Arnold Kling

Environmentalism Flunks Economics

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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Here is a classic case of a New York Times article that represents as truth an environmentalist ideology that would get an automatic "F" in economics.

An inescapable fact about the world's water supply is that it is finite.

Actually, the inescapable facts are that substitution and technological progress mean that the world will never run out of resources, including fresh water. Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist devotes a chapter to water, in which he debunks the claim that we are "using up" all of the available fresh water.

What is true is that water is often mis-priced. The article discusses a conflict over water between Turkey and Syria, and it implies that such conflicts are intractable. Actually, it is no more intractable than a conflict over cheeseburgers between two neighboring towns. If you let the market set the price of water, the natural actions of consumers and businesses will resolve the "intractable" conflict.

Discussion Question. Why is it more difficult to use pricing and markets to allocate water than to allocate cheeseburgers?

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