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Allocation, distribution and scale as determinants of environmental degradation: case studies of Haiti, El Salvador and Costa Rica

by Foy, G; Daly, H; World Bank, Washington, DC (EUA). Environment Dept.
Series: Environment Working Paper - World Bank (EUA).Publisher: Washington, DC (EUA) 1989Description: 29 p.Subject(s): DEGRADACION AMBIENTAL | CRECIMIENTO DE LA POBLACION | TENENCIA | PRECIOS | REFORMA AGRARIA | CAPITAL NATURAL | ESTUDIOS DE CASOS | EL SALVADOR | COSTA RICA | HAITI | ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION | POPULATION GROWTH | TENURE | PRICES | AGRARIAN REFORM | EL SALVADOR | COSTA RICA | HAITI | DEGRADATION DE L'ENVIRONNEMENT | CROISSANCE DE LA POPULATION | MODE DE FAIRE VALOIR | PRIX | REFORME AGRAIRE | EL SALVADOR | COSTA RICA | HAITI In: Summary: This study analyses environmental degradation in three small Latin American countries (Haiti, El Salvador, and Costa Rica) in terms of three categories of cause: allocation, distribution and scale. The general conclusion is that excessive scale (population times per capita resource use) and maldistribution (concentrated land ownership) are in all three cases more basic causes of environmental degradation than is misallocation (distorted prices), although the latter remains very important as a proximate cause. The policy implication is that more emphasis be given to scale reduction (especially population control) and redistribution (especially land reform). These are not novel policy recommendations, but they are different from the policies actually being followed in the countries studied. Moreover, past advocacy of these policies has been based less on environmental considerations than on general economic development arguments. Convergence of environmental and development arguments towards the same policy recommendations is a hopeful sign. It may be objected that the Bank cannot influence scale and distribution and that its focus on allocation is proper since that is the only factor that the Bank's tools can effect. If that is the case then our analysis suggests that the Bank should lower its expectations about improving the environment, or even slowing significantly the rate of environmental devastation in the countries studied. Certainly it remains worthwhile to correct misallocations, in the sense that it is worthwhile always to make the best adjustment to a continually deteriorating situation. But it is even better to attack the root causes of deterioration: excessive scale and maldistribution.
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This study analyses environmental degradation in three small Latin American countries (Haiti, El Salvador, and Costa Rica) in terms of three categories of cause: allocation, distribution and scale. The general conclusion is that excessive scale (population times per capita resource use) and maldistribution (concentrated land ownership) are in all three cases more basic causes of environmental degradation than is misallocation (distorted prices), although the latter remains very important as a proximate cause. The policy implication is that more emphasis be given to scale reduction (especially population control) and redistribution (especially land reform). These are not novel policy recommendations, but they are different from the policies actually being followed in the countries studied. Moreover, past advocacy of these policies has been based less on environmental considerations than on general economic development arguments. Convergence of environmental and development arguments towards the same policy recommendations is a hopeful sign. It may be objected that the Bank cannot influence scale and distribution and that its focus on allocation is proper since that is the only factor that the Bank's tools can effect. If that is the case then our analysis suggests that the Bank should lower its expectations about improving the environment, or even slowing significantly the rate of environmental devastation in the countries studied. Certainly it remains worthwhile to correct misallocations, in the sense that it is worthwhile always to make the best adjustment to a continually deteriorating situation. But it is even better to attack the root causes of deterioration: excessive scale and maldistribution.

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