Is the Endangered Species Act bad for endangered species? John List thinks it might be.

My colleague and co-author John List is one of the most prolific and influential economists around.

He’s got a new working paper with Michael Margolis and Daniel Osgood that makes the surprising claim that the Endangered Species Act — which is designed to help endangered species — may actually harm them.

Why? The key intuition is that after a species is designated as endangered, a decision has to be made about the geographic areas that will be considered critical habitats for that species. An initial set of boundaries is made, after which there are public hearings, and eventually a final decision on what land will be protected. In the meantime, while this debate is ongoing, there are strong incentives for private parties to try to develop land that they may in the future be prevented from developing by the endangered species status. So destruction of habitat is likely to actually increase in the short run.

Based on their theory, they analyze the data for the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl near Tucson, AZ. Indeed, they find that land development speeds up substantially in the areas that are going to be designated a critical habitats.

This result, combined with Sam Peltzman’s observation that only 39 of the 1,300 species put on the endangered species list have ever been removed, do not paint a very optimistic picture of the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act.


So go ahead and say them.

Let me tell you a little story. The physics grad student works for years on his thesis. Finally gets it ready for review and takes it into John Wheeler's office. The famous physicist takes a look at it for five minutes and says,

"That's nice work but if you just dig a little deeper you can prove something REALLY REALLY good."

On the topic of the ESA, I feel like John Wheeler and John List is the grad student. It is not valid research to discover the obvious in a field. Time to dig deeper.


....Whereas the passenger pigeon was saved from extinction because it was never put on the Endangered Species List.

John S.

kraigus said:
So go ahead and say them.

egretman replied:
Let me tell you a little story.

...thut proving kraigus's point quite nicely.


The right question isn't whether or not the EPA is "bad" for endangered species, but whether or not its existence is better or worse for endangered species than its non existence would be. This paper seems analogous to "finding" that an emergency tracheostomy is "bad" for the person receiving it, without ever acknowledging that the alternative would be choking to death.


...thut proving kraigus's point quite nicely.

Thanks. I thought so too.


How about introducing a "freezing" period while the debates around the new status of the land last? During that time all the (potential) development will be stopped.


Kirilius, the problem is that one does not have a species instantly qualify or even get considered. What happens is that population studies, EIRs, and other studies happen to pick up on species threat. Before you can decide that it is a real issue, you have to conduct at least some reasonable studies (otherwise, land would be frozen all the time due to some college kid doing a study badly for example). As soon as land owners find out that a study is being conducted, they will trash the land to pre-empt the outcome of freezing. In that way, you end up worse off (you may create a threatened species when none actually turned out to exist). This has been shown to happen in the past (for example, when studies were to be conducted on green-belts, land owners would bulldoze their land to make it worthless for that purpose).




Isn't it just a bad rhetorical trick to say that ESA is "bad" for species? There are many things that have negative short-term consequences. For example, quitting cigarettes has proven quite awful in the short term for most smokers. Using the rhetorical logic above, that would mean that it's bad for a person who smokes to quit smoking. Often a severely dehydrated person will vomit if he drinks too much water. Should we consider water bad for someone who is severely dehydrated?

Spurwing Plover

The ESA should ether be amended or repealed its a unconstitutinal law thats not saving anything but making a bunch of lying eco-freaks rich through stupid lawsuits its robbing farmers and wildlife both