Archive for the ‘lockitch’ Category

Not Climate Change Welfare, But Capitalism and Free Markets

January 21st, 2008 No comments

… is what poor countries need.  So corrrectly argues Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, in a new article that responds to the agreement, by the delegates of industrialized nations at the December climate change conference in Bali, to activate an “adaptation fund” that would help undeveloped nations cope with projected climate change threats (such as disruptions to agriculture and decreased water availability).

But while thought-provoking, Lockitch fails to explore his chief premises and wastes his insights by falling into enviro-bashing – suggesting that failed development is all enviros’ fault, and that these do-gooders want to waste our tax dollars while keeping the poor in their place.  This might gratify his emotions but generates considerably more heat than light.

Lockitch correctly observes that:

  • The world’s poorest can barely cope with day-to-day survival, let alone with unproven threats projected to occur over decades. Imagine having no electricity or access to clean drinking water. Imagine having to cook your meals over an open fire, breathing smoke and ash every day. Billions around the world survive at a subsistence level because they lack the elements of industrial capitalism that we in the developed world take for granted: power plants, factories, modern roads and hospitals, cars, refrigerators, and countless time- and labor-saving devices.
  • What poor countries need is not climate adaptation welfare … ; what poor countries need is to become rich countries. They need to embrace free markets and private property rights and attract the investment of profit-seeking entrepreneurs to create wealth and drive economic growth.”

This last point is Lockitch’s most powerful, as it is clear that it has been corrupt, kleptocratic governance and the lack of clear and enforceable property rights that has hamstrung development in the third world.

However, Lockitch’s analysis is disappointing in several regards:

1.  He fails to explain that “climate change welfare”, in the form of transfer payments to developing nations and funding of particular “adaptation” projects, is just as likely to be wasted and diverted to the pockets of local elites and First World contractors as have been the past several decades of “development aid”.  Clearly, simply throwing good money after bad is no solution.  It is puzzling that Lockitch fails to affirmatively make his strongest case.

2.  He falls prey to “Enviro Derangement Syndrome” and unfairly lays the suggestion of “climate change welfare” at the feet of enviros, even though it has long been a part of the mainstream discussion that developing nations, while being least prepared to cope with climate change and having made only minor contributions to it, are likely to bear the greatest brunt of climate changes. 

Says Lockitch:  

“If environmentalists were really concerned about people in undeveloped countries, they would be helping them to bring about what they really need: industrial development. … Yet, it is precisely the adoption of industrial capitalism by undeveloped countries that environmentalists reject. Not only do they not want poor countries to become rich, they are trying hard to force rich countries to become poor by capping carbon emissions and abandoning industrialization. Despite their feigned concern for the world’s poor, the measures proposed by environmentalists pose a far greater threat than any possible changes to the earth’s climate.”

The charge of pushing “climate change welfare” as a means of keeping developing nations down is a rather grotesque one to lay at the feet of environmentalists, many of who for decades have been working at helping local groups to protect their property rights against governments and powerful elites.

While Lockitch is certainly correct to note the ambivalence that some enviros express regarding to further development in the poorer nations, such ambivalence reflects real problems, as noted below.  But obviously it is governments, and not enviros, who are running the international climate discussions.  “Environmentalists” are certainly players, but that there are plenty of others with agendas of their own surely can’t escape the thinking man’s attention, can it?

Further, “conservative” and “skeptical” analysts like Bjorn Lomborg ( and Indur Goklany ( have also prominently argued that the wealthy world, in lieu of establishing carbon prices at home, should be making investments in helping the third world to adapt and develop.  Even further, libertarian analysts like Jonathan Adler (law prof. at Case U. and blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy) have argued that since the developed nations are chiefly responsible for climate change, they owe an obligation to compensate the developing world for damages (  Adler’s conclusion flows directly from Lockean property rights principles.

In addition, Lockitch’s assertion that “the measures proposed by environmentalists pose a far greater threat than any possible changes to the earth’s climate” is unexplained and unsupported – what measures?  How are they a threat to the world’s poor?  The general shape of the international discussion (and certainly under Kyoto) is that the developed nations will act first, to be followed by developing nations as their wealth (and climate contributions) grow.  How are unilateral actions by wealthy nations to address climate change hamstringing the poor?  The chief policy tool discussed so far – pricing carbon emissions in the developed world – should dampen demand for fossil fuels in the wealthier countries, thereby dampening price pressure and resulting in a net price subsidy to developing nations.  In response to such measures, industry in wealthy nations will develop more efficient energy technologies and reduce the costs of such technologies, for the indirect benefit of the developing nations, which will not shoulder any burdens for their growing carbon emissions until later.  Aren’t these net subsidies to poorer nations?

And far from “forc[ing] rich countries to become poor”, figuring out how to manage a global commons like the atmosphere, while it may have the effect of imposing a cost on the release of carbon, is basically aimed at privatising externalities, with the intention of increasing the efficiency of private transactions and net wealth.  Climate change is, of course, just one of a broad range of pervasive problems that occur when markets encounter resources that are not clearly or effectively owned or managed.

3.  Most importantly, while Lockitch correctly diagnoses the illness – poor countries need to “embrace free markets and private property rights and attract the investment of profit-seeking entrepreneurs to create wealth and drive economic growth” – he simply fails to address what wealthy nations SHOULD be doing, if anything, to assist the cure.  This, of course, is the main dodge, because Lockitch fails to own up to the true difficulties involved in trying to help the developing nations. 

Trying to build “soft” infrastructure in the form of rule of law and property rights (ending kleptocracy and theft of “public” resources) is tremendously difficult – perhaps a problem that is even more difficult than the wealthy nations deciding how to share the pain of GHG reductions (as I noted in comments to a post on Amazonian deforestation here:, the wealthy nations have a hard enough time doing the easiest things to speed development of poorer nations, which is simply to open import markets by removing domestic tariffs, import restrictions and subsidies.  Rather, it seems that the richer nations have to feed their more powerful elites first, while hamstringing competition from poorer nations in products for which they should be able to exploit a comparative advantage.  If Lockitch was truly interested in helping the poor of developing nations, you’d think he’d note how enduring rent-seeking at home serves to keep the poorer nations down.

And if the wealthy nations should do something to help poorer nations, which seems implicit in Lockitch’s analysis (if not conventional aid, then aid to build soft, governance infrastructure), then can’t some of those efforts easily dovetail with efforts to establish carbon pricing in the wealthy countries?  Why couldn’t aid budgets be funded by carbon taxes at home, for example?  And can’t demand for “carbon credits” help to establish incentives to improve governance infrastructure in poorer nations?  In other words, “mitigation” (efforts to limit climate change) in developed nations need not conflict with any efforts to help poorer nations “adapt” to climate change or otherwise become wealthier.

4.  Lockitch asserts that the concern of enviros for the world’s poor is “feigned”, but this is a cheap and unproductive ad hominem – and one that can easily be turned around.  While some enviros may not understand the institutional sicknesses that hinder development, this illness has been fed much more by governments and corporations at home than by enviros, many of who have been involved in the long, hard effort to build local infrastructure and to protect traditional private and community property rights. 

On the other hand, just what is it that evidences that Lockitch himself – or other skeptics – have any “real” concern for the world’s poor?  Does the wheel of this concern ever hit the road, or is it simply spinning noisily, to welcoming nods from  domestic special interests who benefit from the continuation of climate externalities?

A key insight of Austrian economics relating to the environment is that man does not harm the environment per se, but that social welfare or efficiency problems arise because of interpersonal conflict associated with irresolvable inefficiencies – inefficiencies that cannot find a solution in the entrepreneurial workings of the market process because of institutional defects associated with the lack of clearly defined or well enforced property rights.  (See Roy Cordato,  It is both ironic and disappointing that many Austrians and others similarly minded, rather than focussing on the difficult task of conflict resolution in the case of the climate, seem to prefer the emotional rush of conflict itself over analysis and bridge- and consensus-building.  But this is nothing new (and is certainly tempting, given our tribal nature)( 

No one owns the world’s atmosphere, so all are entitled to their opinions about managing it.  And clearly the world continues to struggle with the rapid exploitation of other unowned, “public” or poorly defined or protected physical resources, in the face of growing populations, growing markets and technological advances that lower the costs of access to the commons.  I suggest that rather than ad hominems, we would be better served by frankly acknowledging problems of this nature and starting to build shared understandings.  The writings of Elinor Ostrom are a good place to start:

In honestly engaging on these issues, it is perfectly appropriate – nay, essential – to be aware of the self-interests of various participants and to caution against the problems of rent-seeking, “rent-farming” by politicians, and frequently unaligned incentives of bureaucracies.

5.  Finally, this is a quibble, but Lockitch is wrong to assert thay developing nations need to “industrialize”.  What they need to do is to better govern themselves by protecting investments, markets and human rights, and then getting out of the way of their people.  What results will be these countries’ own path, which will naturally differ from Western industrialization (leapfrogging it in some ways).