Environmental “Control Frauds”

From the comments, William K. Black on this post:

“Control fraud” has specific implications useful to the study of conservation finance. Both public control frauds (“kleptocracies”) and some private control frauds pose special dangers to the environment. Kleptocrats loot “their” nation. The direct effects of kleptocracy on the environment are severe. The head of state (and often his cronies) will approve developments that enrich him regardless of the harm to the environment. The government he controls will help the cronies evade any domestic or international laws designed to protect the environment, e.g., by issuing false certificates of the origin/nature of products. Kleptocrats are also autocrats, so the leader will use the state to suppress environmental protests.

The indirect effects of kleptocracy also harm the environment. Kleptocrats’ policies lead to widespread poverty, endemic corruption among lower-level government officials and reduced social trust and cohesion. Indeed, kleptocrats often follow the old colonial practice of “divide and conquer” — favoring one ethnicity or region over others. This can produce chronic armed conflicts that harm the environment. Even if there is no armed conflict the indirect effects mean that there is no effective environmental protection and increased pressure by poor citizens to exploit resources even when doing so overwhelms resources that could have been renewable.

Private control frauds often target the environment. Whenever a company can gain a competitive advantage by acting in an unlawful manner, e.g., by disposing of toxic wastes in a river instead of in the appropriate (but far more expensive) toxic waste disposal center a “Gresham’s law” style dynamic arises. (Gresham’s law: “bad money drives good money out of circulation” during hyperinflation. Note: George Akerlof used this metaphor appropriately in his seminal explanation of “lemon’s markets.” Note that examples he gives in that article are all variants of another type of control fraud — those that target the consumer.) Thus, environmental control frauds have two victims — the public and honest competitors. Unless the government effectively detects and punishes environmental control frauds the dynamic can ultimately lead to environmental control fraud becoming endemic. In the case of international disposal of toxic wastes, companies search for nations with weak regulation or kleptocrats). National and international regulatory/enforcement efforts are essential to reduce this perverse economic incentive to engage in environmental control fraud.

William K. Black
Executive Director, Institute for Fraud Prevention
Associate Professor of Economics and Law, UMKC

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