FREE's Future: Finding Harmony among Liberty, Ecology, and Prosperity

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FREE's Future: Finding Harmony among Liberty, Ecology, and Prosperity

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on December 02, 2014 FREE Insights

Next year is FREE's thirtieth anniversary.  I founded it to combine ecology with responsible prosperity and liberty.  Much of our work has been with federal judges and academic, business, and environmental leaders.  It is a rare privilege to combine political economy with practical ranch and wildlife work.  Ramona and I are indeed lucky.  I hope you will join our mission.



















look forward to FREE's future while reminded of its past.  The January issue of Reason: Free Minds and Free Markets (vol. 46, No. 8) rekindled good memories.  It noted and quoted my article of thirty years ago, "The Garrison (Diversion) Project: Profile of a Pork Barrel".  

I'm pleased the article passed time's test but it also reminded me of old friends.  Three of Reason's founders, several of its editors, and two of its board chairmen have attended FREE conferences and are friends.

The Garrison article reminded me of another piece I wrote for Reason with MSU colleague Rick Stroup, "Saving the Wilderness, a Radical Proposal".  It examined the Audubon Society's Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary in Louisiana.  This is a place where energy extraction supported Audubon wildlife habitat. 

Audubon held surface and sub-surface property rights to Rainey Sanctuary lands.   Their contracts for energy development explicitly protected habitat and nesting seasons.  It used the revenue from energy development to foster the ecology it held in trust and to support conservation elsewhere.   

This system offers a model for management: It promotes harmony among ecology, prosperity, and liberty.  Under certain institutional arrangements, these values are complements, rather than competitors. 

Here are three common recommendations we reject for their naïveté and ethical flaws.  The first is selling treasured heritage sites such as Yellowstone Park.  They might best be protected by fiduciary trusts.   The second, increased federal spending will be trumped by mandated entitlement spending.   The third, mandated cultural change, is impossible in a democracy.

FREE's primary mission is to explain and foster institutions that produce the desired harmony.  The institutions must operate under the rule of law and within a civic culture, one that includes and respects conservation and stewardship. Within this cultural, political, and economic context, ecology, prosperity, and liberty can align. 

Fortunately, the great majority of westerners appreciate our environment although in differing ways.  Many adult westerners live here by intent and love where they live. 

In marked contrast to the success of Audubon's Rainey Sanctuary, the North Dakota Garrison Project transfers wealth and water via politics while harming both wildlife habitat and taxpayers.  Congress authorized the Garrison Diversion in 1965.

Garrison is a complex web of canals, dams, and lakes, funded almost entirely by taxes on unknowing others.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, ''The logic in this program was lost long ago,'' says a congressional staffer who studies public works programs. ''It insults ducks, fish, and Canadians.''

Politicians love playing with water for several reasons   Federal dams, canals, and levees are highly visible.  They generate great wealth for a few and it's easy to claim credit for the booty.  This generates contributions for re-election.

Most such developments are classic examples of the ''pork barrel'' spending process. Members of Congress push programs that benefit their constituents but don't make economic or ecological sense. 

A Reason article I wrote on Garrison some thirty years ago describes this.  "Through their tax dollars, Americans are unknowingly subsidizing the destruction of some of their best wildlife habitat. This perverse outcome is especially unfortunate, for Americans' appreciation of their environment has increased substantially....(P)ublic concern for the preservation of lands and waters, and the natural communities they support, has spread across the nation. Yet we continue to have our tax dollars fund the destruction of America's great 'duck factories,' the prairie potholes, most notably with the Garrison Diversion project of North Dakota."

My thirty year old article observed,  "A coalition made up of fiscal conservatives and conservationists has the potential of redressing problems such as those created by the Garrison Diversion. These projects affront both ecological and economic sensitivities."

FREE's mission for 2015 is to attract conservationists, conservatives and classical liberals, who treasure liberty, ecology and prosperity.  FREE's New Resource Economics offers guidelines for achieving these values.  We hope you will join our quest for the happy conjunction of ecology, prosperity, and liberty. 




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