Maximizing the Net Benefits of Pollution

Read this section about how to apply the Coase Theorem to solve environmental problems.

9. Key Takeaways

  • Pollution is related to the concept of scarcity. The existence of pollution implies that an environmental resource has alternative uses and is thus scarce.
  • Pollution has benefits as well as costs; the emission of pollutants benefits people by allowing other activities to be pursued at lower costs. The efficient rate of emissions occurs where the marginal benefit of emissions equals the marginal cost they impose.
  • The marginal benefit curve for emitting pollutants can also be read from right to left as the marginal cost of abating emissions. The marginal cost curve for increased emission levels can also be read from right to left as the demand curve for improved environmental quality.
  • The Coase theorem suggests that if property rights are well-defined and if transactions are costless, then the private market will reach an efficient solution. These conditions, however, are not likely to be present in typical environmental situations. Even if such conditions do not exist, Coase's arguments still yield useful insights to the mitigation of environmental problems.
  • Surveys are sometimes used to measure the marginal benefit curves for emissions and the marginal cost curves for increased pollution levels. Marginal cost curves may also be inferred from other relationships. Two that are commonly used are the demand for housing and the relationship between pollution and production.