Randy T. Simmons emphasizes the importance of economic reasoning to better understand public policy. He believes the study of politics cannot be separated from the study of markets and uses this framework to evaluate environmental and natural resource policies. The real challenge of the social process, as he sees it, is to design institutions that have outcomes that closely represent the wishes of individuals. He believes that markets are often the best way to achieve this objective when they are insulated from political influence. His core filed in political science is Public Choice.
Simmons current environmental research focuses on the Endangered Species Act. He stresses that threatened and endangered species are not simply a biological problem but a social problem, since the threat to their existence is a consequence of economic and political processes. Unfortunately, the solutions presented in the Endangered Species Act have been both costly and ineffective. He believes that positive incentives are more effective than penalties. Instead of creating a burden for private property owners, Simmons proposes measures to reward owners who conserve species and habitat. He also favors decentralizing and depoliticizing conservation programs, because twenty competing answers are better than one, especially when no one knows which is the right answer. He argues this case in is book Endangered Species: Critical Thinking About Environmental Issues and in his soon-to-be finished book manuscript Political Ecology: Politics, Economics and the Endangered Species Act.
His other books include Beyond Politics: Markets, Welfare and the Failure of Bureaucracy, a primer on public choice economics co-authored with William Mitchell, and The Political Economy of Customs and Culture: Informal Solutions to the Commons Problems, co-edited with Terry Anderson. Simmons has also written widely on the conservation of African elephants.
Simmons received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Oregon in 1980. He is currently professor of political science at Utah State University, where he has been honored three times by the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences as researcher of the year. Also at Utah State University, he is the director of the Institute of Political Economy. Simmons is a senior scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. and a Senior Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, Bozeman He is also President and Director of Research at Strata, a research hub on environmental, energy and public land issues.
He makes his home in Providence, Utah, where he served six years on the city council and is now mayor. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Utah League of Cities and Towns and is a member of the Utah Governor's Privatization Commission. He is writing a book on his experiences in local government. In his spare time, Simmons enjoys llamapacking with his wife and three children and boating on Lake Powell.