The University of Arizona

The coercive laws of competition in a neoliberal era: the case of forestry in Costa Rica

Brett Sylvester Matulis


Market-oriented forms of conservation are believed to deliver enhanced efficiency in ecosystem management. This greater efficiency is derived from the introduction of competitive mechanisms in resource governance. Market competition, however, produces new social relations that can alter the division of benefits between various actors within the economy and present opportunities for accumulation. The consequent gains in efficiency are not necessarily equitably distributed. Furthermore, the introduction of competition can erode cooperative arrangements designed to assist the poor and politically marginal. Drawing on theories of the 'coercive laws of competition', I seek in this article to understand how competitive structures compel actors to behave in ways that put profit before social or environmental responsibility and encourage self-interested behavior. I explore these ideas in the context of Costa Rican forest conservation, showing that competitive contracting in private forest management has resulted in an uneven distribution of benefits and a comparative advantage for larger landowners. In addition, I also re-think the 'coercive laws' for a neoliberal era.

Keywords: competition, neoliberalism, conservation, markets, efficiency, PES

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