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2012-09-12 | Peer Reviewed

Samuelson and 21st Century Tropical Forest Economics

Robinson, Elizabeth J Z and Heidi J. Albers. 2012. “Samuelson and 21st Century Tropical Forest Economics.” Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research 4:3: 209-213.
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In this paper, a commentary on Samuelson’s 1976 classic, “The Economics of Forestry in an Evolving Society”, Robinson and Albers address the relevance of Samuelson’s paper to tropical forests. Samuelson’s paper focuses on rich country settings where market and governance institutions function well and where forests are managed for timber through rotations.

Yet the central international forestry issue of the last two decades concerns the widespread and rapid deforestation and forest degradation observed throughout much of the tropics in low and middle income countries. Robinson and Albers build off a number of comments and tacit assumptions in Samuelson’s article to address issues of forest economics in those countries that face forest degradation and rapid deforestation. Several stylized characteristics inform the application of forest economics in such countries, relating to markets and subsistence, property rights enforcement, and externalities. We therefore argue that Samuelson’s paper remains relevant to debates over forest use, particularly whether to cut or conserve, but that his paper has a very different relevance from when it was first published, and arguably one with far wider ranging consequences in an era of climate change and continuing loss of tropical forests.