NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

DDT and a Violation of Property Rights

June 8, 2001

Government action regarding the pesticide DDT has moved from one extreme to the other, first overusing it and then prohibiting any use of the pesticide. The controversy over DDT is rooted in the government's violation of property rights during spraying programs in the 1950s and 1960s, claim researchers at the Political Economy Research Center (PERC).

Widespread DDT spraying eliminated mosquito-borne malaria in developed countries. However, blanketing millions of acres of agricultural and residential properties with DDT was an uncompensated trespass that deprived owners of the full value of their property. It also endangered several species of birds.

If the government had been held liable for damages -- as private individuals would have been -- the program would have been halted, tragic consequences might have been avoided, and pesticides would not have become subject to political decisions.

Today, in reaction to those government spraying programs and the perceived environmental damage they caused, DDT has nearly been banned worldwide.

  • However, today, malaria kills a child every thirty seconds and causes hundreds of million of people to suffer every year.
  • DDT is the most effective pesticide against malaria, and decades of use have proven it has no ill effects on humans and only a minor impact on the environment.
  • But international organizations such as the World Bank, UNICEF, and Roll Back Malaria spend billions of dollars each year for ineffective and costly methods of fighting a disease that was nearly eradicated 50 years ago.

Today, individuals in developing countries are being denied healthy lives because of the federal government's overuse of DDT in agriculture. Markets and the rule of law would have created the flexibility politicized decision-making doesn't allow.

Source: Roger E. Meiners and Andrew P. Morriss, "Pesticides and Property Rights," PERC Policy Series No. 22, May 2001, Political Economy Research Center, 502 South 19th Avenue, Bozeman, Mt. 59718, (406) 587-9591.


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