Archive for November, 2009

Third-World land theft & the tragedy of the commons: Mother Jones ponders, "Conservation: Indigenous peoples’ enemy No. 1?"

November 26th, 2009 No comments

[Post note: Anybody see the movie Avatar? Well that’s how native people perceive conservation efforts – as helping governing elites to steal their lands.]

The Mother Jones magazine has been running a series of on-line articles which exemplify how some progressives are exploring the ways in which various parts of the environmental/conservation agenda in developing countries have been counterproductive, adversely affected indigenous peoples, favored Western companies and played into the hands of local elites.

The articles are worth reviewing, as they reveal that enviros are starting to realize that protecting nature in the developing world requires protecting the property rights of indigenous communities.

One such article, by Mark Dowie, appeared in Mother Jones` on-line edition on November  2. The headline reads, “Conservation: Indigenous people’s enemy No. 1?”, the sub-header states, “For centuries we’ve displaced people to save nature. A huge project in Africa offers a chance to turn that around.” Dowie, an award-winning investigative journalist, is an author of several books published by the MIT Press, including his most recent, Conservation Refugees – The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples.

Dowie`s thesis is that, until recently, conservationists have typically taken the approach that the best way to preserve tropical forests and other wild ecosystems, the right approach was to establish pristine reserves from which people were excluded, and describes the change in strategy in the context of a new series of parks that the government in Gabon, central Africa. Dowie notes that the traditional approach – of establishing government-owned and -administered parks free of native residents – has a long, and long-forgotten history in the US (emphasis added):

But there was another, more historically significant opportunity
facing Gabon that day, one that Fay merely hinted at in his
presentation and Sanderson didn’t mention at all. It was the
opportunity their own industry, transnational conservation, had in
Gabon: to do right by the thousands of tribal people living inside
those emerald patches, by allowing them to remain in their homelands
and participate directly in the stewardship and management of the new
parks. They would then not be passive “stakeholders” relocated to the
margins of the park, the typical fate of indigenous peoples who find
themselves in conservation “hot spots,” but equal players in the
complex and challenging process of defending biological diversity.
goal of such a policy would be the concurrent preservation of nature
and culture; Gabon just might come to signify a happy ending of a
tense, century-long conflict between global environmentalism and native
people, millions of whom have been displaced from traditional homelands in the interest of conservation.

It’s a century-long story of violence and abuse that began in Yosemite Valley in the mid 19th century,
when the Ahwahneechee band of Miwoks were chased about, caught on, then
forcefully expelled from a landscape they had cultivated for about 200
Militias like the vicious Mariposa Battalion were sent
into Yosemite
to burn acorn caches and rout native people from remote reaches of the
Valley. After the militias came the nature romantics who mythologized
the vacated valley as the wilderness it never was, then lobbied state
and federal governments to create a national park. They got their wish
in 1890, and the remaining Indians were removed
from the area, with a
few allowed to remain temporarily, as menial laborers in a segregated
village of 20-by-20-foot shacks.

Yosemite’s Indian policy spread to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde,
Mount Ranier, Zion, Glacier, Everglades, and Olympic National Parks,
all of which expelled thousands of tribal people from their homes and
hunting grounds so the new parks could remain in an undisturbed “state
of nature.”
Three hundred Shoshone
Indians were killed in a single day during the expulsion from
Yellowstone. This was the birth of what would come to be known,
worldwide, as the Yosemite model of wildlife conservation. In Africa
it would be renamed “fortress conservation,” and like so many other
products from the North, the model would be exported with vigor to all
other continents. …

Teddy Roosevelt also proclaimed that “the rude, fierce settler who
drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt
to him… It is of incalculable importance that America,
Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red,
black, and yellow aboriginal owners and become the heritage of the
dominant world races.”

Our own history of theft from natives aside (which I have addressed tangentially in the context of the near-extirpation of the bison herds and the ongoing gross mismanagement and destruction of the salmon), what indigenous peoples in their right minds would not be opposed to the complicity of conservationists in continuing the process of the older colonial theft of their lands, even if the purpose was to “save” the land?  I won`t explore this now, but the record of “development” is replete with many examples – old and new – of such kinds of theft, with local ownership replaced by government ownership and a resulting “tragedy of the commons”-type of race to plunder “government” lands for valuable resources – oil and gas, minerals and timber.

Dowie notes the natural rise of indigenous opposition to “conservation” projects:

One consequence of creating a few million conservation refugees
around the world has been the emergence of a vast and surprisingly
powerful movement of communities that have proven themselves stewards
of nature (otherwise conservationists would have no interest in their
land), but were turned by circumstance into self-described “enemies of

In early 2004, a United Nations
meeting was convened for the ninth year in a row to push for passage of
a resolution protecting the territorial and human rights of indigenous
peoples. During the meeting, one indigenous delegate rose to state that
extractive industries, while still a serious threat to their welfare
and cultural integrity, were no longer the main antagonist of native
cultures. Their new and biggest enemy, she said, was “conservation.”
Later that spring, at a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia,
of the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping, all 200 delegates
signed a declaration stating that “conservation has become the number
one threat to indigenous territories.”

Then in February 2008, representatives of the International
Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) walked out of a Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) annual meeting, condemning the convention
for ignoring their interests. “We found ourselves marginalized and
without opportunity to take the floor and express our views,” read
their statement. “None of our recommendations were included in [the
meeting’s report]. So we have decided to leave this process…”

These are all rhetorical jabs, of course, and perhaps not entirely
accurate or fair. But they are based on fact and driven by experience,
and have shaken the international conservation community. So have a
spate of critical studies and articles calling international
conservationists to task for their historical mistreatment of
indigenous peoples.

The Mother Jones article looks like an excerpt from Dowie`s new book, which MIT describes as follows:

Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially
protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely
at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About
half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous
peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for
generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story.

This is a “good guy vs. good guy” story, Dowie writes; the indigenous
peoples’ movement and conservation organizations have a vital common
goal—to protect biological diversity—and could work effectively and
powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve species and
ecosystem diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two
forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable
protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing
on their ancestral lands or “assimilated” but permanently indentured on
the lowest rungs of the economy.

The punch line of the book summary?

When conservationists and native peoples
acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and
cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and
much more effective paradigm for conservation.

I am quite sympathetic with Dowie`s thinking, but it seems to me that he could make use of a little more intellectual framework, such as (i) the Austrian/libertarian awareness of the frequently negative role played by the state and of the usefulness of property rights (as I noted in this earlier post about the destruction of the Amazon), and (ii) Elinor Ostrom`s research into successful management of open-access, common-pool resources by communities, including natives.

I left the following comments for Dowie at Mother Jones:

Mark, great article. It`s good to hear
that the broader conservation community is waking up, but groups like
Survival International have always tried to protect indigenous
peoples`s rights.

I`m afraid the headline is a bit of a distraction, because of course
the broader development effort as a whole has been much more
destructive, by even more widely putting power into the hands on
central elites, who often behaved kleptocratically.

Regardless of the broader background, it`s surprising that you
didn’t see fit to link your topic to the whole problem of the “tragedy
of the commons”, which is often tied to the nationalization of
resources, which deprives users of any control over the resources they
depend on. Elinor Ostrom has extensively studied this problem in
developing countries and elsewhere, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in
economics precisely for pointing out how “government” is often the
problem and not the solution:

I commend this effort by Dowie, and note some other interesting articles at Mother Jones:

GM’s Rainforest Racket: People with some of the world’s smallest carbon footprints are being displaced—so their forests can become offsets(“There is another vexing question inherent in
preserving forests: What happens to the people who use the land?
Efforts to protect biodiversity in the dwindling wildlands of the world
have increasingly run into a discomfiting tension between the impulse
toward absolute preservation and the needs of people—many of them
indigenous—who have lived sustainably in forestlands for decades or
centuries. Such tensions are playing out in the new economics of carbon
Better REDD Than Dead: The byzantine politics of paying countries to save trees: (“Indigenous people around the world, many of whom have been displaced
through preservation efforts, are demanding “free, prior, and informed
consent” before new restrictions move forward. Some also want tribes,
like the Guarani in Brazil, to be compensated for preserving forests
for centuries.”)

Bruce Yandle on the tragedy of the commons, evolution of cooperation & property, and the struggle against government theft

November 20th, 2009 No comments

[I note that this is one of my earlier Avatar-themed posts. 2010/02/15]

I`ve often referred to Bruce Yandle, a “free-market environmentalist” who is dean emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Clemson University`s College of Business & Behavior Sciences, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Economics at the Mercatus Center, a faculty member with George Mason University’s Capitol Hill Campus, and a Senior Fellow at PERC – the Property and Environment Research Center (a free-market environmentalism think tank which has great links to his many works).

I`d like to draw attention attention to one short paper by Yandle which I find insightful in providing a perspective on the evolution of prperty rights and problems with resource management which arise from government owenership, even as he has short-shrifted the importance of community property mechanisms, which Nobel Prize-winner Elinor Ostrom has so extensively researched and documented (as I keep noting).

Yandle`s paper, The Commons: Tragedy or Triumph?, was published by the Foundation for Economic Education in its April 1999 online edition of Freeman. Here are few portions (emphasis added):

The feeder is a commons, but not just for hummingbirds. Bees are
attracted to it as well, and oddly enough, they can drive off the
larger hummingbirds. So even if the dominant bird is able to deflect
competition from other members of the species, that is not enough to
protect the nectar, and the defense itself is costly in energy burned.
The feeder contents are never secure.

Hummingbirds have no way to stake a claim to the feeder. So far as
we can tell, hummingbird communities have no constitution that reflects
socially evolved rules for establishing a social order. Most likely, a
long process of adaptation and selection has generated a hummingbird
capable of living in a world where nourishment is a common-access
resource, a commons. Hummingbirds live a life of flight, engaging in a
constant search for nourishment to feed their high-energy lives and, at
times, fighting for temporary control over valuable resources.

Human Commons

We all know the tragedy of the commons story. Wonderfully written
by Garrett Hardin in 1968, the highly stylized rendering is about a
pasture devoid of rules, customs, or norms for sharing.[1]
It is open to all comers. In this never-never-land, shepherds logically
add sheep to their flocks as long as doing so adds an increment of gain
for the particular flock. Uncoordinated in their effort, and unaware of
the effects of their individual actions on others, the unconcerned
shepherds collectively destroy the pasture. What could be a story of
plenty, if only the shepherds understood, turns into a story of
poverty. The passive shepherds are like hummingbirds. [Yandle has this wrong; Hardin posits competing shepherds who don`t talk w/ each other,and so look after only their narrow self-interests.]

As Hardin artistically puts it: “Therein is the tragedy. Each man
is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without
limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which
all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that
believes in freedom of the commons.”

Garrett Hardin’s words beautifully bundle aspects of an endless
human struggle to form communities, accumulate wealth, and improve
well-being. With that phrase—tragedy of the commons—the essence of the
challenge hits us squarely between the eyes: When there are no property
rights—formal or informal—that limit use of a scarce natural resource,
human action leads inevitably to untimely resource depletion and

But people are not hummingbirds. People can build institutions that
take the edge off frantic commons behavior. People have unwritten and
written constitutions that help to establish social order. People can
and do accumulate wealth. People communicate, invent lines of kinship,
and develop customs, traditions, and rules of law that limit
anti-social behavior. People define, enforce, and trade property
rights. People can and do avoid the tragedy of the commons. Indeed,
instead of living with tragedies, people triumph over the commons. But
the triumphs are never perfect or complete. There is always another
commons to manage.

The Ascent of Man

I wish to put forward the notion that encounters with the commons
form the fundamental stimulus that yields, instead of tragedy, what we
today call civilization.
The ascent of man from a primitive existence
with no wealth accumulation to life as we know it is fundamentally a
story about triumph over, not tragedy of, the commons. Let me explain.

Our very existence as human beings is defined by evolved
institutions for avoiding tragedies. We have names, which serve the
economic purpose of identifying us as parties to contracts and
agreements. Those names, first and last, form webs of communication
that reduce the social cost of assigning responsibilities and
liabilities. They enhance truth-telling and promise-keeping; they raise
the cost of engaging in anti-social behavior. They limit a tragedy of
the commons.

We have abstract symbols of ownership—deeds, titles, and
contracts—that define spheres of autonomous behavior. We speak of our
homes, our cars, our clothes, our families, and our pasture. Even
language has evolved to provide a possessive form that accommodates
triumph over the commons.

We write and observe contracts, wills, and marriage agreements that
define relationships, identify turf, and conserve wealth. We accept
evolved bodies of law and law-enforcement activities to assure the
integrity of our agreements. We carry papers that enable us to acquire
property, extinguish debt, cross borders, drive vehicles, and
communicate effectively with strangers. And we have locks, keys, walls,
fences, brands, and encryption devices, all this in an effort to avoid
a tragedy of the commons.

Property rights define who we are and what we have. Property rights
guard others from our unwanted advances and prevent us from
contributing to a tragedy of their commons.

Avoiding a tragedy of the commons is costly. The benefits must be large. …

The tragedy is found where for reasons having to do with power,
intolerance, or cost, human beings have not yet defined private
property rights. Or, as we shall see, where evolving property rights
encouraged by man the institution builder have been destroyed.
What was
once a triumph can become a tragedy. …

What about fisheries? How can we avoid a tragedy of the commons
there? Long before the Europeans arrived on the scene in the Pacific
Northwest, Native Americans had figured it out. Small tribes in what is
now Washington State had salmon fishing rights.
Don Leal tells us that
“in some cases, the tribe owned the rights; in others, families or
individuals or a combination owned the rights.”[5]

And what happened when the Europeans arrived? You guessed it. Leal
tells the story this way: “Instead of recognizing the well-defined and
enforced fishing rights, the U.S. government allowed newcomers to place
nets across the mouth of the Columbia. This quickly depleted salmon
runs, so traps and weirs were banned—only to be replaced by purse seine
boats powered by internal combustion engines. The race to catch salmon
moved to open waters. Ironically, from the country where private
property is considered sacrosanct came a socialistic legal system
driven by politics and military power.”[6]

What had been private property was turned into a commons. What had been
an institution-builder triumph became a political tragedy. …

For centuries before anyone in the United States thought much about
environmental quality, our common law defined and protected the
environmental rights of ordinary people.[10]
Enforced by judges in courts across the land, common law protected the
right of downstream property owners to receive water and air in
undiminished quality for reasonable use.
At common law, rivers could
not be treated as open sewers if doing so imposed costs on downstream
rightholders. Industrial plants could not blow smoke and emissions onto
the land and property of ordinary people. The record is filled with
cases, here and in Canada, decided under English common-law traditions:
where farmers sued industrial plants and won; where citizens of one
state sued polluters in another state, and won; and where common-law
judges ordered polluters to clean up or shut down. There are also cases
where this did not happen, where judges turned away from
property-rights enforcement and behaved as policy makers. But when the
judges got it wrong, their decisions affected a small number of people,
not an entire nation. [I note Walter Block disagrees strongly and views this change in common law as leading to the rampant pollution that set the stage for federal legislation.] This, of course, changed with the advent of

Prior to the passage of federal pollution-control statutes, every
major city in the United States had taken steps to define public
property rights to air quality. Many states, including California, had
taken a river-basin approach to the management of water quality, this
in addition to the use of common law. Multi-state compacts were
forming. By the 1960s, environmental quality was improving rapidly in
many locations. The property rights institution builders were on their
way to avoiding a tragedy of the commons. Common law was converting the
commons to private property.

This was changed with the passage of federal legislation that
effectively nationalized air and water quality in the United States.
What was becoming private property was made public property, almost a
commons. The new system of command-and-control regulation allowed
polluters to operate legally if they had a permit. With permits in
hand, new polluters could enter already crowded river basins. The new
regime provided political access to industries and municipalities that
hoped to postpone the day of reckoning in common law courts.

This work sheds light on mankind’s struggle to avoid the tragedy of
the commons. It tells us that at very low levels of income, what might
be called stage one, human beings cannot afford to do much about
property-rights enforcement and the commons. They live in a world where
custom and tradition sustain them. As incomes rise and losses from the
commons expand, stage two is entered. Fences go up, and rules are set
for protecting the commons. Finally, in stage three, markets evolve
along with rules of law that define spheres of private and public
action. Private rights replace public control, and the triumph replaces
the tragedy of the commons.

[Yandle ignores government mismanagement here, and how Western markets and Westernized leaders have seamrollered native institutions.]

Life for mankind began on a commons where tragedies were
commonplace and the incentive to improve was powerful. Out of the
struggle to survive and accumulate wealth evolved markets, property
rights, and the rule of law—a triumph on the commons.

But just as bees compete with hummingbirds in the struggle to
control access to nectar, institution builders who seek to support
markets and property rights compete with others who seek to
redistribute wealth. Actions to redistribute wealth blunt the incentive
to protect property rights and create wealth. This converts triumph to

To David Suissa: imagine not simply peace-seeking Arab moderates, but an end to funding of intransigence by the US, EU & Japan

November 6th, 2009 2 comments

The Ha`aretz newspaper kindly sent by email a piece, “We Need ‘A Street,’ Not J Street“, by David Suissa, that is apparently his weekly column for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.  In his personal blog (under “The Banality of J-Street“), Suissa provides the following skinny on his column:

In my Jewish Journal column this
week, I talk about how a Jewish organization called J Street has become
an overnight sensation by spewing out cliches about how much they want
peace, and how it is so very important that we finally resolve the
Israel-Palestinian conflict. No kidding. Who doesn’t want that? Of
course, there’s one nagging detail they seem to have overlooked: the
other side doesn’t really want to play ball. My pipe dream? An
organization called A Street.

Suissa thinks he`s on to something that could be “transformational”:

If you ask me, what the Middle East needs more than anything today is not a J Street but an A Street. This would be an Arab organization that would do what no Jewish organization — left, right or center — can do: rally peace-seeking Arab moderates to the cause of peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state. If the Jews can rally their own for peace, why can’t the Arabs? Why should Jews have an exclusive on self-criticism and internal pressure?

Can you
imagine how transformational it would be if a high profile, “pro-Arab,
pro-peace” organization pressured Palestinian leaders to dismantle the
teaching of Jew-hatred in Palestinian society — a hatred that has made
a mockery of all moves toward peace?

While I admire Sussa`s imagination, it seems to me that he not only (1) forgets how Israeli`s own behavior (from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 14 years ago, to the bombing and ongoing strangling of Gaza) has frustrated Palestinian moves toward peace, but, more importantly, (2) ignores an even larger dynamic.  As I noted in an email to him:

as a libertarian and taxpayer, it seems to me that what we really need
is for the US government, and EU & Japanese governments, to stop
spending billions each year subsidizing intransigence on both sides.

Just imagine how transformational THAT would be!

A pipe dream, of course; while the people want peace, leaders everywhere cement their power by grandstanding, and through hard-line positions.

Categories: David Suissa, Israel, Palestine, Rabin Tags:

To John Quiggin: Reassuring climate "delusions" help us all to avoid engaging with "enemies" in exploring common ground

November 6th, 2009 No comments

I left the following comment on John Quiggin`s “Libertarians and delusion” post (other comments are noted in my preceding posts):


November 6th, 2009 at 14:03 | #34


I “have started to entertain the view that there is either an
actual or perceived conflict between reality and libertarian ideology.”

Thanks for this concession, John, but of course this is true for ANY
ideology (as well for the rest of us more perfect humans who always
have to battle with cognitive conservatism). And yes, it leads to a
combination of tribalism and wishful thinking, and in some cases a
denial of inconvenient science.

Sea Bass says it well: “So what we have is many libertarians, who
are usually not experts on the science of climate change, being asked
to blindly accept scientific conclusions that are often promoted by
people and organisations whose political beliefs are antithetical to
their own.”

Thinking that libertarians are more susceptible to “delusion” than
anyone else is itself a cognitive trap – one that provides comfort to
those who believe that there is a serious cause for concern about
climate change (me too), and that it`s one easily addressed by
government, and leads them to ignore the empirical evidence for the
ways governments screw up (and are manipulated, and to conclude that
those who oppose government action are evil.

I`ve made several references to the empirical case for caution in
thinking that government is going to make things better rather than
worse; the work of Lin Ostrom and the reasons the Nobel Prize committee
gave her the award are a recent one. But as I noted in comments to a
post by Tim Lambert earlier this year on the “economists`s consensus”:

85 “Free market people do not argue that all government allocation
of goods is ineffective. It simply suffers from a high incidence of
moral hazard and inefficiency, and if it does not account for the
market (which it has little incentive to do as it is mostly about
politics) any growth from it will likely be unsustainable.”

Well said, Craig; commonsense examples of moral hazard and inefficiency can be seen in:

* our oversupply and overuse of our “defense”, e.g., Iraq &
Halliburton, Homeland Security, domestic spying, military-industrial
stuff generally;
* our agricultural pork: price supports, ethanol, sugar;
* the government’s provision of “war on drugs” to save us from mad
reefer smokers, etc., resulting in Prohibition-like
crime/corruption/stifled inner city growth, trampled stae and local
rights and troubles in all supplying/conduit countries;
* cheap oil/gas/hardrock mineral/timber/grazing leases;
* an oversupplied but underperforming levee system;
* huge bonuses and huge risks generated at Freddie and Fannie;
* an FDA and Ag Dept that notes bad peanut butter mfg but says nothing,
yet prohibits small dairy and meat producers from advertising
hormone-free milk and mad cow disease-free beef, etc.

Who couldn’t want more of this?

Posted by: TokyoTom | February 17, 2009 6:47 AM

All issues that Tim – and you, too, apparently – just conveniently
don`t seem to see at all, or at least have a tough time finding the
time or space to address, preferring to delve into arcania about
various libertarian cults. But of course now there are lots of
environmentalists, voters, pundits and even scientists like Jim Hansen
who are decrying what looks like an enormous C&T road wreck
emerging as the preferred climate option in Washington.

Just as I am working hard to make sure that libertarians are not
blunting their own message by hiding their heads in the sand on the
science, so do I think that those who (rightly I think) are concerned
about AGW ought to be paying quite a bit more attention to the problems
pointed out by libertarians about the misuse of government by powerful
insiders, the knowledge problem and bureaucratic perversities.

Sadly, there seems to be little interest by most in exploring the
very wide middle ground of undoing the screwed up policies that have
helped to generate the frustrations that many feel today and the
engender what has become a snowballing fight over the wheel of

Why can`t we have a little more exploration of root causes and
common ground? Must it remain a no-man`s land, while partisans battle,
and corporate interests scheme?


A few more "delusional" thoughts to John Quiggin on partisan perceptions & libertarian opposition to collective action

November 5th, 2009 No comments

Further to my preceding posts regarding John Quiggin`s post on “Libertarians and delusionism“, I copy below a few of the comments that I left there:

November 4th, 2009 at 08:13 | #3

thanks for raising the topic more widely. However, I think you`ve
wandered a bit astray yourself by missing the problem of cognitive
traps, as well as missing a libertarian point or two.

I respond more fully here:


November 4th, 2009 at 18:09 | #33

I note that I have made a few additional comments, chiefly in an effort
to clarify my understanding of libertarian views on property:

I look forward to your further thoughts.



November 5th, 2009 at 00:43 | #48

John, obviously my own experience at Mises (and at the libertarian law
blog Volokh Conspiracy) is that while decidedly irrational “skepticism”
and wishful thinking predominates, it is not universal. But those like
me who believe that climate concerns are justified and want to analyze
policy (and who are critical of ad homs directed toward “enviros”)
always face challenges and criticism from those who feel too threaded
to venture out into a discussion of policy.

However, outside of boards like that, it seems to me that there is a
general swing by libertarian commenters on climate to an acceptance of
a rather mainstream science view, though there remains natural policy
disagreements. Ron Bailey, science correspondence at Reason and Jon
Adler, a resources law prof at Case Western, Lynne Kiesling at
Knowledge Problem blog, David Zetland, who blogs on water issues, come
to mind. Others, at AEI, CEI, IER and Master Resource are partly in the
business of running cover for fossil fuel interests, and so frequently
challenge both science and policy.

There have been several open disputes, where Bailey, Kiesling and
others have challenged skepticism at CEI and elsewhere, as I noted on
my recent “libertarian views” summary post. Readers might also find
this upbraiding of Penn & Teller to be interesting:

BTW, I note that one self-described libertarian group in California
has specifically proposed carbon taxes, though this is a rather obscure
group and their “Pay Your Air Share” proposal appears to be

  1. November 5th, 2009 at 17:08 | #36

    “It is the collective action that is required that extreme libertarians hate so much. ”

    Libertarians don`t oppose collective action per se, but are opposed
    to “collective” actions that are dictated by the state -because it
    hampers the ability of communities to respond to problems on their own,
    weakens links between resource users and the relevant resource,
    frequently locks in benefits for powerful insiders (viz., the big firms
    that profess to love markets but really love their deals from
    government that lock in their advantageous position) – thereby setting
    up enduring fights over the wheel of government -and because the
    “knowledge problem” generally ensures that solutions will be ham-handed
    and generate a need for further interventions.

    You, John and others might not have noticed, but these are some of
    the chief conclusions of the empirical research by “tragedy of the
    commons” expert Elinor Ostrom, and her writings about how
    counter-productive stated-led “development” and commons-management
    efforts have been is precisely the reason why the Swedes awarded her
    the Nobel Prize in economics.

  2. November 5th, 2009 at 17:19 | #37

    Alice, on the topic of “watermelons”, surely the libertarians have a
    point that many environmentalists really do not understand how markets
    or free societies function, but typically this term is used not to
    explain, but as an ad hom, both to dismiss concerns over climate
    science and to avoid the heavy work of arguing over policy, as I`ve
    noted here:

  3. November 5th, 2009 at 17:33 | #39

    to sum up, while clearly many libertarians are guilty of wishful
    thinking as to the climate science, by the same token many
    environmentalists and leftists seem to blithely ignore all of the
    problems that are associated with state/bureaucratic responses.

    Yes, there are self-deluded on both sides, but to seek to explain
    away (or dispense with considering) the opposition of others is itself
    a flight from reason and responsibility.

    That this is understandable , human and a common phenomenon in the
    case of tribal or partisan conflict – as Nick Kristof points out:
    – makes it something that we should all the more try to avoid, rather
    than indulge in, which seems to be the drift of this post and many of
    your commenters.

    On this point, I would recommend that you and others take a look at
    some of the opposition to cap-and-trade now springing up on the left in
    the US; see the comments of two EPA lawyers and of Dr. Janese Hansen

    Says Hansen: “I hope that Williams and Zabel give decision makers
    pause. This is no time to be rushing into costly ineffectual
    legislation. It is time to call a halt on any legislation this year,
    and take time to understand the matter. It would take 20 years to fix
    the mess that Congress, with the help of special interests, seems
    intent on creating.”



The Road Not Taken V: Libertarian hatred of misanthropic "watermelons" and the productive love of aloof ad-homs

November 5th, 2009 2 comments

I copy below a comment I just left at Stephan Kinsella`s post on the main LvMI Blog, “Physicist Howard Hayden’s one-letter disproof of global warming claims“, which I have discussed here in several preceeding posts.

TokyoTom Published: November 4, 2009 10:54 PM (minor edits; links added)


– “They, like you, accept the state’s line and are happy to cede power to the state to “make things better.””

Except I DON`T “accept the state`s line”, nor am I “happy to cede power to the state”, which is precisely why I bother to interrupt your fantasies here.

This, in fact, represents the fallacy that is at work in climate change discussions here – and that almost completely vitiates the libertarian message –  namely, that if one concurs that we`ve got a potential problem, then they must then agree to the statist agenda.

So instead of any effort to engage ON the libertarian agenda, we get guys like you pandering – with demonstrable nonsense from guys like Harvey – to libertarians who hope the statists and the purported problem will just kindly go away.

What a great way for libertarians to muzzle themselves, and to stand by helplessly instead of weighing in.

Trying to reassure yourself and your buddies that the man with a gun is either deluded or trying to take over the world is hardly either reassuring, or a step on the way to getting him to put the gun down.

Nor is calling those [like me] who think conversation may be more efficiacious a “comrade to rotten watermelons” in any way helpful, unless the goal is simply to reinforce the echo chamber.

Watermelons, ahh, watermelons!  How helpful, and so much fun to bandy about this little bit of ad hom! Is it getting time for Austrians once more to gather `round the fire, and roast some watermelons?  Holiday joy: roasting “watermelons” on an open pyre!  A little eliminationist fantasy [a la Czech physicist Lubos Motl is not that far away ….

As I noted in my above post explaining the use of the “watermelon” ad hom:

“watermelon” is a venerable ad hominem here, useful for Miseseans to put fingers in their ears and dismiss what practically everyone who disagrees with them on climate change – from our national academies of science on down – has to say.

The trick is to first dismiss the evil “enviros” – you know, that class of rent-seekers that Rothbard and others tell us were created when statist corporations managed to subvert common law protections against polution damage to property – by focussing on their efforts to use the state to control corprations, while resolutely ignoring not only corporate statism but what Austrian economics tells us about how markets and private transaction are inefficient with respect to resources that are not clear owned or protected by enforceable property rights.

Then, having dismissed those wacky “watermelons”, we can simply ignore everyone else, by jeering at the enviros and thereby implicitly imputing to the whole scientific, economic, business and government community the same malevolent and stupid misanthropism.

Neat trick, isn`t it?

IOW, enviros should be burned at the stake for the heresy of trying to use the state to solve a possible problem, and everyone else, who have gullibly been corrupted by them, ignored. In this way, we can cleanse the body politic and avoid serious mistakes. See?

Serious people know that only irreproachable commentators like Dr. Reisman get to suggest that we use the state to address possible climate change:

“there is a case for considering the possible detonation, on uninhabited land north of 70° latitude, say, of a limited number of hydrogen bombs. … This is certainly something that should be seriously considered by everyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to preserve modern industrial civilization and retain and increase its amenities. If there really is any possibility of global warming so great as to cause major disturbances, this kind of solution should be studied and perfected. Atomic testing should be resumed for the purpose of empirically testing its feasibility.”

We can distinguish you from Dr. Reisman, Stephan, since you helpfully insist that the state should not engage in this testing, so that we must first privatize the holding of nuclear weapons, so that firms and individuals, unhindered by the state, can engage in such experimentation.  Such clear-mindedness is commendable, since freedom-loving commenters here or elsewhere seldom consider the difficult statist elements implicit in most discussions of active “geo-engineering” to dampen or reverse any climate change problem.

But while we`re on the subject of criticizing “watermelons” and their supposed “comrades”-in-arms, one wonders when aloof purists like you will ever deign to criticize fellow libertarians like Rob Bradley and Bob Murphy, who are also actively engaged in this statist discussion – shame! – but on behalf of the fossil fuel firms and utilities that until now have been the most successful rent-seekers.

So far, all we see with regard to the way libertarians actively defend successful rent-seeking is a studied indifference.

– “now that we have irrelevant credentials out of the way, let’s stick to substance.”

Absolutely; I was just concerned not to leave you hanging out there on the “irrelevant” limb all by yourself.



As I noted on the main thread, surely it wouldn`t be helpful if I in like fashion called libertarians who refuse to engage in a principled discussion on the issue of climate policy (preferring instead to comfort themselves with one-page letters that tell us that our massive releases of greenhouse gases. etc. is peachy-keen) “coconuts” – hard on the outside, but empty on the inside?

For climate fever, take two open-air atom bombs & call me in the morning; "serious" libertarian suggestions from Kinsella & Reisman!?

November 4th, 2009 No comments

First, George Reisman, and now, Stephan Kinsella.  I have asked two of our leading lights whether they and libertarians are striving for a self-satisfied irrelevancy on climate issue, or wish to be taken seriously, and they both, with self-professed seriousness, announced that we should, in Stephan`s words, “investigate nuclear winter as a way to offset alleged global warming“.

I`m afraid these proposals leave me a bit stunned. On first blush – nay, lengthy consideration – such proposals can not in the least be considered libertarian, or something libertarians could countenance. This is the way to libertarian relevancy, and to take both the challenge of statist climate change proposals and libertarianism itself seriously? 

I don`t get it – is this obvious sarcasm or straightforward mockery of climate concerns, an inside joke, from which suspected “watermelons” are excluded, or am I just not on the right sober, libertarian wave-length?

And am I the only one who notices and is jarred by the cognitive dissonance in these messages from our leading lights? You know – puny man can`t possibly be affecting the climate, but if so, it`s something we can easily fix with a little “geo-engineering” (even if we have to use the state), so let`s just let our little ongoing and uncontrolled world-wide climate geo-engineering experiment continue?

Readers` help appreciated!

I copy below relevant passages, both from Dr. Reisman and from Stephan (emphasis added).

1.  George Reisman: Global Warming: Environmentalism’s Threat of Hell on Earth  March 16, 2007 (emphasis added):

In contrast to the policy of the environmentalists, there are rational
ways of cooling the earth if that is what should actually be necessary,
ways that would take advantage of the vast energy base of the modern
world and of the still greater energy base that can be present in the
future if it is not aborted by the kind of policies urged by the

Ironically, the core principle of one such method has been put
forward by voices within the environmental movement itself, though not
at all for this purpose. Years ago, back in the days of the Cold War,
many environmentalists raised the specter of a “nuclear winter.”
According to them, a large-scale atomic war could be expected to
release so much particulate matter into the atmosphere as to block out
sunlight and cause weather so severely cold that crops would not be
able to grow. …

Certainly, there is no case to be made for an atomic war. But there is a case for considering the possible detonation, on
uninhabited land north of 70° latitude, say, of a limited number of
hydrogen bombs. The detonation of these bombs would operate in the same
manner as described above, but the effect would be a belt of particles
starting at a latitude of 70° instead of 30°. The presence of those
particles would serve to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching most of
the Arctic’s surface. The effect would be to maintain the frigid
climate of the region and to prevent the further melting of its ice or,
if necessary, to increase the amount of its ice. Moreover, the process
could be conducted starting on a relatively small scale, and then
proceed slowly. This would allow essential empirical observations to be
made and also allow the process to be stopped at any time before it
went too far.

This is certainly something that should be seriously considered by
everyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to
preserve modern industrial civilization and retain and increase its
amenities. If there really is any possibility of global warming so
great as to cause major disturbances, this kind of solution should be
studied and perfected. Atomic testing should be resumed for the purpose
of empirically testing its feasibility.

2.  Stephan Kinsella & TokyoTom, Physicist Howard Hayden’s one-letter disproof of global warming claims  October 29, 2009

Stephan Kinsella October 30, 2009 10:03 AM

If there were really global warming why not just use “nuclear winter”
to cool things down?
You don’t see the envirotards advocating that! 🙂 (see Greenpeace to advocate nuking the earth?)


TokyoTom November 3, 2009 4:01 AM

Austrians know very well that resource battles very often become
politicized as soon as government steps in; are “misanthropes” and
“rotten watermelons” responsible for the state grant of public utility
monopolies, the lack of court enforcement of common law rights to
protect property from state-licensed corporation that led to massive
pollution problems, the massive state role in the development of
nuclear weapons (that you & George Reisman mock-seriously suggest
the federal govt ought to start using again in the open atmosphere) ….


Stephan Kinsella November 3, 2009 8:00 AM

I don’t remember Reisman’s proposal, but I never said the feds should do it. I’m an anarchist, remember?


3.  Stephan Kinsella & TokyoTom, In which I applaud another balanced, productive post by Dr. Reisman, and draw attention to a post by Lew Rockwell on the need for more power competition (Apr 23 2009)


# Friday, April 24, 2009 2:27 PM
Stephan Kinsella

left yabbers about nuclear winter caused by nuclear bombs. This implies
nukes can be used to cool things down. The left yabbers about global
warming. Why is it unreasonable to investigate whether nuclear bombs
could not be used to cool things down and offset global warming? Which
one of these two contentions are you watermelons not serious about?

# Friday, April 24, 2009 9:45 PM

I was just talking about the frumious bandersnatch and in walks the
yabberwocky!  Such coincidences are to be celebrated!

But surely you`re not serious about open air nuke tests to combat
climate change, but Reisman was, and on the LVMI main pages.  His
discussion was not the type of facetious one you throw out to dodge
addressing it.  You disappoint me.

What the left yabbers about is worth mocking, but anyone worth his
salt as a libertarian would do like Lew and spend a little time
acknowledging that preferences for green power, etc. are perfectly
fine, explaining that the reason for their frustration is public
utility regulation that stifles competition and protects utilities, and
suggesting approaches that would foster consumer goals while advancing

But it`s so much funner to be like George, right?

What would Ludwig von Mises have said?…/draft.aspx (quoting Reisman`s translation)


# Sunday, April 26, 2009 2:25 PM
Stephan Kinsella

it’s time to drop your sarcasm and just be direct and clear. I am
serious–why not investigate nuclear winter as a way to offset alleged
global warming?

As for all the fulminating against global warming… are you aware
that we are in an interglacial period, probably somewhere near the
middle? The earth is bound to start cooling and heading towards another
ice age before long. If global warming is real, it will only delay
this–which is good. In any event, suppose we impoverish ourselves to
slightly decrease the warming for a few decades, until natural cooling
starts anyway. Why do this.


# Friday, May 08, 2009 7:54 PM

thanks for your comment, but I`ve been preoccupied.  However, it`s hard
to believe that you want Dr. Reisman`s suggested testing of atom bombs
in the Arctic to be taken seriously from ANY perspective, much less a
libertarian one.  There are obvious issues about the role of
government, consent and compensation of those facing fallout risks, the
problem of interfering with Arctic ecosystems and access to resources
that are coming available as a result of thawing, potential releases of
methane by the explosions themselves, plus small things like
international treaties as crf notes.

Are you suggesting that I`m “fulminating” about “global warming”?
 I`ve just been trying to steer the discussion from fulminations by
Reisman (and fawning worshippers) towards actual libertarian principles
and productive engagement.

“are you aware that we are in an interglacial period … Why do this”?

I don`t agree with your suppositions, but at least they provide a start for conversation.  

My reading indicates that climatologists agree that the Milankovich
cycles are in a unique period of overlap and, given the forcings that
we have already made (starting millenia ago with albedo changes/methane
releases resulting from agriculture), this interglacial is expected to
last for another 50,000 years, and that man`s activity is by far the
largest climate forcing variable – and we`re only heading north.  This
involves heavy pollution and will be accompanied by other large costs
to private and shared assets, including drastic changes in ocean
chemistry and ecosystems.

Mises, Yandle and others recognize that societies invested in
establishing informal and formal private and communal property rights
systems in order to tame tragedy of the commons problems and lead to
more efficient plan formation; IMHO it`s time for us to start managing
our atmosphere and oceans, instead of allowing those who profit from
exploiting these resources (a wealthy class of investors and
executives) to continue to do so while playing a rent-seekers` and
spoilers`s game that allows them to continue to shift costs to the rest
of us.

A focus on this will also help to shift down the environmental
Kuznets curve and improve the protection of private health and property
in China and elsewhere.


4. Greenpeace to advocate nuking the earth?

Scientist publishes ‘escape route’ from global warming
reports the emergency plan to save the world from global warming, by
altering the chemical makeup of Earth’s upper atmosphere. Professor
Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in
the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made
greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is
needed. … he says that an “escape route” is needed if global warming
begins to run out of control. … Professor Crutzen has proposed a method
of artificially cooling the global climate by releasing particles of
sulphur in the upper atmosphere, which would reflect sunlight and heat
back into space.”

Hey, if that doesn’t work, why not use the phenomenon of nuclear winter to cool things down? You know, explode a few nukes, kick up dust, cool things down. Any takers? Greenpeace? Earth First?

A few more comments to John Quiggin on climate, libertarian principles and the enclosure of the commons

November 4th, 2009 No comments

I note first that I am reminded by a pithy comment from someone else that, despite the length of my previous post addressing John Quiggin`s post on libertarian delusion, sometimes less is more.

Writes commenter “ABOM”, in a comment made elsewhere and linked back in to Quiggin`s thread (done for the purported reason that Quiggin was deleting some of ABOM`s comments) (emphasis added):

I found it ironic that JQ (an economist) was using a scientific
hypothesis (climate change) as a litmus test to determine whether
Austrians were “serious” economists.
JQ (1) assumes he knows about
climate science
(he doesn’t) (2) assumes anyone who questions climate
science is mad
(they may not be) (3) thinks anyone who questions the
govt’s solutions to the “problem” is also mad
(even if you accept the
science, govt may not be the answer – raising interest rates to their
‘natural’ level and a simple “depression” in consumption may be a
simpler solution) (4) isn’t allowing an open debate (he keeps censoring
me for some bizarre reason) and (5) to top it off accuses Austrians of
being part time scientists – when he is the King of Part Time Amateur
Science …

Being verbose, this and a review of Quiggin`s post prompts me to write more.

I`m not sure I agree with ABOM`s initial comment; while Quiggin might be implicitly using Austrian`s behavior regarding climate change to question whether they are “serious” economists, more straightforwardly he`s questioning why on climate they seem not to care to show it.

I failed to address the following points from John:

1.   ” it seems clear that, if mainstream climate science is correct,
neither anarcho-capitalism nor paleolibertarianism can be sustained.
The problem with anarcho-capitalism and other views where property
rights are supposed to emerge, and be defended, spontaneously, and
without a state is obvious. If states do not create systems of rights
to carbon emissions, the only alternatives are to do nothing, and let
global ecosystems collapse, or to posit that every person on the planet
has right to coerce any other person not to emit CO2 into the

First, the alternatives to states creating systems of rights
to carbon emissions (or imposing carbon taxes, funding energy alternatives etc.) are NOT simply to do nothing, or to assume that all individuals will be left to try to coerce everyone else. While I agree that an-caps typically do not stress the desirability of undoing statist actions that feed into the climate problem, of course this is something which can and should be done, as I have tried to point out. And there are many voluntary and organized responses now underway that address climate change: organizations that cater to people (and firms) who want to track and lower their carbon footprint or buy offsets, firms that are competing to monitor and control their carbon footprint, both to lower costs and to stay ahead of competitors in the marketplace for consumer favor, voluntary corporate-oriented carbon trading/offset programs underway, insurance companies and others projecting and publicizing risks, etc.

Ancaps and other libertarians may be wrong, but they essentially conclude that the large information and transaction costs that society faces in dealing with climate change cannot be overcome by fiat, which clearly is not simple. Using government typically brings a whole host of problems. Viz., the knowledge problem, rent-seeking and -farming, bureaucratic mal-incentives, & enforcement.

    2.   “For paleolibertarians, the fact that property rights must
    be produced by a new global agreement, rather than being the inherited
    ‘peculiar institutions’ of particular societies seems equally

    Yes. But there`s also  the problem of justice in the original
    allocation. Why should the new property rights in the atmosphere be allocated to corporations, as opposed to citizens?

    3.   “For more moderate libertarians, who accept in principle that
    property rights are derived from the state, I think the problem is more
    that the creation of a large new class of property rights brings them
    face to face with features of their model that are generally buried in
    a near-mythical past.

    “To start with, there’s the problem of justice in the original
    allocation. Until now, people [in] developed countries have been
    appropriating the assimilative capacity of the atmosphere as if there
    was always “enough and as good” left over. Now that it’s obvious this
    isn’t true, we need to go back and start from scratch, and this process
    may involve offsetting compensation which effectively reassigns some
    existing property rights.”

    I don`t think moderate libertarians so much “accept in principle that
    property rights are derived from the state,” as they recognize that the state has codified, circumscribed and enforces such rights. Right now, there are simply NO “existing property rights” regarding climate, other than the shared right to exhaust CO2 (and other GHGs) into the atmosphere, and to engage in other activities that alter albedo. Starting from scratch in the sense you use it, especially the “compensation” aspect, means governments taking property from some and giving it to others

    4.   “Then there is the problem that the emissions rights we are talking
    about are, typically time-limited and conditional. But if rights
    created now by modern states have this property, it seems reasonable to
    suppose that this has always been true, and therefore that existing
    property rights may also be subject to state claims of eminent domain.”

    “Property rights” are essentially a portfolio of formal and informal institutions that communities have devised, over long periods of trial and error. Most such “rights” – whether informal or state-recognized – are time-limited and conditional. That states have always and continue to alter, and take, property rights tells us nothing about the justice or efficacy of such actions – and you might have noticed that Elinor Ostrom and the progressives (some of whom I quoted in my prior post) who want to “take back the commons” argue very strongly about both.

    Where our fisheries are collapsing, they are doing so chiefly because our governments have trampled native rights or community-developed practices in favor of bureaucratic management and the resulting tragedy of the commons. While the solution in such cases appears to be the re-creation of property rights that give fishermen a stake in preserving the resource they rely upon, such situations are hardly akin to the worldwide creation of CO2 emission rights, which present much more severe difficulties in allocating and enforcing.

    John Quiggin plays Pin-the-tail-on-the-Donkey with "Libertarians and delusionism"

    November 3rd, 2009 No comments

    John Quiggin, a left-leaning Australian economist and professor at the University of Queensland, has noted my recent post on the penchant for bloggers
    and readers at the Mises Blog to attack climate science – are “almost universally committed to delusional views on climate science“, as he puts it – though these are not words fairly put into my mouth.  Like me, though, Quiggin wonders why wonders why libertarians focus on climate science at the near-exclusion of policy discussions, since (1) he sees “plenty of political opportunities to use climate change to attack subsidies and other existing interventions” and (2) he supposes that the environmental movement`s widespread shift “from profound suspicion
    of markets to enthusiastic support for market-based policies such as
    carbon taxes and cap and trade” seems like a big win for libertarians.

    Quiggin previously commented on “Libertarians and global warming” last June; this seems to be a follow up.

    Quiggins posits that Austrians/libertarians exhibit a “near-universal rejection of mainstream climate science,” and asserts that:

    we can draw one of only three conclusions
    (a) Austrians/libertarians are characterized by delusional belief in
    their own intellectual superiority, to the point where they think they
    can produce an analysis of complex scientific problems superior to that
    of actual scientists, in their spare time and with limited or no
    scientific training in the relevant disciplines, reaching a startling
    degree of unanimity for self-described “sceptics”
    (b) Austrians/libertarians don’t understand their own theory and
    falsely believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own
    views must be wrong
    (c) Austrians/libertarians do understand their own theory and correctly
    believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own views
    must be wrong

    John concludes:

    “Overall, though I, think that acceptance of the reality of climate
    change would be good for libertarianism as a political movement. It
    would kill off the most extreme and unappealing kinds of a priori
    logic-chopping, while promoting an appreciation of Hayekian arguments
    about the power of market mechanisms. And the very fact of uncertainty
    about climate change is a reminder of the fatality of conceits of
    perfect knowledge.”

    While John asks a good question and reveals some appreciation of markets, it`s clear that he is still pretty much groping in the dark when it comes to understanding libertarians` concerns about climate policy, indeed, even as to libertarian aims and concerns generally. He also overlooks various cognitive/psychological factors that appear to be at play. Naturally, I appreciate the opportunity for discussion.

    1. Before addressing his three possible conclusions, let me note that while “market-based policies such as
    carbon taxes and cap and trade” may seem to John “like a big win for libertarians”, this is most definitely NOT the case for most libertarians in the context of climate change, as these “market-based policies” represent an enormous expansion of government that libertarians feel very strongly, based on past experience, will be profoundly porky, counterproductive and costly. In the face of the fight for favor in Washington and the choice of opaque cap-and-trade over a more open rebated carbon tax and other deregulatory options, there is good reason to believe that libertarians are right.

    2. Regarding conclusion (a), let me first note that John reveals the self-same “conceit of perfect knowledge” that he accuses Austrians/libertarians of having: the “acceptance of reality of climate change” would undoubtedly be good for everyone, but just what is that reality, and how can a layman of any stripe confirm himself that climate is changing and that man is responsible? The very fact that this “reality” is nearly impossible to confirm personally (even over the course of a lifetime) means that even those whom John considers as having “accepted reality” have basically just adopted a frame of reference, on the basis of the consistency of the AGW frame with other previously established mental frames, a reliance on authority, peer-group acceptance, etc.

    “Reality” in this case inevitably, for most people, has very large personal and social components; accordingly, both “acceptance” and “skepticism” of it may look like a group belief, which may help to explain why it is possible to perceive “a startling
    degree of unanimity” of views on climate science, the contents of such views varying by group.

    As for Austrians/libertarians, while I don`t think it is fair to conclude they (we) are characterized by delusional belief in
    their own intellectual superiority, but that many do have a belief, not so much in the superiority of their intellect, but in the correctness of their views on political science and economics (this is common in other groups, of course). This may affect their views on climate science, for several reasons that I have noted to John previously, and may be related for some of them to his conclusions (b) and (c).

    3. Concerning conclusions (b) and (c), these are both over-generalizations; libertarians are a heterogenous bunch. But if I may generalize myself, to me there appears no conflict whatsoever between Austrian views, which are primarily about interpersonal relations and the role of government, and climate science. “Mainstream science” has nothing to do with these views, so if Austrians are wrong about “mainstream climate science”, this does not imply that any Austrian views
    must be wrong. So Quiggins` (c) is wrong.

    Quiggins`(b) – that Austrians may not understand their own theory and
    may falsely believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own
    views must be wrong – may be right for some Austrians, but certainly not generally. Rather, what I suspect is going on is much more ordinary, as I previously noted to Quiggin as a comment on his related June post; that I need to repeat myself indicates that maybe John is having cognitive difficulties of his own (emphasis added):

    John, thanks for this piece. As a libertarian who believes that
    climate change IS a problem, I share some of your puzzlement and have
    done considerable commenting
    on this issue [see this long list]. Allow me to offer a few thoughts on various factors at
    work in the general libertarian resistance to taking government action
    on climate change:

    – As Chris Horner noted in your linked
    piece, many libertarians see “global warming [as] the bottomless well
    of excuses for the relentless growth of Big Government.”  Even those who
    agree that is AGW
    is a serious problem are worried, for good reason, that government
    approaches to climate change will be a train wreck – in other words,
    that the government “cure” will be worse than the problem.

    Libertarians have in general drifted quite far from environmentalists.
    Even though they still share a mistrust of big government,
    environmentalists generally believe that MORE
    government is the answer, while ignoring all of the problems associated
    with inefficient bureaucratic management (witness the crashing of many
    managed fisheries in the US), the manipulation of such managment to
    benefit bureaucratic interests, special interests and insiders
    (wildfire fighting budgets, fossil fuel and hard rock mining, etc.) and
    the resultant and inescapable politicization of all disputes due to the
    absence of private markets. Libertarians see that socialized property
    rights regimes can be just as “tragedy of the commons” ruinous as cases
    where community or private solutions have not yet developed, and have
    concluded that, without privatization, government involvement
    inevitably expands. Thus, libertarians often see environmentalists as
    simply another group fighting to expand government, and are hostile as
    a result.

    Libertarians are as subject to reflexive, partisan
    position-taking as any one else. Because they are reflexively opposed
    to government action, they find it easier to operate from a position of
    skepticism in trying to bat down AGW scientific and economic arguments (and to slam the motives of those arguing that AGW
    must be addressed by government) than to open-mindedly review the
    This is a shame( but human), because it blunts the libertarian
    message in explaining what libertarians understand very well – that
    environmental problems arise when property rights over resources are
    not clearly defined or enforceable, and also when governments
    (mis)manage resources.

    I`ve discussed a number of times how we all easily fall into partisan cognitive traps, as summarized here.

    A related piece of the dynamic is that some libertarians may feel that if they agree that AGW may be a problem, that this will be taken – wrongly – by others in the political arena as a conclusion that the libertarian message is no longer relevant.

    4. Some support for these points can be seen in Edwin Dolan`s 2006 paper, “Science, Public Policy and Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position” (Cato), in which Dolan suggests that many libertarian climate skeptics are acting quite as
    if they are “conservatives” of the type condemned by Friedrich Hayek
    Dolan cites Hayek’s 1960 essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative” (1960),
    in which Hayek identified the following traits that distinguish
    conservatism from market liberalism:

    • Habitual resistance to change, hence the term “conservative.”
    • Lack of understanding of spontaneous order as a guiding principle of economic life.
    • Use of state authority to protect established privileges against the forces of economic change.
    • Claim to superior wisdom based on self-arrogated superior quality in place of rational argument.
    • A propensity to reject scientific knowledge because of dislike of the consequences that seem to follow from it.

    Further support is provided by Jonathan Adler, a libertarian law professor at Case Western who focusses on resource issues, and who has concluded that climate change is a serious concern, and that man is contributing to it. His February 2008 post, “Climate Change, Cumulative Evidence, and Ideology” (and the comment thread) is instructive:

    “Almost every time I post something on climate
    change policy, the comment thread quickly devolves into a debate over
    the existence of antrhopogenic global warming at all. (See, for
    instance, this post
    on “conservative” approaches to climate change policy.) I have largely
    refused to engage in these discussions because I find them quite
    unproductive. The same arguments are repeated ad nauseum, and no one is
    convinced (if anyone even listens to what the other side is saying). …

    “Given my strong libertarian leanings, it would certainly be
    ideologically convenient if the evidence for a human contribution to
    climate change were less strong. Alas, I believe the preponderance of
    evidence strongly supports the claim that anthropogenic emissions are
    having an effect on the global climate, and that effect will increase
    as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. While I reject most
    apocalyptic scenarios as unfounded or unduly speculative, I am
    convinced that the human contribution to climate change will cause or
    exacerbate significant problems in at least some parts of the world.
    For instance, even a relatively modest warming over the coming decades
    is very likely to have a meaningful effect on the timing and
    distribution of precipitation and evaporation rates, which will, in
    turn, have a substantial impact on freshwater supplies. That we do not
    know with any precision the when, where, and how much does not change
    the fact that we are quite certain that such changes will occur.

    “So-called climate “skeptics” make many valid points about the
    weakness or unreliability of many individual arguments and studies on
    climate. They also point out how policy advocates routinely exaggerate
    the implications of various studies or the likely consequences of even
    the most robust climate predictions. Economists and others have also
    done important work questioning whether climate risks justify extreme
    mitigation measures. But none of this changes the fact that the
    cumulative evidence for a human contribution to present and future
    climate changes, when taken as a whole, is quite strong. In this
    regard, I think it is worth quoting something Ilya wrote below about
    the nature of evidence in his post about 12 Angry Men”:

    often dismiss individual arguments and evidence against their preferred
    position without considering the cumulative weight of the other side’s
    points. It’s a very easy fallacy to fall into. But the beginning of
    wisdom is to at least be aware of the problem.

    “The “divide
    and conquer” strategy of dissecting each piece of evidence
    independently can make for effective advocacy, but it is not a good way
    to find the truth”

    I  noted the following in response to Adler:

    I think that there are many Austrians who understand WHY there might
    be a climate change problem to which man contributes, as the atmosphere
    is an open-access resource, in which there are no clear or
    enforceable property rights that rein in externalities or that give
    parties with differing preferences an ability to engage in meaingful
    transactions that reflect those preferences. 

    But, flawed human beings that we are, we have difficulty truly
    keeping our minds open (subconscious dismissal of inconsistent data is
    a cognitive rule) and we easily fall into tribal modes of conflict that
    provide us with great satisfaction in disagreeing with those evil
    “others” while circling the wagons
    (and counting coup) with our
    brothers in arms.

    Sadly, this is very much in evidence in the thread to your own post.

    5. I have pulled together a post that indicates that a number of libertarians are trying to engage in good faith on climate change, and which may also serve as a good introduction for interested readers to libertarian thinking on environmental issues.

    6. Finally, let me note that many of the problems that concern libertarians also concern progressives, chief of these being the negative effects of state actions on communities, development and on open-access (and hitherto local, indigenous-managed) commons.  This is the same concern that the Nobel Prize committee expressed when extending the prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom, signalling their desire for a change in international aid policy.

    You might find these remarks by Nicholas Hildyard, Larry Lohmann, Sarah Sexton and Simon Fairlie in “Reclaiming the Commons” (1995) to be pertinent; domestic cap-and-trade is an enclosure of the atmospheric commons, for the benefit of firms receiving grants of permits and costs flowing regressively to energy consumers, and internationally represents a vast expansion of state authority and bureaucracies, with attendant enclosure of local resources:

    The creation of empires and states, business conglomerates and
    civic dictatorships — whether in pre-colonial times or in the modern
    era — has only been possible through dismantling the commons and
    harnessing the fragments, deprived of their old significance, to build
    up new economic and social patterns that are responsive to the
    interests of a dominant minority. The modern nation state has been
    built only by stripping power and control from commons regimes and
    creating structures of governance from which the great mass of humanity
    (particularly women) are excluded. Likewise, the market economy has
    expanded primarily by enabling state and commercial interests to gain
    control of territory that has traditionally been used and cherished by
    others, and by transforming that territory – together with the people
    themselves – into expendable “resources” for exploitation. By enclosing
    forests, the state and private enterprise have torn them out of fabrics
    of peasant subsistence; by providing local leaders with an outside
    power base, unaccountable to local people, they have undermined village
    checks and balances; by stimulating demand for cash goods, they have
    impelled villagers to seek an ever wider range of things to sell. Such
    a policy was as determinedly pursued by the courts of Aztec Mexico, the
    feudal lords of West Africa, and the factory owners of Lancashire and
    the British Rail as it is today by the International Monetary Fund or
    Coca-Cola Inc.

    Only in this way has it been possible to convert peasants into
    labour for a global economy, replace traditional with modern
    agriculture, and free up the commons for the industrial economy.
    Similarly, only by atomizing tasks and separating workers from the
    moral authority, crafts and natural surroundings created by their
    communities has it been possible to transform them into modern,
    universal individuals susceptible to “management”. In short, only by
    deliberately taking apart local cultures and reassembling them in new
    forms has it been possible to open them up to global trade.[FN L.
    Lohmann, ‘Resisting Green Globalism’ in W. Sachs (ed), Global Ecology:
    Conflicts and Contradictions, Zed Books, London and New Jersey, 1993.]

    To achieve that “condition of economic progress”, millions have
    been marginalized as a calculated act of policy, their commons
    dismantled and degraded, their cultures denigrated and devalued and
    their own worth reduced to their value as labour. Seen from this
    perspective, many of the processes that now go under the rubric of
    “nation-building”, “economic growth”, and “progress” are first ad
    foremost processes of expropriation, exclusion, denial and
    dispossession. In a word, of “enclosure”.

    Because history’s best-known examples of enclosure involved the
    fencing in of common pasture, enclosure is often reduced to a synonym
    for “expropriation”. But enclosure involves more than land and fences,
    and implies more than simply privatization or takeover by the state. It
    is a compound process which affects nature and culture, home and
    market, production and consumption, germination and harvest, birth,
    sickness and death. It is a process to which no aspect of life or
    culture is immune. ..,

    Enclosure tears people and their lands, forests, crafts,
    technologies and cosmologies out of the cultural framework in which
    they are embedded and tries to force them into a new framework which
    reflects and reinforces the values and interests of newly-dominant
    groups. Any pieces which will not fit into the new framework are
    devalued and discarded. In the modern age, the architecture of this new
    framework is determined by market forces, science, state and corporate
    bureaucracies, patriarchal forms of social organization, and ideologies
    of environmental and social management.

    Land, for example, once it is integrated into a framework of
    fences, roads and property laws, is “disembedded” from local fabrics of
    self-reliance and redefined as “property” or “real estate”. Forests are
    divided into rigidly defined precincts – mining concessions, logging
    concessions, wildlife corridors and national parks – and transformed
    from providers of water, game, wood and vegetables into scarce
    exploitable economic resources. Today they are on the point of being
    enclosed still further as the dominant industrial culture seeks to
    convert them into yet another set of components of the industrial
    system, redefining them as “sinks” to absorb industrial carbon dioxide
    and as pools of “biodiversity”. Air is being enclosed as economists
    seek to transform it into a marketable “waste sink”; and genetic
    material by subjecting it to laws which convert it into the
    “intellectual property” of private interests.

    People too are enclosed as they are fitted into a new society where
    they must sell their labour, learn clock-time and accustom themselves
    to a life of production and consumption; groups of people are redefined
    as “populations’, quantifiable entities whose size must be adjusted to
    take pressure off resources required for the global economy. …

    enclosure transforms the environment into a “resource” for national or
    global production – into so many chips that can be cashed in as
    commodities, handed out as political favours and otherwise used to
    accrue power. …

    Enclosure thus cordons off those aspects of the environment that are
    deemed “useful” to the encloser — whether grass for sheep in 16th
    century England or stands of timber for logging in modern-say Sarawak
    — and defines them, and them alone, as valuable. A street becomes a
    conduit for vehicles; a wetland, a field to be drained; flowing water,
    a wasted asset to be harnessed for energy or agriculture. Instead of
    being a source of multiple benefits, the environment becomes a
    one-dimensional asset to be exploited for a single purpose – that
    purpose reflecting the interests of the encloser, and the priorities of
    the wider political economy in which the encloser operates….

    Enclosure opens the way for the bureaucratization and enclosure of
    knowledge itself. It accords power to those who master the language of
    the new professionals and who are versed in its etiquette and its
    social nuances, which are inaccessible to those who have not been to
    school or to university, who do not have professional qualifications,
    who cannot operate computers, who cannot fathom the apparent mysteries
    of a cost-benefit analysis, or who refuse to adopt the forceful tones
    of an increasingly “masculine” world.

    In that respect, as Illich notes, “enclosure is as much in the
    interest of professionals and of state bureaucrats as it is in the
    interests of capitalists.” For as local ways of knowing and doing are
    devalued or appropriated, and as vernacular forms of governance are
    eroded, so state and professional bodies are able to insert themselves
    within the commons, taking over areas of life that were previously
    under the control of individuals, households and the community.
    Enclosure “allows the bureaucrat to define the local community as
    impotent to provide for its own survival.”[FN I Illich, ‘Silence is a
    Commons’, The Coevolution Quarterly, Winter 1983.] It invites the
    professional to come to the “rescue” of those whose own knowledge is
    deemed inferior to that of the encloser.

    Enclosure is thus a change in the networks of power which enmesh
    the environment, production, distribution, the political process,
    knowledge, research and the law. It reduces the control of local people
    over community affairs. Whether female or male, a person’s influence
    and ability to make a living depends increasingly on becoming absorbed
    into the new policy created by enclosure, on accepting — willingly or
    unwillingly — a new role as a consumer, a worker, a client or an
    administrator, on playing the game according to new rules. The way is
    thus cleared for cajoling people into the mainstream, be it through
    programmes to bring women “into development”, to entice smallholders
    “into the market” or to foster paid employment.[FN P. Simmons, ‘Women
    in Development’, The Ecologist, Vol. 22, No.1, 1992, pp.16-21.]

    Those who remain on the margins of the new mainstream, either by
    choice or because that is where society has pushed them, are not only
    deemed to have little value: they are perceived as a threat. Thus it is
    the landless, the poor, the dispossessed who are blamed for forest
    destruction; their poverty which is held responsible for
    “overpopulation”; their protests which are classed as subversive and a
    threat to political stability. And because they are perceived as a
    threat, they become objects to be controlled, the legitimate subjects
    of yet further enclosure. …

    People who would oppose dams, logging, the redevelopment of their
    neighbourhoods or the pollution of their rivers are often left few
    means of expressing or arguing their case unless they are prepared to
    engage in a debate framed by the languages of cost-benefit analysis,
    reductionist science, utilitarianism, male domination — and,
    increasingly, English. Not only are these languages in which many local
    objection — such as that which holds ancestral community rights to a
    particular place to have precedence over the imperatives of “national
    development” — appear disreputable. They are also languages whose use
    allows enclosers to eavesdrop on, “correct” and dominate the
    conversations of the enclosed. …

    Because they hold themselves to be speaking a universal language,
    the modern enclosers who work for development agencies and governments
    feel no qualms in presuming to speak for the enclosed. They assume
    reflexively that they understand their predicament as well as or better
    than the enclosed do themselves. It is this tacit assumption that
    legitimizes enclosure in the encloser’s mind – and it is an assumption
    that cannot be countered simply by transferring what are
    conventionbally assumed to be the trappings of power from one group to

    A space for the commons cannot be created by economists,
    development planners, legislators, “empowerment” specialists or other
    paternalistic outsiders. To place the future in the hands of such
    individuals would be to maintain the webs of power that are currently
    stifling commons regimes. One cannot legislate the commons into
    existence; nor can the commons be reclaimed simply by adopting “green
    techniques” such as organic agriculture, alternative energy strategies
    or better public transport — necessary and desirable though such
    techniques often are. Rather, commons regimes emerge through ordinary
    people’s day-to-day resistance to enclosure, and through their efforts
    to regain livelihoods and the mutual support, responsibility and trust
    that sustain the commons.

    That is not to say that one can ignore policy-makers or
    policy-making. The depredations of transnational corporations,
    international bureaucracies and national governments cannot be allowed
    to go unchallenged. But movements for social change have a
    responsibility to ensure that in seeking solutions, they do not remove
    the initiative from those who are defending their commons or attempting
    to regenerate common regimes — a responsibility they should take

    Might there be good reason NOT to rush into a vast expansion of government world-wide?


    A libertarian immodestly summarizes a few modest climate policy proposals

    November 3rd, 2009 No comments

    [Folks, I hope you do a better job than I do at saving draft posts before they`re finalized; I just lost alot of work. This will necessarily be shorter.]

    I have on numerous occasions tried to point out, to posters on the Mises
    Blog who have addressed climate issues, the stunning unproductive approach. Rather than simply reiterating my criticisms, let me get started with a
    list of policy changes that I think libertarians can and should be
    championing in response to the climate policy proposals of others.

    The incessant calls for – and criticism of –
    government climate change policies and government subsidies and mandates for “green/clean power” both ignore root
    causes and potential common ground.  As a result, both sides of the
    debate are largely talking past each other, one talking about why there
    is a pressing need for government policy to address climate change
    while the other is concerned chiefly about the likelihood of
    heavy-handed mis-regulation and wasted resources. This leaves the
    middle ground unexplored.

    There are plenty of root causes for the calls for legislative
    and regulatory mandates in favor of climate policies and clean / green / renewable power,
    such as:

    • concerns about climate change,
    • the political deal in favor of dirty coal and older power plants under the Clean Air Act, 
    • the enduring role of the federal and state governments in owning
      vast coal and oil & gas fields and relying on the royalties, which it do not go to
      citizens but into the General Pork Pool, with an unhealthy cut to states), 
    • the unwillingness of state courts, in the face of the political
      power of the energy and power industries, to protect persons and private property from
      pollution and environmental disruption created by federally-licensed energy and power projects,
    • the deep involvement of the government in developing, encouraging and regulating nuclear power, and
    • the
      frustration of consumer demand for green energy, and the inefficient
      and inaccurate pricing and supply of electricity
      , resulting from the
      grant by states of public utility monopolies and the regulation of the pricing
      and investments by utilities, which greatly restricts the freedom of power
      markets, from the ability of consumers to choose their provider, to the
      freedom of utilities to determine what infrastructure to invest in, to
      even simple information as to the cost of power as it varies by time of day and season, and the amount of electricity that consumers use by time of day or appliance.

    So what is a good libertarian to suggest? This seems rather straight-forward, once one doffs his partisan, do-battle-with-evil-green-fascist-commies armor and puts on his thinking cap.

    From my earlier comment to Stephan Kinsella:

    As Rob Bradley once reluctantly acknowledged to me, in the halcyon days before he banned me from the “free-market” Master Resource blog, “a
    free-market approach is not about “do nothing” but implementing a whole
    new energy approach to remove myriad regulation and subsidies that have
    built up over a century or more.”
    But unfortunately the wheels of this principled concern have never hit the ground at MR [my persistence in
    pointing this out it, and in questioning whether his blog was a front for
    fossil fuel interests, apparently earned me the boot

    As I have noted in a litany of posts at my blog, pro-freedom regulatory changes might include:

    • accelerating cleaner power investments by eliminating corporate
      income taxes or allowing immediate depreciation of capital investment
      (which would make new investments more attractive),
    • eliminating antitrust immunity for public utility monopolies (to
      increase competition, allow consumer choice, peak pricing and “smart metering” that will
      rapidly push efficiency gains),
    • ending Clean Air Act handouts to the worst utilities (or otherwise
      unwinding burdensome regulations and moving to lighter and more
      common-law dependent approaches),
    • ending energy subsidies generally (including federal liability caps for nuclear power (and allowing states to license),
    • speeding economic growth and adaptation in the poorer countries
      most threatened by climate change by rolling back domestic agricultural
      corporate welfare programs
      (ethanol and sugar), and
    • if there is to be any type of carbon pricing at all, insisting that it is a per capita, fully-rebated carbon tax
      (puts the revenues in the hands of those with the best claim to it,
      eliminates regressive impact and price volatility, least new
      bureaucracy, most transparent, and least susceptible to pork).

    Other policy changes could also be put
    on the table, such as an insistence that government resource management
    be improved by requiring that half of all royalties be rebated to
    (with a slice to the administering agency).

    I`m not the only one – other libertarian climate proposals are here:

    Several libertarians have recently been urging constructive libertarian approaches to climate change:

    These discussions and exchanges of view are also worthy of note:

    • The Cato Institute has dedicated its entire August 2008 monthly issue of Cato Unbound, its online forum, to discussing policy responses to ongoing climate change.  The issue, entitled “Keeping Our Cool: What to Do about Global Warming“, contains essays from and several rounds of discussion between Cato Institute author Indur Goklany; climate scientist Joseph J. Romm, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the co-founders of The Breakthrough Institute.  My extended comments are here.

    • Debate at Reason, October 2007, Ron Bailey, Science Correspondent at Reason, Fred L. Smith, Jr., President and Founder of
      CEI, and Lynne Kiesling, Senior Lecturer in Economics at
      Northwestern University, and former director of economic policy at the
      Reason Foundation.
    • Reason Foundation, Global Warming and Potential Policy Solutions September 7th, 2006 (Reason’s Shikha Dalmia, George Mason University Department of Economics
      Chair Don Boudreaux, and the International Policy Network’s
      Julian Morris)

    Finally, I have collected here some Austrian-based papers on environmental issues that are worthy of note:

    Environmental Markets?  Links to Austrians

    One such paper is the following: Terry L. Anderson and J. Bishop Grewell, Property Rights Solutions for the Global Commons: Bottom-Up or Top-Down?