I've regularly been engaged in discussions over the years that go something like, "allowing payments for ACTIVITY X would degrade it" and therefore we ought not permit payments for such an activity. You have probably seen it in the context of kidney and other organ sales, though it is commonly employed in other contexts as well.
Most recently I came up against this argument when I was discussing a hope I have one day to wake up and discover a way to get "ecosystem services" placed into a market setting. Without a long lecture on what these are, think of an ecosystem service as something that is "freely" provided by Mother Nature that is valuable for our ability to extract benefits from her. For example, our ability to get clean drinking water is often dependent upon a well forested watershed that could be used to filter out impurities. Our ability to avoid the serious harms of floods is dependent upon the existence of wetlands. Many of the flowers we enjoy or foods we eat and medicines we cultivate depend upon the services provided by pollinating insects and winds (though we "manually" do lots of that too). You get the point I think.
The "problem" with these ecosystem services is that it is hard to figure out with whom to transact if we wish to promote or preserve such things. Who would I, as a consumer of clean water, contract with the maintain healthy forests? Who would a farmer contract with as a potential polluter (nitrogen and pesticides) into our waterways to make it in his interest to install riparian buffers or grass depressions? There are ethicists out there would would claim that farmers or owners of lands with trees ought not be paid to provide such valuable ecosystem services. Instead these folks should have an ingrained land ethic, even if it comes at a cost to their bottom line.
I am not here right now to debate that. I just want to ask a question. Suppose we agree that paying people to provide ecosystem services degrades our land ethic … is there something better than can promote a land ethic? Seriously. Among our most serious environmental problems today, ones that I would point to if asked about what I am most worried about, involve ecosystem services. We have all kinds of tax and regulatory policies already in place that are supposed to encourage wise resource use. Do these work? Have they creating an enduring commitment to land and ecosystem services? Has years and years of education in government schools about the importance of our natural amenities done it?
Why do you think the claim is made that paying people to provide ecosystem services is degrading? Should it matter whether it inculcates a land ethic at all so long as the services themselves get produced? Would we rather have dirty water and regular flooding but with all of us caring a lot about it or would we rather have clean air and water and fewer floods but with us not thinking very hard about why we have them. Is this dichotomy too stark?