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Is Capitalism bad for the Environment? by Dr. E. Cal Beisner

Book review by Jay Lehr, Ph.D.

For decades now, Green Parties in Scandinavia and Western Europe have argued that, although capitalism lifts people out of poverty, it should be replaced with socialism, which they claim is more likely to protect the environment.

Proof positive that this is a false argument is provided by Beisner in this brief insightful booklet. His irrefutable example is all of East Germany when it was unified with the West and seen in all its socialist/communist devastation for the first time when the wall came down. Its drinking waters were polluted, its lakes were dead, and its forests were damaged.

China’s Three Gorges Dam built in China on the Yangtze River is the most destructive engineering project ever built under socialist/communist rule, polluting everything in its way, submerging 140 towns, 1350 villages and hundreds of factories displacing 1.2 million people in its 420 mile wake.

Beisner explains that China’ severe air pollution, blocks enough sunlight to reduce photosynthesis and thereby reduce crop yields. 40% of its rivers are polluted, 55% of the groundwater supplying 200 cities is polluted.  In 2010 it is estimated that there were a total of 8000 premature deaths from air pollution in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian.

Deforestation in China has led to the creation of 950 square miles of desert each year. All of these socialist environmental calamities Beisner explains are first a result of a lack of property rights where no one takes responsibly and second due to the fact that socialism does not create enough wealth to afford the environment to be a high priority.  Food and shelter and clothing are the priorities that leave little behind to pay for expensive environmental protection.

Beisner quotes Colin Grabow from the article “If You Think Communism Is Bad for People, Check Out What It Did to the Environment,” in explaining another problem with extreme leftist governments: “communism invariably means authoritarianism....with little tolerance for dissent or concerns about hazardous waste in the worker’s paradise. To voice an opinion that perhaps not quite all is well, or that the air smelled funny, was to invite suspicions of being a saboteur, or harboring bourgeois tendencies.”

Charges against capitalism Beisner says stemmed mostly from Rachel Carson’s horribly flawed book Silent Spring published in 1962. 

Gus Speth founder of the Natural Resource Defense Council made five charges against capitalism in a number of his publications.

1- capitalism is indifferent to nature

2- capitalism is unsustainable because it promotes consumerism

3- capitalism leads to resource depletion and ecosystem damage

4- capitalism forces others to bear protection costs while industry profits

5- capitalism’s short-term goals blinds it to long-term harm

The short answer to each of these charges is a resounding NO.  However Beisner discharges all of these narrow-minded shortsighted claims in well referenced detail.  They come from a man who in my opinion and personnel knowledge is an avowed socialist whether or not he will admit to it.  If I have one qualm with this booklet it is that the author is too kind to Mr. Speth but perhaps it is understandable as Calvin Beisner is a man of God. He is also an excellent economist and this booklet is also a kind of Economics 101.

It is clear from all these fallacious charges that Speth himself apparently has no understanding of economics.  Capitalism is a system whose entire purpose is to benefit all citizens standard of living and to be pursued in a free market with property rights at its core. It has been proven long ago by Simon Kuznet that in order to pull people out of poverty there can be initial damage to the environment but once a reasonable standard is achieved, excess income is definitely used to improve the environment as a desirable improvement in additional living standards.

In Beisner’s own words capitalism’s “historical track record shows that it’s better than any other economic system so far devised at raising people out of poverty and making efficient use of resources.  No other system better protects or improves our natural environment.”

I cannot recommend this booklet too strongly. It is available for $5 from The Cornwall Alliance at

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