The Power of the Carrot

Current environmental policies all too often rely on penalties. Penalties are only as good as the government’s ability to catch the perpetrators.

There is an easier option: the carrot instead of the stick. Instead of focusing just on those who destroy habitat, have subsidies for those who preserve and restore habitat – a reverse bounty. If the left-handed grunting kangaroo rat is endangered by new development, give some property tax breaks to property owners who have left-handed grunting kangaroo rats on their property. Several good things will happen:

  1. Enforcement becomes easy. Property owners will come forward to report the nests of left-handed grunting kangaroo rats in order to apply for the tax break.
  2. We have an incentive for restoration. Many owners in already developed property will opt to make their land left-handed grunting kangaroo rat friendly in order to get the tax breaks.

  3. The political climate will change. Property owners will begin lobbying in favor of environmentalism in order to keep tax breaks on the books even after the population of left-handed grunting kangaroo rats has increased.

These two changes alone will work, but we can do more.

Further Reading

The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman has an extensive discussion of the economics of special interest lobbying. This book shows how representative government tends to represent special interests more than the common good because the common good is a dispersed interest. A fascinating read.