At The Stream, Jonathan Witt questions why nations with free economies have cleaner water. After all, wouldn’t it seem more likely that countries with heavy government regulations regarding the environment have cleaner water?
An examination of the most polluted rivers and streams in the world paints a different picture. With only a handful of exceptions, the dirtiest rivers in the world are located within some of the most restrictive countries. In contrast, three of the top five cleanest streams or in the world are located in “mostly free countries.”
Take a single vivid example. New Zealand is considered one of only six completely free nations in the world — even the US doesn’t fall into this category — and its Blue Lake, located in the Southern Alps, is fed by the purest mountain streams coming from glacial Lake Constance. With the clearest natural fresh water in the world, visibility extends up to 80 meters underwater.
Witt suggests this answer:
It has everything to do with the nature of economic freedom rightly understood. Free economies aren’t dog-eat-dog, free-for-all economies. An economy where people rob, kill and pollute at will isn’t free. Most of us intuitively grasp this when we’re thinking about criminal acts of violence, but the same holds for pollution. Economists actually have a term for helping understand pollution as a violation of other people’s freedom. The term is negative externality.
Free economies, Witt states, have wealthier citizens. These citizens want clean water, beautiful parks, and scenic playgrounds for themselves and their families.