Ethics and Economics – II

26 01 2011

So far in our discussion of the utilitarian approach to environmental decision making, we have identified some of the competing values that arise when one group proposes the use of a natural resource such as a wilderness area.   It is not hard for one group to “define the good” but their definition may be quite different from another group who sees the natural resource as a “good in and of itself” worth preserving.  Is it possible for a utilitarian ethic as expressed through “environmental economics” to provide acceptable utilization of natural resources?   Your blog comments for this post should demonstrate that you have read the remainder of DesJardins’ Chapter 3 and seriously grappled with the issues inherent in the assigned “Discussion Questions.”




6 responses

27 01 2011
Lindsay Jones

If government agencies like the U.S. Forest Service tried to make a profit, then they are stating that the “good” of this service is in making money, the purpose for their existence. However, this is not the primary reason government programs were created. Rather, these services provide resources for the American people to use, for example parents can choose to send their children to public schooling or not. Therefore one may view the Forest Service as a tool the U.S. citizens can use to give expertise about how to care for the land, demonstrating that they highly value the people as citizens. The services help citizen’s convictions to care for the land turn into actions that carry out these convictions. As a result, these services are not merely satisfying the wants and consumerist nature of our culture. If I were a director of the U.S. Forest Service, I would place value on people, and employ my enthusiasm for taking care of the natural world into providing people with the ability to care for and enjoy the natural world they have authority over or membership of (private property or national parks).

27 01 2011
Jon Becker

I agree with what Lindsay has stated above, the Forest Service should not exist solely to make a profit. As DesJardins points out, the tendency to reduce everything to monetary terms (wants and preferences) is to treat people at all times as consumers. To do this, DesJardins warns, is to ignore people as citizens who hold personal beliefs and values. However, O’Toole raises some serious points about the inefficiency of the bureaucracy that is the U.S. Forest Service. I do not believe that the market-based system proposed by O’Toole would necessarily solve these problems. Obviously, setting a price on an activity would deter some people from participating in that activity, and it would be the responsibility of the administration to determine what the acceptable limits of supply and demand would be. A second objection I raise to a market-based system is the fact that a decision that generates the most income is not necessarily the morally correct decision. Ethical theory can not simply be informed by economics, but rather there must be some basis for making moral judgment on qualitative information. Thirdly, a market-based system cannot differentiate between “the greatest good for the greatest many” or “the greatest good for the privileged few with the most money”. While I believe there is evidence of significant mismanagement within the U.S. Forest Service, I do not think that we should change the structure to one built on a free market. Rather, we should reform and improve the current system, adding more quality control checks on funding for interest group projects, and more accountability for the leadership.

27 01 2011
Rebekah Jones

I think it is possible for a utilitarian ethic to use natural resources acceptably. However, it may not be the case that government with a utilitarian ethic can use natural resources acceptably for a long period of time. Their ethic may only work for a few years or decades after which natural resources are abused. Indeed, it seems to be the case that using our natural resources from an utilitarian ethic will result in someone with more power, wealth and resources being more willing then others to pay a higher price for the resource if the most good for the most people is viewed in an economic way. The utilitarian view also neglects the views and desires of the minority. As soon as more people want to abuse the natural resources then protect/conserve them then the utlitarian view can no longer use the resources wisely.
There is also a question about what is an acceptable use of natural resources. Depending on who you ask you are bound to get many different answers. Whoever ends up in the majority will be who defines what is acceptable and what is not.

To answer question 3 your view on why government exists will determine whether or not government should always supply us what we want. Clearly government cannot always give us what we want, at the very least it cannot be complicit in its own destruction and supply to the anarchists what they want. Since our own government is supposed to be separate from any religous institution it cannot in all cases educate us on issues of value. It certainly must make some stance on issues pertaining to citizen’s lives or else it could not create laws. Since we are a democratic republic, our citizen’s wants and desires are going to be mainly where the laws come from. However, it must be said that life is grossly unfair and that it is not always possibly to get what you want.

27 01 2011
Heidi Edwards

I believe the only way that a Utilitarian view would work is in a free market system. Utilitarianism tries to please the most people for the longest time, but it is impossible to please everybody at the same time. There is always going to be someone who is not happy with what you are doing, but this is the advantage of the free market system. If you don’t like the way things are, you change it by what you vote on. Voting is another way, besides observing where people spend their money, to determine what people want. If one of the issues on a ballot is to raise taxes to pay the park rangers to maintain a state or local park, then it is up to the people to decide if they believe the park maintenance is more important or their pocket book is more important. This system does not always work perfectly and not everyone gets what they want all the time, but it sets up an order that we can perform task in and get things done.

27 01 2011
Preston Godbold

In addressing the first part of this blog I would sat that a utilitarian ethic in environmental economics cannot provide an acceptable utilization of natural resources. Let’s face it, pure economics is not enough to answer the questions needed in making policies. Secondly, greed is a factor that needs to be considered; in looking at the past, human depravity knows no bounds. As Sagoff most eloquently put it, we need to, “recognize that Utopian capitalism is dead.” To him we need to move past our ideals of welfare economics and come up with other concepts, “to set priorities in solving environmental and social problems.” I could not agree with him more! This idea reflects the Biblical principle of a fallen world; even the very earth groans for the Creator to make all things new again.

Question #5 number five asks for my opinion on a piece of wisdom. I take wisdom very seriously and as such wisdom inherently requires knowledge. As Solomon said, knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. Frankly I do not know enough about endangered whales to say if selling exclusive whaling rights would be a wise thing to do. I agree with the principle that owned animals are not threatened like other wild species. Because of their intrinsic value, owners would ensure their survival. This would relieve financial pressure from environmentalist organizations that seek to protect endangered species. However, I there could also be problems with this plan. Whales, even if sold could still be poached to near extinction; this can seen from several examples in Africa. Simply selling them is not enough. Also, this could raise even bigger international problems as different countries fight for whaling rights. From an environmental perspective there are differences between owned animals and wild animals. I do not know how this dynamic would play out with whales, but I think most people can agree that there is at least some value in retaining natural wildlife. These are just a few issues that come to mind. It sounds like a good idea but are there repercussions that would make the plan unhelpful. Wisdom comes in discerning, perhaps, the lesser of two evils.

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