Harmonizing Liberty, Ecology, and Prosperity in 2014

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Harmonizing Liberty, Ecology, and Prosperity in 2014

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on January 01, 2014 FREE Insights Topics:


I welcome several changes in this New Year.  And how fortunate we are to live here!  On many cultural, commercial, and medical dimensions, life in and around Bozeman is ever better.   Yesterday we had over 50 elk on our place.  (Fortunately, our haystacks had been trucked off.  Herds of elk eat and destroy them.  And wolves run them through fences.  Then horses get out.  This is fundamental lesson in economics and ecology; not all good things go together.)   Also, our trout seem healthy.  They surely are active when I throw Trout Chow into open waters.   Many deserving people will enjoy fly-fishing for them next summer. 

Thanks to Lisa's good work, we are making great progress organizing FREE's new Gateway office.  We are planning summer programs on environmental economics and I have begun two book projects.  One is Bozeman, Gateway to Wisdom. This is largely an essay recounting my evolution in understanding how to harmonize liberty, ecology and prosperity.  The other is Mapping the DNA of the NRE (New Resource Economics.)  Writing is not a problem; delivering content is. 

It is as though I've spent decades becoming comfortable sending Morse Code.  Alas, after attaining modest competence with this means of communication, it is becoming obsolete.  The reason is simple, ever more competition for the time and attention of potential readers.  Books are losing out to electronic media. 

We are working on alternatives such as web-based delivery.  We have begun a Yellowstone project featuring former Park Superintendent, Bob Barbee.  MSU professor and Yellowstone specialist Jerry Johnson leads this project and we have sufficient funds to begin.  We welcome help, especially from patient people comfortable with new media. 

The fruits of past work continue to ripen.  Yesterday I received an inquiry from Max Falque, a classical liberal French scholar.  Would I be interested in an international conference on New Resource Economics, aka, "Free Market Environmentalism"?  The answer must be yes.  

In 1992 Max helped set up the “International Center for Research on Environmental Issues” (ICREI).  It became a think tank promoting the Bozeman approach to environmental policy. I met Max when lecturing at the University of Aix-en-Provence, France.  Here is Max's recollection:  "In 1985, John Baden chaired a Liberty Fund seminar in Aix-en-Provence and handed me a document with seminal papers from Anderson, Hardin, Stroup, Baden, Simon, Nelson.  For the first time I got a selection of the current FME (or NRE) literature and decided to spread the message in France."

I find the 2015 conference Max proposes,  "Property Rights and Environmental Quality" attractive indeed.  It complements several of FREE's new programs. Further, it will demonstrate thirty years of intellectual progress.

Among other activities planned for 2014 are describing and explaining how to protect and manage parks, wild lands, and wildlife when governments are broke and broken.  Since FREE's home is in the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, this is an ideal topic for our exploration.    (FREE's new office is at a Gallatin Gateway ranch, Box 555, Gallatin Gateway, MT 59730.  Our phone and email addresses haven't changed.)

I recently gave talks exploring property rights, politics, and the environment at Harvard and NYU law schools.   The theme was straightforward:  Governments are hitting financial reality checks.  Their capabilities are increasingly strained as past commitments come due.  Even America's premier national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton, face serious financial shortfalls.   Management goals and even maintenance must be postponed or neglected. 

The causes are no mystery and are likely to worsen.  Consider funding promises made to retirement, health, and welfare programs.  What come first to politicians, the voting elderly or distant parks?  The answer seems obvious.  

Some sincere environmentalists and public land managers are seeking alternatives to political management.  Over the past four decades my colleagues and I have worked on this problem and developed several models.  Each features property rights and entrepreneurship as tools to achieve environmental ends.  

FREE is guided by an ethical and logical gyroscope.  It leads toward the intersection of responsible liberty, modest prosperity, and environmental quality.  The key to hitting this elusive target requires understanding two things beyond ecology.  

First we are sensitive to the pervasive power of culture; how beliefs and values guide behavior and constrain options. Institutional arrangements are equally important, especially over the long term.  They generate both information and incentives to act upon that information.  

Consider this experiment: how did the behavior of national park managers change when they suddenly are allowed to keep most of the gate receipts of park visitors for use in their parks?  This is a recent innovation.  Given that managers love "their" parks, they utilize these new financial resources to better protect and to improve them.  What is next?

Managers become alert to new sources of support.  Examples include independent foundations created to foster a specific park.  Here is one founded in 1995:

The Yellowstone Park Foundation,(YPF)  a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization, works in cooperation with the National Park Service to fund projects and programs that protect, preserve, and enhance the natural and cultural resources and the visitor experience of Yellowstone National Park.

YPF has a national board of interested citizens, none of whom are employed by the federal government.  

Since Yellowstone is the world's first national park and enjoys wide recognition and respect, this non-profit may foretell future arrangements.  I expect social entrepreneurs to create institutions that foster the values motivating park creation.  

The American Prairie Reserve (APR) is an ambitious example of a 501 c-3 foundation created to manage and restore a remarkably complex three million acre plus ecosystem in Northeastern Montana.   (www.americanprairie.org)   I am especially interested in this project for Pete Geddes, our colleague at FREE for over fourteen years, is the General Director of APR. 

Non -profits such as YPF and APR could evolve to protect parks and wild-lands from both political and commercial forces.  A secure future for these areas may lie with ownership by fiduciary trusts.  Wise people do not trust long haul stewardship to either transitory political forces or for profit firms.  

Disney or Trump would probably be effective managers of Yellowstone but this ownership would fundamentally change the character of the Park.  A courtesan may be financially successful and influential for a while but is rarely confused with a sweetheart.   There is a distinction with a profound difference. 

Here is a prediction: Alert and intelligent citizens who value environmental quality will increasingly appreciate the importance of property rights and entrepreneurship.  They are keys to sound, long term protection and improvement.  While today's Green culture is largely hostile to these concepts, that is changing.  Reality checks are not optional.  And successful people learn what works.

FREE's writers and researchers recognize an important truth; it is far easier and realistic to adjust institutional arrangements than to consciously and deliberately change cultures.  We are sensitive to culture but modest indeed when assessing our ability to change it.  

We begin 2014 focused on responsible liberty, modest prosperity, and environmental quality.    While not the only worthy goals, these are the ones that guide FREE's work.  You are welcome to join us.  

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