Economic values, ethics, and ecosystem health

  • Authors: Holmes, Thomas P.; Kramer, Randall A.
  • Publication Year: 1995
  • Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
  • Source: SCFER Working Paper No. 80, 25 pp.


Economic valuations of changes in ecosystem health can provide quantitative information for social decisions. However, willingness to pay for ecosystem health may be motivated by an environmental ethic regarding the right thing to do. Counterpreferential choices based on an environmental ethic are inconsistent with the normative basis of welfare economics. In this paper, we examine some of the characteristics of willingness to pay values elicited using the contingent valuation method. Sequential contingent willingness to pay values for different levels of protection of high-elevation spruce-fir forests in the southern Appalachian Mountains were elicited from a random sample of households along with socio-economic and other information. An empirical analysis indicated that willingness to pay distributions and average willingness to pay did not vary with the level of protection. We discuss various factors that may explain our results including lexicographic preferences, low marginal values, lack of instrument sensitivity, or misrepresentation of the ecosystem services valued by the public. We conclude that further theoretical development of the relation between ethical motivations and economic value is warranted.

  • Citation: Holmes, Thomas P.; Kramer, Randall A. 1995. Economic values, ethics, and ecosystem health. SCFER Working Paper No. 80, 25 pp.
  • Keywords: contingent valuation, willingness to pay, forest health, non-use valuation, natural resource economics
  • Posted Date: April 1, 1980
  • Modified Date: August 22, 2006
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