The Review of Austrian Economics has just published my article The Use and Abuse of Environmental Knowledge: A Bloomington School Interpretation of the Canadian Fisheries Act of 1868
Abstract: This paper will focus on the ambitious plan for regulation embodied in the Dominion Fisheries Act of 1868, a law passed by the Canadian federal parliament in its very first year of existence. The 1868 law was intended to bring the nation’s fisheries firmly under the control of officials employed by the new federal government. The paper argues that 1868 law, which was designed to address what would today be called Tragedy of the Commons problems, was a product of the hubris identified by Hayek as “the fatal conceit.” The centralized and bureaucratic approach to governing fisheries represented by the 1868 Fisheries Act did not work well because the knowledge that would have been required for successful management of fisheries was highly dispersed. Drawing on Hayek and the Bloomington School, this paper argues that the experience of Canada’s fisheries sector in the generation after 1868 illustrates the problems with centralized management Common-Pool Resources. In the 1890s, the centralized approach represented by the Fisheries Act of 1868 was replaced by a more flexible and decentralized system Hayek’s theory of knowledge would suggest the reversal of centralization over environmental policy in the 1890s was a positive development that helped Canadians to reconcile the goals of economic development and the protection of the environment. The Hayekian paradigm of knowledge management suggests that control over environmental policy should be devolved downwards to the levels of government closest to resource users.
Special thanks to Viv Nelles, Pierre Desrochers and Mark Pennington for commenting on an earlier draft of this paper. I also received valuable feedback when I presented this paper at a workshop at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. Thanks also to the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the United Kingdom for its financial support.