According to Terry L. Anderson and Daniel Botkin, “Fighting Western Fires with Economics” is a good idea.
Were I writing an essay with this title, I would emphasize the role of private property rights. If all forests were owned by individuals and private corporations, those that did well in protecting their trees from conflagrations would prosper, those who failed to do so would lose money and eventually be forced into bankruptcy. Whereupon the ones who were more efficient protectors of the woodlands would take over the holdings of the failures, and more and more acreage would fall under the control of those who were effective not only at fighting fires, but at all aspects of protecting and promoting this valuable resource.
Would this be a perfect system? No, of course not. Nothing in this vale of tears rises to that level. Entrepreneurs in charge of making these decisions are imperfect human beings, who always make mistakes. But this “weeding out of the unfit” process tends to ensure that more effective fire fighters would tend to control more and more stands of wood, and the particularly inept less and less. Does anyone else have a better idea? No? I thought not.
Is this the tack that was taken by Anderson and Botkin? No. Of course not. Had they done so, there would have been no reason for me to have written this sharpish critique of their essay. Instead, I might have just blogged this on LewRockwell.com, alerting readers to a good, modern, application of the Bastiat – Hazlitt insights.
Which analytic technique did these authors offer to combat forest fires? What advice did they offer to this end? Property rights, profit and loss? No. Perhaps a different version of these insights? No, again. We search in vain for even any mention of these concepts. And this is more than passing curious, in that these authors are well known as being advocates of free market environmentalism.
Instead, horrors, they took on the role of efficiency experts for the state. Murray N. Rothbard had this to say about Milton Friedman in this regard: “Milton Friedman has once again been guided by his overwhelming desire not to remove the State from our lives, but to make the State more efficient.” Why do I mention this? I am not sure of Botkin, but Anderson is certainly a disciple of Friedman (full disclosure, as if any were needed: as I am of Rothbard). The point is, both Anderson and I are heavily guided by our respective mentors: Anderson (and Botkin) try to promote more efficient state control of forests, and I now upbraid him (them) for so doing, from the free enterprise perspective. Neither the word “privatization” nor the phrase “private property” appears even once in this essay, and this is incomprehensible for an analyst who claims any adherence at all to the philosophy of laissez faire capitalism.