Archive for January, 2015

Some comments (2006) to Chris Mooney about anti-Malthusian Ron Bailey on doomsayers, extinctions and DDT

January 6th, 2015 No comments
Here are some comments that I sent to Chris C. Mooney in response to his June 2, 2006 blogpost, “Some Ron Bailey Writings.”

Chris, in addition to the comments I’ve already given, let me note the following:

1. On Club of Rome and the Malthusian issue generally, the doomsayers were right to perceive problems that are still with us, but they failed to understand how market supply and demand work to call forth new supplies and technologies. Now we use sand [glass fiber] instead of copper for our telecommunications. They were very wrong on commodity prices, but what were the consequences? We adapted, so it can hardly be said to be one of the “worst” abuses of science (in any case the projections were not an abuse of science, but mistaken modelling).

In the big picture, Club of Rome was exactly right about a point on which we are still struggling – like any other species, humanity is a part of its environment and we must be concerned about our impact on the environment. Without the proper feedback mechanisms – which are provided now soleyl by disease, war and properly functioning markets – we will expand up to the Earth’s carrying capacity, overshoot and crash, as we have from time to time in the past, as Jared Diamond points out (but Diamond doesn’t understand environmental problems as market-failure problems either).

Are all the feedback mechanisms working properly worldwide? There is still lots of misery and starvation in the third world, and where markets don’t work we have internecine slaughter like in Rwanda and constant instability in Haiti. Global ecosystems and environmental services are still at severe risk, and regional resources like Asian and South American tropical forests, tropical reefs and oceanic fisheries, and wild species everrywhere, precisely for reasons that Ron Bailey understands well – because markets do not work well where property rights – private or communal – are not clearly defined or not effectively enforced.

On this, I recommend that you take a look at Ron’s piece last year on the problems and solutions for New England fisheries: How to Save New England’s Fishing Villages – If only the fishers will allow it. The solution? Creation of private rights that allow a market to function; here, “Individual transferable quotas” (ITQs) that are exactly the same as taken for SO2 trading in California under the Clean Air Act and the GHG emissions permits now trading under Kyoto. These tragedy of the commons issues persist globally and must be addressed, unless we wish to see ineffectively owned resources destroyed.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Malthusians have been wrong only becuase our technological ingenuity has enabled us to wrest more and more from nature. Nature may be getting a break in the West, but it’s due not only to fossil fuels (and a AGW cost that is not being paid) but also because we’re sourcing more and more from the developing world – the oceans are being strip-mined, the Amazon being converted to soybeans and the Asian tropics to palm plantations, and the second/third worlds are definitely converting forests to food. Environmental services are not costed into the moder economy.

I also recommend you look at the Business Rountable’s policy paper on how to help the developing world improve their economies and prepare for climate change – in particular recommendations 2 (kleptocracy – “public” resources are not protected but exploited to line the pockets of elites) and 5 (lack of effective propertty rights) specifically point out that these institutional failures lie at the core of the third world’s problems.

2. I think there is more recent information about one in seven of all bird species being threatened. Whatever the rate is, it is huge, and just like fisheries, it’s entirely due to the lack of effective property rights. The bright spots are where landowners have figured out that they can get a good income from using and protecting wild resources. We’re still fighting about whales, even though we have obvious solutions such as ITQs being applied to other fisheries in NZ and AK.

Ron can argue with you about the numbers of species, but he really can’t disagree that the loss of this genetic information is a disgrace many worse than the burning of the library of Alexandria, and certainly is a result of failed markets that should be fixed.

Since libertarians like Ron and others on the right actually know all about the problems of market failure, where is the big effort being made to fix these problems?

3. On DDT, I imagine you know that Tim Lambert at Deltoid already has all of the answers handy.

4. This isn’t one of your questions, but I think it is fair to note that the failures of the left relating to science have really been failures to understand the institutional reasons for problems and so failures to propose the right solutions. Those on the left who have been saying that we need to change human nature or abandon capitalism have been saying so because they simply don’t know otherwise how to “fix” capitalism’s flaws.

But as I imagine you know, the misuse of science the right, on the other hand, has been entirely intentional, cynical and venal, and designed to allow favored interests (rent-seekers) to continue to pay cheap for dear public resources (including using the atmosphere as a GHG dump), for the financial and partisan benefit of those running the government. See John Baden, a grandfather of libertarian, free-market environmentalism for his take on the corrupt Republicans:

Good luck!



Categories: Uncategorized Tags: