I just finished reading Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott. I've been thinking quite a bit about its implications for environmental policy and in particular the standard neoclassical policy prescriptions for the environment (i.e. Pigouvian taxes and/or cap-and-trade).
The book has somewhat of a libertarian/conservative/small-government angle to it, though it's a captivating read and worth checking out especially if you don't encounter arguments like that very much. The basic premise is a critique of certain types of government interventions into the market and into society. The type of interventionist policy that Scott criticizes he calls "high modernism," which involves a faith in science and technology to re-order and re-shape society and the economy in a way that improves people's lives. The motivating examples of high modernism include the Bolshevik Revolution and major planned cities like Brasilia. Scott argues that high modernism ignores local and individualized knowledge and as a result often results in spectacular failure that can make people's lives substantially worse.
Rather than relying on high modernist technocrats, Scott puts more stock into what he calls "metis," the local, practical knowledge that high modernism ignores. It's been noted elsewhere that this argument is somewhat Hayekian, but it also strikes me as very Burkean: a fundamental reason for trusting traditional institutions is that they capture the accumulated metis of a society.
So, what are the implications for environmental policy, and what are neoclassical Pigouvians like myself supposed to get out of this? Pigouvian neoclassical welfare economics and its policy implications seem like textbook examples of high modernism - technocrats (like me!) are overruling the locals and telling them how the economy ought to be run, at least when it comes to environmental externalities like carbon pollution. However, it also seems like market-based policies like pollution taxes and cap-and-trade programs respect metis in an important way that command-and-control policies don't, since they still give freedom to people and businesses to more or less make decisions on their own (the only interference being a slight tweak of the market incentives from the policy instrument).
Would a metis-loving, high-modernist-hater like Scott approve of Pigouvian taxes? I would like to think that he would. The fact that there is a growing conservative push for market-based climate policy, including a GOP Representative recently sponsoring a carbon tax bill, makes me think so.