Property Rights, Pesticides, & (and) Public Health: Explaining the Paradox of Modern Pesticide Policy Academic Article uri icon


  • The lesson of DDT's rise and fall is that property rights play a critical role in checking public policy abuses. Respect for property rights requires public actors to obtain property owners' consent before they take actions (e.g. pesticide spraying) that affect the property owners. When property rights are respected, spillover impacts are minimized. Public policies imposed without consent, even if done with good intentions, may produce bad effects. Those effects may result in the policy being rightly abandoned, but may also spur other policies that produce more bad effects. Only by consistent respect for property rights, by both governments and private parties, can we hope to avoid environmental and human catastrophes in the future. In Part I of this Article, we briefly describe the use of pesticides during the twentieth century, emphasizing the government's mass-spraying programs of the 1950s and 1960s that prompted the current federal regulatory framework. In Part II we describe the problem of malaria control today, show how pesticides including DDT have an important role to play in alleviating human misery and saving lives, and explore why environmental organizations are preventing development of a rational malaria control policy. In Part III we outline how the common law handles pesticide problems and how an environmental law built around the common law could address pesticide issues today. Part IV concludes the article with a discussion of the costs of the command-and-control regulatory framework for pesticides and the alternative of a common law-property rights approach to pesticide problems.

author list (cited authors)

  • Morriss, A. P., & Meiners, R. E.

publication date

  • January 2002