Archive for the ‘Michael Tobis’ Category

Searching for common ground: In which I provide a partial defense of Ron Bailey`s "invisible hand of population control" thesis

June 22nd, 2009 No comments

Michael Tobis, a blogging climate scientist, kindly alerted me to his criticisms of Ron Bailey`s recent Reason post.

Here is my response to Michael:

Michael, thanks for the link and for twitting it to my attention.

I`m not sure you really want to get me started, but I won`t let that get in the way.

of course, it`s regrettable that those on the left and right would both
rather fight than think seriously. There`s alot of middle ground, but
you can`t get there in war of words. I`ve criticized Ron for this,
but he deserves credit for accepting climate science and expressly
acknowledging and analyzing tragedy of the commons situations.

I think you have found an infelicitly stated portion of his piece,
clearly he`s trying to say that social collapse in the past might be
attributable to tragedy of the commons situation (where “proper
institutions for channeling individual striving into a process of
economic growth which ultimately promotes the public interest” were not
in place).

While there are other cause of collapse – wars,
climate shifts, disasters – do you really disagree with Ron`s point
that societies are vulnerable to collapse if they don`t establish
institutions that prevent ruinous exploitation of resources?

Ron focusses on economic freedom and rule of law (market institutions)
as checks on tragedies of the commons, he is familiar with (and
libertarians certainly accept) traditional, community-based property
rights systems can work just fine, though increasing demand (and use by
outsiders) might swamp them, or technology might make private property
more efficient.

I think that Ron is perfectly correct to note
that property rights and market institutions in free societies are
serving to check population growth.

The chief problem, of course
is that there are huge gaps outside individual Western countries: Where
are the property rights in the atmosphere, the oceans, the tropical
forests? As a result, we are steadily destroying whatever we can get
out hands on.

The related problem is that corrupt and/or inept
governments are often in the middle of these problems: e.g., the
Newfoundland cod fishery was destroyed under Canadian government
management, West coast salmon fisheries are similarly threatened, and
tropical forests are being converted to soybeans and oil palm because
governments don`t care to protect the rights of the natives who dwell
in them.

(The way governments fail libertarians are rather
attuned to; while it may grate to hear this after the gross
mismanagement of the Bush/neocon/Republicans, perhaps even liberals can
acknowledge that they have a point, even if they don`t want to listen
to fear of “socialism” from the right.)

Finding institutions to
end destructive exploitation and manage open-access commons is a real
struggle; Bailey points in the right direction for some solutions, but
he downplays the size of the task ahead and the need for those who care
to work at solutions.

More of my thoughts here:

Too Many or Too Few People? Does the market provide an answer?

Using the State to solve common resource problems?

Mises on fixing externalities: progress along the Kuznets curve is not magic, but the result of institution-building