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Environmental Ethics

Volume 17, Issue 3, Fall 1995

Denis Collins, John Barkdull
Pages 227-244

Capitalism, Environmentalism, and Mediating Structures

How can an environmental ethic be developed that encompasses the concerns of both free market proponents and environmentalists? In this article we approach the environment-market debate using Adam Smith’s writings in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Wealth of Nations, and Lectures on Jurisprudence. Smith’s guiding principle for solving prominent conflicts of self-interest is that government intervention is required when the economic activities of some cause harm to others. The solution that follows from Smith’s analysis is a governmentfunded, independent, democratically controlled, and democratically accountable mediating structure that derives impartial decisions and is authorized to impose its just and fair decisions on affected parties. In practical terms, this analysis provides the ethical foundation for the wide-ranging development of stakeholder panels composed of public interest group representatives and business representatives and empowered to develop solutions to public conflicts arising out of environmental problems.