Economic tools obscure key questions

  Dear HCN,


As Colorado State Professor John Loomis shows, contingent valuation can be a useful tool to demonstrate how much we value "goods' like clean air or dam-free rivers (HCN, 9/18/95). Since the valuation we ordinarily look to is that established by parties in mutually beneficial transactions, goods that are not bought and sold may be undervalued, as Loomis suggests Congress now underestimates the worth of removed dams and reintroduced wolves. But this tool ought to come with at least two warnings.


First, as your article suggests, no one suggests that we value the environment only as much as people are willing to pay for it; nonetheless, monetary commodification has a disturbing way of crowding out other ways of valuation. Yet, when I think about why I like clean air, I don't think in dollars.


Second, economists have found that people value the same things differently depending on whether they own them or not, a phenomenon termed endowment effect. In one study, some college students were given coffee mugs; others were not. When asked to place a price on the same mugs, students who now owned the mugs yielded a price significantly higher than the students who did not own them. Neither price was "correct," since the mugs are only worth an exchange price.


Endowment effect's implications are important. Generally, we would agree to pay much less to remove pollution and would demand others to pay more to create the same pollution. As a result, one derives very different "prices' for the value of clean air or undammed rivers depending on who one assumes has the right to pollute or dam. I understand from your article that Professor Loomis asked people how much they would pay to remove the dams; they would certainly ask for more money still if they thought the river was free-flowing and might be dammed.


The danger here is that economic tools, like contingent valuation, with their apparent objectivity, can obscure more fundamental normative questions. Who owns the Elwha River? Who has the right to see it dammed or undammed?





Robert Mahnke


Tulsa, Oklahoma





High Country News Classifieds
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, Oregon, seeks a collaborative and strategic Executive Director to lead us in pursuing our mission: to conserve and care...
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Job Title: Development Manager Supervisor: Senior Director of Development Effective Date: May 17, 2021 Job Status: Full-time (40 hours/week), exempt Location: Within the Colorado Plateau...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...