Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coase’s 100th Birthday: No More “Externalities”

by Terry Anderson


December 29, 2010

Today, the great economist and Nobel laureate Ronald Coase will celebrate his 100th birthday. Coase’s work has revolutionized the way economists view resource conflicts. His paper “The Problem of Social Cost” challenged the widely-accepted work of Arthur C. Pigou on externalities and inspired a whole new way of thinking about environmental issues.

Unlike the Pigouvian approach, which claimed that market failure could be corrected by taxes, subsidies, and regulations, Coase taught us to view these issues in light of property rights and markets. In short, Coase taught against the use of the word “externality.”

For several years, I have been on a campaign to expunge the term “externality” from the vocabulary of economists, policy makers, and environmentalists. My campaign is not motivated by a belief that markets perfectly account for all costs and benefits. Rather it is driven by the lessons learned from entrepreneurs—the people with a passion for solving problems by finding win-win solutions. Entrepreneurs thrive in the space where there are impacts not accounted for in market transactions. It is in that space that they create gains from trade.


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