Press Release

New Paper on a Key Mind in Green Economics

Jul 1, 2016

A new paper by Dr. H. Spencer Banzhaf has been posted by Resources for the Future (RFF), The Environmental Turn in Natural Resource Economics: John Krutilla and “Conservation Reconsidered.” In it, Banzhaf offers an insightful profile of a key thinker in the growth of environmental economics.

Banzhaf begins by recalling the intellectual divide between two well-known early giants of US conservation. Gifford Pinchot, on the one hand, advocated for conservation of natural resources to be used for human purposes. On the other hand, there was John Muir, who advocated for protection from humans for nature’s own sake. In the first half of the twentieth century, Banzhaf notes, natural resource economics was firmly on Pinchot's side of that schism.

Banzhaf then introduces another individual in the field, one who appeared much later in the evolving environmental movement: “By the 1960s,” he writes, “the tension of economics versus the environment gave way to a new economics of the environment.” More than anyone else, it was an RFF economist named John Krutilla (1922–2003) who forged this development.

The intellectual fruits of the pivot first appeared in 1967, when Krutilla published his seminal paper, "Conservation Reconsidered," in the American Economic Review. In it and other articles, he borrowed the language of "conservation" and "preservation," which still carried the historical echoes of the dispute between Pinchot and Muir and their respective intellectual heirs. Specifically, however, Krutilla argued that economists, by ignoring the concerns of the preservationists, implicitly had biased benefit–cost calculations in favor of wise-use conservationists.

On Krutilla’s view, if humans preferred a preserved state to a developed one, then such preferences were every bit as “economic.” Either way, there were opportunity costs and an economic choice to be made.

John Krutilla formulated much of his work on environmental economics as a senior fellow at RFF, from 1955 to 1988. Spencer Banzhaf, a professor of economics at Georgia State University, was an RFF fellow from 2001 to 2006.

Dr. Banzhaf has also penned a blog post highlighting the paper.

Resources for the Future does not take intitutional positions. Please attribute any findings to the authors or the research itself. For example, use "According to research from RFF …" rather than "According to RFF …".

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to improve environmental and natural resource policy.