Justifying social values of nature: Economic reasoning beyond self-interested preferences
Abstract Demonstrating that conservation is not only beneficial for nature but also for human well-being is as much desirable as it is challenging. Undoubtedly, using economic numbers hold some great promises, there is, however, a considerable number of critical reflections on using economic thinking to promote nature conservation. A recent aspect within these critics is that economic theory has failed on appreciating the multiple values (not only ‘individual’, but also ‘shared’ and ‘social’ values) of nature. Against this background, we will firstly show that the total economic value-concept covers a broad range of value dimension and that preferences of self-interested rational individuals may well cover also social or group values, although unclear to what degree. Secondly, we will highlight that economic theories on ‘merit goods’ developed by Richard A. Musgrave or the constitutional economics approach related to James M. Buchanan and others provide an as yet neglected but useful strand of arguments for the existence of values beyond individual preferences and that discourse ethics calls for deliberation to disclose those value dimensions. We will thirdly demonstrate how economic valuation methods could be improved by integrating deliberative elements in order to capture social value components in valuation exercises. As methods strongly shape valuation outcomes, it is a question of the practical purpose and of the ethical context of the valuation exercise that should determine which approach to choose. Highlights Economic approaches reveal social values beyond aggregated preferences. The total economic value is able to cover social values – at least to some degree. The concept of merit goods can be used as conceptual background for social values. Constitutional Political Economy and discourse ethics may explain social values. Combining public deliberation with economic valuation is a way forward to address social values.
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