service of inter-generational, absolute values.
[McCoy and Atwood] do not ask whether some things ought to be outside the realm of economic calculation altogether or even which of us or which generation is entitled to destroy for all time priceless things such as rainforests or climate stability […].
Some things ought to be outside the realm of people. They ought to be in the hands of the angels of our better nature.
McCoy and Atwood prefer a world, however, in which the angels of our better nature are bound and gagged and hidden out of sight.
So do I.

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