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The Parable of the Bees: Beyond Proximate Causes in Ecosystem Service Valuation

John Gowdy ()

Rensselaer Working Papers in Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Department of Economics

Abstract: Many ecological and environmental economists take a microeconomic approach to environmental valuation and view the macroeconomy as one big firm whose primary task is to efficiently allocate scarce resources. In this framework, replacing freely provided ecosystem services with costly human-provided substitutes is by definition inefficient. Using the example of apple tree pollination in Maoxian County, China we argue that destroying and replacing the free gifts of nature can be an economic benefit. We do not argue that the positive economic benefits justifies eliminating natural processes. On the contrary, the Maoxian case illustrates the danger of allowing the logic of the market to drive conservation policy. The conflict between the market economy and the natural world must be recognized and addressed in a more substantial way. The bees of Maoxian County are a parable for the relationship between humans and the natural world and show clearly the danger of leaving the fate of nature to the whims of the markets even if prices are “correct.”

JEL-codes: A10 A11 P48 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
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