The Forgotten Five

Important Economic Facts Missing in the News

Missing Economic Fact #2: Government Programs Can Harm the Environment; Free Enterprise Can Help It

Early last year, backers of the federal sugar subsidy found themselves in an unusual position: their program was criticized in a major media outlet. "Strict quotas on cheaper foreign sugar maintain the support price levels," wrote New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt, "which critics say benefit a small number of wealthy plantation owners and encourage overproduction in environmentally sensitive areas like the Florida Everglades."2

Schmitt is virtually alone in the news media. Other reporters simply assume that when it comes to the environment, free enterprise is bad and government is good. Print journalists rarely, and network journalists never, report on how some large federal programs are environmentally destructive, as well as burdensome to taxpayers and consumers.

Jonathan Tolman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute argues that the federal peanut program, for instance, harms the environment. By allotting quotas by county, the government ensures that "peanuts are grown year after year in the same handful of counties and nowhere else. In some regions this means that extensive quantities of pesticides are used." Tolman reports, for example, that government quotas favor Georgia, even though "peanuts grown in Georgia use 13 pounds of pesticide per acre, while those grown in Texas require only three pounds per acre."3

Network news viewers probably are also unaware that free enterprise can be pro-green, despite an array of private, for-profit efforts to protect the environment. Terry L. Anderson and Donald R. Leal of the Political Economy Research Center say that "enviro-capitalists" are a "new breed of environmental entrepreneurs," who use "the tools of capitalism instead of command-and-control tactics" in order "to preserve open space, develop wildlife habitat, and save endangered species." Anderson and Leal point out that the International Paper Company, for example, leases land in its Southern U.S. timber holdings for hunting and fishing, which has become an important source of profits for IP. They also note that a South African eco-tourism company gave landholders there a stake in environmental protection by making them shareholders in the company. This, in turn, created "large habitats for African wildlife, allowing wild animals to replace the cattle and crops that previously occupied the land."

"Private property rights and free markets have contributed mightily to our economic wealth," Anderson and Leal write. "What few realize -- especially in Washington, D.C. -- is that they can contribute just as mightily to our environmental wealth."4 Perhaps because reporters haven't told them.

Sources For Journalists
Whom To Call For More Details On This Missing Fact

Terry L. Anderson or Donald R. Leal Political Economy Research Center (406) 587-9591
Jerry Taylor Cato Institute (202) 842-0200
Jonathan Tolman Competitive Enterprise Institute (202) 331-1010