Archive

Archive for the ‘mises’ Category

To Ron Bailey: yes, an "invisible hand" controls population, but property rights & rule of law are not universal and, as Mises noted, require effort

June 19th, 2009 No comments

Ron Bailey, science correspondent at ReasonOnline, has a very useful post up that outlines how markets and the institutions that underpin them explain declining fertility in Western societies, and that suggest grounds for optimism when looking at population growth  in the developing world.

However, he leaves a few things out in his ongoing effort to show that the “Neo-Malthusians” are wrong to worry about population, including the following:

  • the West lies at the end of the demand chains that have swamped both unowned commons in the oceans and traditional, community-based property rights systems in developing nations (and that have fuelled kleptocrats for decades);
  • as developing nations grow, until clear and effective property rights systems are established, they will put stresses similar to those that the West did on open-access commons – including on the climate system as their fossil fuel use grows; and
  • establishing property rights and other institutions conducive to markets and wealth don`t spring up magically, but take time and concerted effort (and leave gaps), as Ludwig von Mises noted- and which is the lesson of the “Kuznets” environmental curve.

I remarked on some these in the following, which I posted (or tried to) at Ron`s comment thread:

Ron, in general I think your post is insightful and helpful, as it points the way to property rights and rule of law as ways that human societies can improve their well-being while controlling their population via the choices of individuals. This provides a fruitful focus for all participants in the discussion, including both the “conservative” and the “envirofacist” nature-lover poles.

However, for me at least it`s not a new insight (I studied some population dynamics, carrying capacity & sygmoid growth curves, was long familiar w/ Hardin & noticed in the 80s that the places where pop growth was highest was where property wasn`t adequately protected.

And you might not have not have noticed, but decades before Hardin, Ludwig von Mises explained how environmental problems arise from the lack of clear, appropriate and enforceable property rights.

More importantly, I think you fail to address both the West`s role in ongoing environmental destruction outside of their countries and the need for those concerned about environment and human welfare to continue to push and contend – both property rights on the supply side, and management (consumer pressure, boycotts etc.) are still needed on the demand side. I blogged on this two years ago, here: Too Many or Too Few People: Does the market provide an answer?“.

There are real problems and they aren`t magically solved (as Tierney seems to think, a la Kuznets). Mises pointed not only at the problem of externalities, but also at the transitions that societies make, deliberately or through changes in customs, to reduce externalities.

There is a lot of hard work ahead of us, and preferences and initiative matter greatly. I appreciate your efforts to educate and to push the ball forward.

Sincerely, Tom

More stupid from Tierney; this time on "Kuznets curve" and the dynamics of "wealthier and greener"

May 11th, 2009 No comments

In addressing in a recent post Rob Bradley`s claim to have a “high” level of readers, I was reminded that one of his best and most frequent commenters was a budding conservative, war-supporting “libertarian” who actually, in the past month that I`ve been banned from the blog, has just graduated from high school.  A  “high” level of readership, indeed!

But as this young reader seemed interested in hearing more about libertarian views, I visited his blog (courtesy of Bradley, no longer being able to continue a conversation on MasterResource) and found that he was being led astray by New York Times` in-house “skeptic” science reporter, John Tierney, who had just devoted a long article – “Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet” – to conclusively demonstrate that he had NO CLUE about the dynamics underlying the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC).  

Tierney seems to believe that the Kuznets curve means that greater wealth magically makes for a cleaner environment.  To the contrary, it is the hard work of people, expressing their desires to protect their own property and to realize other preferences regarding shared resources, to increase wealth by finding means (property rights institutions, litigation and government regulation) to end tragedy of the commons-type situtations, who improve their environment.  That is, working to close externalities leads to both wealthier and greener societies.  

(I`ve remarked on the Kuznets curve before; interestingly, conservatives seem to misunderstand it more than liberals.)

So I tried to offer a more libertarian understanding, which I`ve taken the liberty of memorializing here (with typo correction and emphasis and further links added):

  • Andrew, food for thought on enviro Kuznets:

    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=kuznets
    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/01/22/poor-countries-need-capitalism-not-climate-change-welfare.aspx
    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/09/27/too-many-or-too-few-people-does-the-market-provide-an-answer.aspx

    Unfortunately, Tierney simply fails to understand that the enviro Kuznets curve does not tell us that problems relating to environmental cost-shifting or to the over-exploitation of unowned commons are best resolved by ignoring them and simply hoping for the best. Rather, it affirms that as people become more wealthy, they care more about protecting the environment and put more elbow grease into achieving improvements – via improved property rights protection, improved information disclosure, greater consumer pressure and even through greater regulation (which is the path the West has largely followed), and reaching agreements with others sharing the relevant resource).

    In other words, the work relating to global, regional and various national commons (atmosphere, seas, forests, water, etc.) is still ahead of us. Libertarians can advocate for property rights (and privatization of public lands) as ways to have a more efficient (and just) path on the curve, or they provide implicit support for powerful and dirty industries by standing by and waiting until citizen pressure groups force government to act in heavy-handed ways.

    TT


  • timetochooseagain

    Tom, I disagree. The way that richer leads to cleaner is through improved technology, not with the government creating artificial markets and new definitions of property. How exactly is it you think that you can extend property rights to the atmosphere? And what would that do? Spawn lawsuits? Why would you want to do that? You would just jack up energy prices. I am trying to understand your suggestions, but they just don’t make sense to me.


  • Andrew. I suggest that you start with this short article by Yandle:http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-commons-tragedy-or-triumph/

    I have plenty more links on my blog to him, Terry Anderson, Mises, Cordato, Block, Rothbard and others on Austrian approaches to environmental issues, fisheries, and climate. Ron Bailey (at Reason) has good posts on fisheries; leading enviro groups all agree that more privatization is desirable:http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/01/15/for-crashing-fisheries-coalition-of-mainline-us-enviro-groups-calls-for-property-rights.aspx

    Commons remain commons either because government ownership prevents privatization (as in the Amazon, US public lands and most fisheries management) or because full privatization is difficult. There are many examples of the latter case that involve semi-privatization and commons management, like traditional forestries, fisheries and water rights. Elinor Ostrom is the expert on commons; I have plenty of links to her too.

    By the way, you really should read Rothbard and Block on the history of air pollution and the undermining of the common law by industrial interests. The result has been and remains, on net, a subsidy to large polluters, particularly utilities, who have a license to pollute and immunity from most suits from injured persons. If coal was paying its true costs it would have been much cleaner years ago. The American Lung Assn said in 2004 that power plant pollution causes 24,000 premature deaths each year (at least 50% more than annual homicides), as well as over 550,000 asthma attacks and 38,000 heart attacks annually.


  • timetochooseagain

    “If coal was paying its true costs it would have been much cleaner years ago.”

    And how would it do that without technological development exactly? There are natural incentives in the market to reduce pollution-one can’t sell electricity to dead people, after all. But if the technology to clean up energy does not exist, how are they helped to find it by being sued by people who use their energy and then complain about the pollution? There is not just the property rights of those with a stake in the commons to consider, but the rights of the energy producer, too. What your suggesting, the way I see it, would be defacto regulation of the right of producers to do what they do best-produce. In the Laissez Faire approach, everyone gets richer, they invest in energy research (of their own free will) to develop cleaner energy. Then pollution goes down. What is wrong with that? It seems anything else added on to that is ad hoc…

  • Easy, Andrew. People and firms invest all the time in doing things in response to incentives, both positive and negative; viz. they also try to reduce costs, including the costs their activities impose on others if those they injured have rights of recourse. The effort to reduce costs is one of the chief factors driving technological advances.

    Surely you`re not suggesting that the best way to encourage wealthier societies is to free people from responsibility for the damages they cause others? That`s hardly a Lockean or libertarian view. A “Laissez Faire approach” leaves government out, in favor of voluntary transactions and enforecment of property rights, including rights not to be injured. The regulatory state has in fact been a boon to the most powerful producers, by giving them rights to pollute, often grandfafthering dirty plants, while forcing the highest costs on more nimble and cleaner producers. If you^re interested in learning about libertarian approaches to the environment, again, I suggest you look at Rothbard, Cordato, Block and others, whom I link to on my blog.

    You seem to make reference to the enviro Kuznets curve, and how wealthier societies bring pollution dow, while completely missing the dynamics. Wealthier societies clean up because they insist on bringing an end to tragedy of the commons-type exploitation of resources. A society that focusses on property rights typically has a lower curve than societies that fail to enforce property rights (needed for Coasean bargaining) in favor of government regulatory approaches. Our own curve remains too high, because wealtheir investors prefer to use regulation to shift costs to the rest of society.


  • timetochooseagain

    Alright, Tom, I will look into the things you are talking about more thoroughly. You seem to know a lot about this topic.

The Mises Blog on climate change: a beacon of "dim rhetoric" on a surprisingly successful "Earth Hour"

March 31st, 2009 No comments

The Ludwig von Mises Institute (which kindly hosts these pages!) continues to outdo itself on providing empty climate posts, this time by bringing us a new author, Jason King (completely new to LvMI, and apparently with no prior internet-searchable commentary whatsoever).   How is it that LvMI is proving so singularly effective in telling us so little about Austrian perspectives on climate, climate politics and climate policy?

Mr. King presents us with “The Law of Intended Darkness”, a puzzlingly empty Mises Daily essay  that criticizes “Earth Hour” that – as a gesture to symbolize public support for political, corporate, community and personal action regarding climate change – was staged around the world last Saturday, March 28th, between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, with participating communities, firms and individuals shutting off non-essential lights for one hour.  

Mr. King’s chief points are (1) to criticize the Earth Hour for being likely ineffective, in and of itself, in affecting energy use over the course of an hour, and (2) so to conclude that participation in the Earth Hour must be intended to be symbolic.  Mr. King concludes with a triumphant report that the main sponsors of the event, the internationally well-regarded World Wildlife Fund, have themselves stressed that “The purpose of the event [is] not to save money or power. It’s a symbolic event”, but what Mr. King reveals instead is that he has completely failed to examine whether Earth Hour might be effective on its intended terms of symbolic speech. 

Rather than considering whether the event has been or is likely to be effective – from the point of the sponsors and participants – in gathering support and galvanizing action, what Mr. King has done is to wasted our time with his own essentially idle and rather poor speculations as to whether Earth Hour might be effective in reducing energy use for an hour – a goal that the organizers have expressly said is not their primary purpose.   As a result, Mr. King has in effect told us nothing. Mr. King argues that, since “the effects of Earth Hour boil down to dim rhetoric,” “as much attention should be placed on humanity’s hot air footprint as its carbon one.”  Cute, but this time the dim rhetoric and the hot air all Mr. King’s own.

Too bad – one wonders not only about whether Earth Hour might be effective on its own terms, but what are the aims of the project and its many corporate, municipal and individual participants, whether such aims are consistent with liberty or Austrian principles, or, if, not, what approaches are preferable for dealing with conflicting preferences regarding open-access resources in which there are no effective property rights.  Should citizens be seeking particular actions from their governments to deal with a collective problem that cannot be solved purely by private transactions and that requires international action?  All of this beef seems simply too much for LvMI and its readers to chew.

To tip my own hand, I noted last year Gene Callahan’s point that, with respect to climate change as much as for other matters,  public moral pressure is a perfectly appropriate way by which concerned citizens, acting in the market of public opinion, can influence behavior that generates externalities.  Further, given the nature of the atmosphere, any effective approach to climate change requires multilateral action (and as no single government can force a solution on others, this looks like Coasean bargaining, not Pigovian rule-making), and I hardly expect that we can expect to address global issues such as climate change without involving our governments (which don’t appear anxious to step out of the way in any event).

The inquiring reader – hardly in evidence on the related blog thread – is forced to do his own research about this, the third annual  “Earth Hour”, which was apparently a fairly strong success.   Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour.  In 2008 some 53 million people and 371 cities in 35 countries switched off their lights, including global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square.  WWF reports that participation grew strongly in 2009, to hundreds of millions of people in over 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countriesMany more landmark buildings around the world switched off this year, including the Empire State Building, the Las Vegas strip, Niagara Falls, the Eiffel Tower, Rio de Janiero’s statue of “Christ the Redeemer,” Athens’s Acropolis, Egypt’s Great Pyramids, Table Mountain in Cape Town, the Merlion in Singapore, Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights, the Shanghai Hong Kong New World Tower, and the London Eye.

Those interested in who participated and why might take a further look at the Earth Hour site linked above and here and here.

And as for thoughtful engagement regarding climate on the front pages of Mises Daily and the Mises Economic Blog?  Hope springs eternal.  At least LvMI and its editor, Jeffrey Tucker, allow an open discussion and are not running a corporate-funded spin site like Rob Bradley‘s “Master Resource” blog, which bans dissenters and refuses to acknowledge Exxon’s explicit support for carbon taxes.

[Update] Climate change lawsuits: Does the difficulty of proving causation mean there is no harm?

April 8th, 2008 No comments

There is a new climate change lawsuit in US courts, this time by the Inuit inhabitants of an Alaskan village that will soon be rendered uninhabitable by the rapid erosion resulting from the year-round pounding of seas that were once frozen; the villagers are blaming man-made climate change and suing oil, coal and power producers.

Similar climate change damages are being felt throughout the high latitudes, as startling rises in temperatures mean that buildings and roads are falling apart (and petroleum firm’s drilling schedules are being interrupted) as permafrost melts, and villages and other structures (like NORAD radar sites) are being lost to erosion, and forests are dying and burning as winters are no longer sufficiently cold to kill pine bark beetle grubs. 

There are of course winners as well – there is a race for countries and firms to figure out how to profit from the melting North and the prospects of a seasonally ice free passage – but they are not the same as the losers, and libertarian approaches have never justified actions based on bottom line decisions of net utility.  Rather, the traditional view espoused by Austrians and other supporters of common law approaches is that property owners have a right not only to damages, but also to absolutely stop the activities of others who interfere with their property.

The new lawsuit (and others out there) faces a heavy burden of proof of causation, even if the relevant court doesn’t wimp out by concluding, as others have – clearly wrongly, from a common law perspective – that issues of damages relating to climate change are “political questions” that must be left to the recalcitrant federal legislature and President, and are not justiciable by courts.  Surely Austrians and others who would like to see a turning away from statist legislative or regulatory approaches should be welcoming this case and others like it as an opportunity to affirm that courts certainly do have a role in judging claims of climate damage and fashioning solutions – and are even preferable to centralized legislation.

There are obvious, severe difficulties in linking individual plaintiffs to individual defendants, difficulties that remain even if a class action were to be used to try to link with other defendants, and these difficulties may be sufficiently great that the Alaskan plaintiffs are left with nothing but legal fees.  But note that the difficulties are orders of magnitude higher when we consider linking any supposed climate change victims elsewhere around the world with fossil fuel producers and power companies also globally, as there simply is no available judicial systems, and costs of action are much higher (both absolutely and relative to income).  And litigation would be even more difficult if we are to consider other sources (such as the cement industry), other GHGs (methane and CFCs) and other human influences such as soot.

But surely the very difficulty in using litigation as a means of recourse does not imply that (i) those who may in fact be injured – or those who are concerned about their plight – are either pretending their injury or wrong to be seeking redress for it or (ii) that we as a members of a society should continue to prefer to do nothing about the way industrial activity is affecting a crucial and shared global resource.  Nor does it mean that we have to wait for irrefutable proof, satisfactory to all, before we recognize that the atmosphere, like the crashing ocean fisheries, has no owner and must be protected by human institutions if we don’t wish to see it seriously trashed.

As Mises himself noted, private property institutions themselves arose in response to the economic inefficiency of older systems that did not force economic actors to bear the external effects of their actions:  “Mises on fixing externalities”, http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/10/12/draft.aspx.  We are intelligent and occasionally rational creatures – why should we not be pro-actively considering what institutions might be desirable and feasible for dealing with the effects of our activities on the atmosphere and  climate (and oceans, ecosystems and unowned species, or how to improve governance in countries that don’t recognize or protect property rights)?

More on the lawsuit by Alaskan natives here:

http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/national/2008/03/13/attacking-climate-change-in-court.html

http://www.martenlaw.com/news/?20080326-village-seeks-lifeline

http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/americas/02/26/us.warming.ap/

[UPDATE:  More on the legal theory of this case and on other recent climate change cases here, by Matthew Pawa, one of the attorneys representing the Inuit:

http://www.pawalaw.com/assets/docs/Pawa_TRIAL_Apr08.pdf]

More on Austrian approaches to climate change here:

http://www.perc.org/publications/percreports/march2005/global_warming.php (a debate)

http://www.reason.org/roundtable/globalwarming.shtml (a debate)

–  Sheldon Richman, in his essay  “The Goal Is Freedom: Global Warming and the Layman”, in the December 8, 2006 edition of The Freeman:   http://www.fee.org/in_brief/default.asp?id=966);

–  Gene Callahan, in his essay “How a Free Society Could Solve Global Warming”, in the October 2007 issue of The Freeman: http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8150; and

–  Edwin Dolan, in his Fall 2006 Cato Journal essay, “Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position”http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/02/14/edwin-dolan-applying-the-lockean-framework-to-climate-change.aspx.

 

Categories: AGW, Callahan, climate, Dolan, litgation, mises, Pawa, Richman Tags:

Thanks, Dr. Reisman; or, How I Learned to Hate Enviros and Love Tantrums

February 23rd, 2008 No comments

In my recent post, “Escape from Reason: are Austrians conservatives, or neocons, on the environment?“, I noted two recent posts by George Reisman and Sean Corrigan and wondered whether a significant number of LvMI blog authors and commenters, on a host of “environmental” issues for which in Austrian (beginning prominently with Ludwig von Mises) and similarly-minded thinkers have many cogent insights, have begun to turn away from good faith discourse and productive rational thinking (and from the task of exploring and explicating to others how Austrian and libertarian principles apply to various resource problems), and towards the easier and more viscerally satisfying approach of making and appealing for partisan attacks on a strawman – the very poorly constructed strawmen that are “environmentalists”.

Dr. Reisman has been calling for a jihad against man-hating enviros for the past two full years now on the LvMI main pages (http://blog.mises.org/archives/author/Reisman), and a chance glimpse of one such post happened to stir my own interest in exploring more deeply Austrian and libertarian insights on resource issues.  (While the encounters have been felicitous for me, let’s say that the reception committee for squeaky wheels has been rather … less than welcoming.) 

The post which prompted my musings this time ran with the screaming headline, “ENVIRONMENTALISM IS RECYCLED COMMUNISM AND NAZISM“.  Dr. Reisman has since responded indirectly to certain comments via two more recent and longer posts that are distinguishable from the first not for their tight substantive arguments but for their even more glaring use of strawmen (the level of dispepsia remains about the same, despite abandoning all caps) – in chronological order, Word to Environmentalists and The Nature of Environmentalism.  My further comments are noted on the respective threads.

In these posts, Dr. Reisman profoundly disappoints – though fellow lovers of hatred find him bracing.  I keep wondering, when will our “giants” act like senior statesmen, and when will Austrians and their allies be brave enough to embrace on resource issues the reason they say they love so dearly? 

Or does reason simply require the surrender of logic and principle in favor of fevered enviro-bashing?

Escape from Reason: are Austrians conservatives, or neocons, on the environment?

February 19th, 2008 9 comments

In their more considerate writings, Austrians have counseled a cool, rational approach to environmental issues.  But recent posts lead me to wonder whether a number of LvMI blog authors and commenters prefer hot-headed emotional outbursts and partisan, ad hominem attacks over Austrian principles, rational thinking and productive, good faith discourse.

1.  As a starting point, let me note that Roy Cordato has elegantly explored and summarized the views of various Austrian thinkers as they apply to environmental issues, including his own:

“The starting point for all Austrian welfare economics is the goal seeking individual and the ability of actors to formulate and execute plans within the context of their goals. Furthermore, in all three approaches, social welfare or efficiency problems arise because of interpersonal conflict. For Rothbard such conflicts arise because of interferences with the voluntary use of one’s own property. This prevents a demonstration of true preferences, moving one to a lower level of utility than would otherwise be achieved. For Kirzner interpersonal conflict that cannot be resolved by entrepreneurship and the market process gives rise to a lack of plan coordination and therefore social inefficiency. And for Cordato, conflict, that similarly cannot be resolved by the market process, gives rise to catallactic inefficiency by preventing useful information from being captured by prices. A theory of environmental economics and pollution that evolves from problems associated with human conflict then would be a natural implication of each of these welfare standards.

“In addition, these standards would argue that irresolvable inefficiencies, i.e., inefficiencies that cannot find a solution in the entrepreneurial workings of the market process, arise because of institutional defects associated with the lack of clearly defined or well enforced property rights. In a setting where rights are clearly defined and strictly enforced, plans may conflict but the resolution to that conflict is embedded in the exchange process. In other words, conflict may arise at the planning stages but is resolved before the actors proceed with implementation of those plans.”

“In the absence of clearly defined and strictly enforced property rights this process breaks down and the conflict becomes irresolvable through the market process. Under all three Austrian approaches to welfare economics, therefore, the solution to pollution problems, defined as a conflict over the use of resources, is to be found in either clearly defining or more diligently enforcing property rights. Not surprisingly this is the approach that has been taken by nearly all Austrian economists who have looked at the issue dating back to Menger.”

I have previously explored more extensively elsewhere Cordato’s summary of Austrian views on environmental matters.  http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/10/12/cordato-humans-cannot-harm-the-environment.aspx.  

Cordato’s view of course meshes with that of Ludwig von Mises, who troubled himself to write directly about externalities, as I have noted earlier: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/10/12/draft.aspx

Carried through consistently, the right of property would entitle the proprietor to claim all the advantages which the good’s employment may generate on the one hand and would burden him with all the disadvantages resulting from its employment on the other hand. Then the proprietor alone would be fully responsible for the outcome. In dealing with his property he would take into account all the expected results of his action, those considered favorable as well as those considered unfavorable. But if some of the consequences of his action are outside of the sphere of the benefits he is entitled to reap and of the drawbacks that are put to his debit, he will not bother in his planning about all the effects of his action. He will disregard those benefits which do not increase his own satisfaction and those costs which do not burden him. His conduct will deviate from the line which it would have followed if the laws were better adjusted to the economic objectives of private ownership. He will embark upon certain projects only because the laws release him from responsibility for some of the costs incurred. He will abstain from other projects merely because the laws prevent him from harvesting all the advantages derivable.”

The laws concerning liability and indemnification for damages caused were and still are in some respects deficient. By and large the principle is accepted that everybody is liable to damages which his actions have inflicted upon other people. But there were loopholes left which the legislators were slow to fill.”

“Whether the proprietor’s relief from responsibility for some of the disadvantages resulting from his conduct of affairs is the outcome of a deliberate policy on the part of governments and legislators or whether it is an unintentional effect of the traditional working of laws, it is at any rate a datum which the actors must take into account. They are faced with the problem of external costs. Then some people choose certain modes of want-satisfaction merely on account of the fact that a part of the costs incurred are debited not to them but to other people.”

The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man’s property referred to above. If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting.

It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.”

2.  But in recent posts on the main blog on environmental issues, rather than a forthright discussion of whether there are persistent or troubling externalities that (i) prevent a demonstration of true preferences, or (ii) result in interpersonal conflict that cannot be resolved by entrepreneurship and the market process and thus gives rise to catallactic inefficiency (a lack of plan coordination and social inefficiency), we are treated to a petulant turning from good faith engagement, in favor of emotional venting, manifested as either a persistent but unsupported mockery of the views of others or as an outright, Manicheaen dismissal of the preferences of others.

a.  Exhibit 1 might be Sean Corrigan, who in a string of posts (most recently “Cold Wave Attributed to Global Warming”- http://blog.mises.org/archives/007775.asp) manifests a rather conservative streak much like that decried by Friedrich Hayek, in his 1960 essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative”.  Mr. Corrigan’s oeuvre is here:  http://blog.mises.org/archives/author/Corrigan; http://blog.mises.org/archives/author/Corrigan2

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.

Edwin Dolan, in his Fall 2006 Cato Journal essay, “Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position”, specifically cautions that market liberals appear to be hamstringing their own analytic strengths by falling into a reflexive and conservative mindframes that benefit established economic interests.  http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/02/14/edwin-dolan-applying-the-lockean-framework-to-climate-change.aspx

Query:  why is it that LvMI blog authors such as Mr. Corrigan seem to consistently care more about defending an existing legal framework that clearly protect the privileges of established interests (especially the privilege to continue to freely and without restraint to exploit all commons), rather than to examine whether there is any cost-shifting going on, or any valuable resources in which there are no clear or effective owners?  Is this not a profoundly “conservative” approach, instead of one that is concerned with libertarian or Lockean principles?

Sheldon Richman of the Foundation for Economic Education also recommends Dolan’s essay and calls for less wishful thinking and greater engagement by libertarians in the December 8, 2006 edition of The Freeman:  The Goal Is Freedom: Global Warming and the Layman, http://www.fee.org/in_brief/default.asp?id=966.)

Gene Callahan makes a similar warning in his essay “How a Free Society Could Solve Global Warming”, in the October 2007 issue of The Freeman: http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8150.

Mr. Corrigan’s blog posts on environmental matters regularly elicit a fair degree of enthusiasm among fans of the Manicheaen strawman style, as I noted on an earlier blog post:  http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/12/17/holiday-joy-quot-watermelons-quot-roasting-on-an-open-pyre.aspx.

 

b.  We now turn reluctantly to Exhibit 2, who is none other than Dr. George Reisman, whom I understand ironically to be the translator of the von Mises passage on externalities that I quoted above.  In his latest post, trumpeted in an all-caps “ENVIRONMENTALISM IS RECYCLED COMMUNISM AND NAZISM” headline, Dr. Reisman equates Environmentalism with  Communism and Nazism, in that they share “the essential common core of hatred and destruction” and “the fundamental principle of hatred for human life and happiness.”  http://blog.mises.org/archives/007793.asp

While some environmentalists may be socialists in disguise, how is this blanket and sweeping condemnation of all who care about the environment helpful, much less consistent with Austrian understanding of the externalities that give rise to environmental concerns or the Austrian principles of how to begin to address what others have expressly recognized as “tough cases”?

When I noted in my comments to Dr. Reisman’s post that environmentalists used to be called “conservationists” and were once largely wealthy conservatives, I was quickly advised by one clever fellow, more concerned with correcting me than in disagreeing with Dr. Reisman, that “these aren’t the same environmentalists that we’re talking about here”.  Allow me to paraphrase my response to him:

Yes, when challenged on these strawmen, LvMI blog commenters will acknowledge that they really only want to talk about the EVIL enviros. The rather poorly defined “Enviros” who are the target of these attacks are simply a convenient strawman, one that allows all the good freedom-loving folks at LvMI to ignore everyone else who cares about their own property, their backyard or shared commons:  wealthy people and consumers, regular folks stymied by the 150+ years that Walter Block has identified that US courts have NOT protected private property, Ruppert Murdoch and Richard Branson, the firms behind the new “Carbon Principles”, the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) http://www.us-cap.org/, the CERES group of institutional investors, the firms that are members of the PEW climate change coalition, the firms that are entering to voluntary carbon trades, the religious groups and the scientists who are suffciently concerned to publish or speak publicly, etc.

It seems rather obvious to me, at least, that the persistent use of such a sweeping strawman is simply unhelpful for analyzing whether there any so-called problems, understanding the concerns or preferences of those who declare their concern or in considering how such concerns could be best addressed within an Austrian framework.  So what explains the prevalence of this rather blind enviro-bashing?  That, I’m afraid, is rather simple, albeit understandable – it is a surrender to the ancient tribal imperative of (and emotional rewards from) engaging in partisan conflict.

As I quoted on Dr. Reisman’s comment thread, Glenn Greenwald also examines psychological motives in a recent post in which he takes neocon Mark Steyn to task for his continued war-mongering:

“There is nothing more psychologically invigorating than the belief that you are staring down the Greatest and Most Evil Enemy Ever in History, courageously waging glorious war for all that is Good and Just in the world. Nothing produces more pulsating feelings of excitement and nobility like convincing yourself that you are a Warrior defending Western Civilization from the greatest threat it has ever faced, following in — even surpassing — the mighty footsteps of the Greatest Generation and the Warrior-Crusaders who came before them.”

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/02/17/steyn/index.html.  Clearly this type of analysis has its limits in any given case, but it is such an identifable phenomenon that I couldn’t help wondering on Dr. Reisman’s comment thread:

Mark Steyn : Islamofascism : : George Reisman : Environmentalism?

Those who think they’ve identified demons ought to have sense to question whether they are falling into a cognitive trap – of the kind that throws reason and caution out the door, while giving free rein to confirmation bias, prejudice and fears of enemies.  This is quite common and indeed predictable, as many have noted.  We aren’t computers, after all, but merely human. 

But this is the very reason why many on the blog (as on sharp display in Mr. Corrigan’s last thread) like to thrill to the emotional satisfactions of seeing those with whom they disagree (viz., yours truly) as close to the Devil incarnate, simply because I persist in being an outlier and thus a sore thumb here.  To them I say, okay, but have some sympathy for the Devil, as my diabolic aspects may simply be your own creation – and I continue to call you to constructively engage with those you least sympathize with.

Or have I fundamentally misunderstood Austrianism?

Let me close by repeating my statement on Sean Corrigan’s most recent thread:  it is has been my sad experience over the past two years here that there is very little appetite for exploring Cordato’s “tough cases”. Rather, on environmental matters, the modus operandi of many LvMI authors and commenters appears to be: Abandon all logic, all ye who enter here, and let’s band together and blame everything on those evil misanthropes (whomever they may be) – ignoring all others but those hated strawmen!  In honor of two leading lights who regularly exhibit this behavior, I have begun to call it the “Reisman Rule” or the “Corrigan Creed”: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/12/17/holiday-joy-quot-watermelons-quot-roasting-on-an-open-pyre.aspx


“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

Who knows climate science? The Mises Blog!

December 13th, 2007 2 comments

[Snark alert; See update at bottom]

The Mises “Daily Article” for December 11 presents “Are Carbon Emissions the Cause of Global Warming?” a brief, unfootnoted post by David Evans, a self-acknowledged non-expert (who has once previously graced the LvMI blog) offering a “very much needed” “correction” to the popular understanding of “whether global warming is actually occurring, and, if so, what its cause is”. 

Given the popular reception on the blog, one wonders if the LvMI has not found a productive niche in providing a soap box, not for economists or libertarians to analyze policy (or to discuss what von Mises intended when he discussed external effects), but for updates on climate science.  On the comment thread for this post, I posted the following (tongue firmly in cheek) comment to Jeffrey Tucker, blog administrator: http://blog.mises.org/archives/007529.asp

Jeff, allow me to commend you and LvMI, a bastion of rational economic thinking, liberty and human welfare, on its decision to expand its influence on (and help its supporters to gird their loins for) the important and complex battle over domestic and international climate change-related policy by turning away from its strengths -economic analysis – in favor of providing a soap box for short and simple “exposes” on climate science by self-made and self-confident experts.

This is clearly just what the doctor ordered, given the warm reception and acclaim – as well as piercing and cogent questions and observations – that David Evans has earned here. As this post propagates through the intertubes, I can positvely FEEL the serious policy world turning toward LvMI and sensing that an important voice of reason, judgment, gravitas and, above all, clear scientific thinking, has just arrived on the scene.

By all means, keep these “scientific” posts coming!

Regards,

Tom

PS: I am not troubled in the least that:

– David Evans has himself previously said that “my only relevant qualification in this debate is that I saw the interaction of science and politics first hand, and that I was on the global warming gravy train” and, when pointed out that Sen. Inhofe staffer Marc Morano had referred to Evans as “a prominent scientist,” forthrightly said “It never occurred to me that he could be referring to me!” and “Morano is exaggerating both my prominence and agenda, and assuming my motivations for his own ends. A typical political approach, if I might point out.” http://blog.mises.org/archives/006581.asp This forthrightness, even though in little evidence on Evan`s current post, is admirable and certainly doesn`t disqualify him from trying explain his understanding of the science. In fact, it increases his credibility vis-a-vis all of those scientists who publish their work in “scientific journals” or hide behind thousands of pages of publicly-available reports and summaries, or brazenly trumpet their ideology on accessible blogs, and all of their deluded, misanthropic, self-seeking and/or struthious KoolAid swallowers throughout wide swathes of the business world and the rest of the “establishment”.

– Or that Evans, while observing that atmospheric CO2 trails rising temperatures in the paleo record, fails to note that the rising CO2 levels today are due to man, what the link between warming oceans and further releases of oceanic CO2 may imply for future warming, or to note obvious ongoing warming or to suggest alternate mechanisms.

– Or the neat way in which he tries to discredit imperfect climate models by assuming the reliability of their results, without referring to the papers he is relying on (by authors previously criticized and subsequently addressed by notorious AGW warmers here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/12/tropical-troposphere-trends/#more-509 ).

– Or that, while focussing on possible flaws in climate models, ignores the actual abundant and startling evidence for ongoing climate change.

Heaven forbid that the Mises blog pollute readers’ minds on this or other scientific views by sending them off to read the IPCC reports, scientific reports by various national academies of science, other blogs by climate scientists and analysts (on various sides) or the like.  It’s clearly better to directly bring in “informed” views of people like David Evans, who haven’t prostituted themselves by actually conducting or publishing climate science, but still manage to keep their finger on the pulse of the scientific developments.

[Update]

Somewhat disappointingly, there actually IS a good discussion of issues raised by the David Evans piece (and the Mises’ blog posting of it), but over at Arnold Kling’s and Byan Caplan’s EconLog: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/12/global_warming_10.html#comments.

Those who are interested in links for where the scientific issues are discussed should look there (adults only; I also do not want to contribute to the delinquency of innocents and innocent wannabes!).

Sophomoric optimism?

October 15th, 2007 6 comments

Jon Bostwick agrees on another post that “Man is clever but not wise (“homo sapiens” is a misnomer)”, but further comments (emphasis added):

“True. But humanity is wise. Men create cultures, economies and law.

“Man’s flaw is that he is over confident of his own intelligence. He tries to control things he doesn’t understand, like culture, economies, and law.

You have just made an excellent case for why government involvement will not improve the environment. Because governments, like man, are not wise.”

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/10/12/libertarian-reticience-other-than-to-bash-enviros.aspx 

This is too simple, as well as self-contradictory. Humanity is wise because he collectively (but non-deliberately?) creates “cultures, economies and law” (let’s not forget governments), but individuals are foolish when they seek to use institutions to achieve particular purposes?

Our states are merely one subset of the wide universe of formal and informal institutions through which we cooperate with one another.  States are not a market, to be sure, but then neither are corporations, and there is a spectrum of ownership types between the two.  We can study all of these institutions and use that knowledge to direct how we make use of them.  Such study has informed, for example, the deliberate shifts in policy that have led to the ongoing (yet incomplete) privatization of the former USSR and of China. 

A study of institutions governing common pool resources by guru Elinor Ostrom makes the following point:

 “Whether people are able to self-organize and manage CPRs also depends on the broader social setting within which they work. National governments can help or hinder local self-organization. “Higher” levels of government can facilitate the assembly of users of a CPR in organizational meetings, provide information that helps identify the problem and possible solutions, and legitimize and help enforce agreements reached by local users. National governments can at times, however, hinder local self-organization by defending rights that lead to overuse or maintaining that the state has ultimate control over resources without actually monitoring and enforcing existing regulations.

“Participants are more likely to adopt effective rules in macro-regimes that facilitate their efforts than in regimes that ignore resource problems entirely or that presume that central authorities must make all decisions.If local authority is not formally recognized by larger regimes, it is difficult for users to establish enforceable rules.

Elinor Ostrom et al., Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges, Science, 04/09/99 http://conservationcommons.org/media/document/docu-wyycyz.pdf

Was von Mises foolish to suggest we can use the state to reform our institutions?

“It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.

http://mises.org/humanaction/chap23sec6.asp

And Cordato, for suggesting that Austrians take particular policy approaches to environmental issues?

“For Austrians then, public policy in the area of the environment must focus on resolving these conflicts over the use of resources that define pollution, not on obtaining an ultimately unobtainable “efficient” allocation of resources. … For Austrians, whose goal is to resolve conflicts, the focus is on clarifying titles to property and rights enforcement.

http://mises.org/daily/1760

Sorry, but I cannot believe that we are condemned always to repeat all mistakes, despite our rather constant human nature.  Rather, as Yandle notes, our very history as a species is about our success in evolving, devising and adopting ways to manage shared problems.   http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=4064

This is a message of profound optimism, not cynicism — said the fool.

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

October 11th, 2007 No comments

“Not all externalities are crimes, and as long as CO2 does not make clear victims, it should be left as an externality for people to adapt to ….”

In response to this statement on a recent thread (http://blog.mises.org/archives/007152.asp#comments), I observed, in the context of the impact of man’s activities on the climate, that:

But Mises, Yandle and others speak of transition points, that are reached when demand pressure grows as a result of social changes (including new forms of organization) or technological advances (which might also enable greater protection), when open-access resources fall first under common property regimes and then later under private property rights.

I think we are at one of those points now. (emphasis added)

When another remarked that a transition might seem to involve “mob rule”, I noted that Mises had expressly acknowledged the need for transitions and implied that the state could be used to address them, and briefly quoted Mises.  I take this opportunity quote more extensively Mises’ view on externalities, evolving property rights and the state (emphasis added):

Property rights as they are circumscribed by laws and protected by courts and the police, are the outgrowth of an age-long evolution.The legal concepts of property do not fully take account of the social function of private property. There are certain inadequacies and incongruities which are reflected in the determination of the market phenomena.

Carried through consistently, the right of property would entitle the proprietor to claim all the advantages which the good’s employment may generate on the one hand and would burden him with all the disadvantages resulting from its employment on the other hand. Then the proprietor alone would be fully responsible for the outcome. In dealing with his property he would take into account all the expected results of his action, those considered favorable as well as those considered unfavorable. But if some of the consequences of his action are outside of the sphere of the benefits he is entitled to reap and of the drawbacks that are put to his debit, he will not bother in his planning about all the effects of his action. He will disregard those benefits which do not increase his own satisfaction and those costs which do not burden him. His conduct will deviate from the line which it would have followed if the laws were better adjusted to the economic objectives of private ownership. He will embark upon certain projects only because the laws release him from responsibility for some of the costs incurred. He will abstain from other projects merely because the laws prevent him from harvesting all the advantages derivable.

The laws concerning liability and indemnification for damages caused were and still are in some respects deficient. By and large the principle is accepted that everybody is liable to damages which his actions have inflicted upon other people. But there were loopholes left which the legislators were slow to fill. In some cases this tardiness was intentional because the imperfections agreed with the plans of the authorities. When in the past in many countries the owners of factories and railroads were not held liable for the damages which the conduct of their enterprises inflicted on the property and health of neighbors, patrons, employees, and other people through smoke, soot, noise, water pollution, and accidents caused by defective or inappropriate equipment, the idea was that one should not undermine the progress of industrialization and the development of transportation facilities. The same doctrines which prompted and still are prompting many governments to encourage investment in factories and railroads through subsidies, tax exemption, tariffs, and cheap credit were at work in the emergence of a legal state of affairs in which the liability of such enterprises was either formally or practically abated.”

Whether the proprietor’s relief from responsibility for some of the disadvantages resulting from his conduct of affairs is the outcome of a deliberate policy on the part of governments and legislators or whether it is an unintentional effect of the traditional working of laws, it is at any rate a datum which the actors must take into account. They are faced with the problem of external costs. Then some people choose certain modes of want-satisfaction merely on account of the fact that a part of the costs incurred are debited not to them but to other people.

The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man’s property referred to above. If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting. Those who are in a position to appropriate to themselves the returns–lumber and game of the forests, fish of the water areas, and mineral deposits of the subsoil–do not bother about the later effects of their mode of exploitation. For them the erosion of the soil, the depletion of the exhaustible resources and other impairments of the future utilization are external costs not entering into their calculation of input and output. They cut down the trees without any regard for fresh shoots or reforestation. In hunting and fishing they do not shrink from methods preventing the repopulation of the hunting and fishing grounds. In the early days of human civilization, when soil of a quality not inferior to that of the utilized pieces was still abundant, people did not find any fault with such predatory methods. When their effects appeared in a decrease in the net returns, the ploughman abandoned his farm and moved to another place. It was only when a country was more densely settled and unoccupied first class land was no longer available for appropriation, that people began to consider such predatory methods wasteful. At that time they consolidated the institution of private property in land. They started with arable land and then, step by step, included pastures, forests, and fisheries. The newly settled colonial countries overseas, especially the vast spaces of the United States, whose marvelous agricultural potentialities were almost untouched when the first colonists from Europe arrived, passed through the same stages. Until the last decades of the nineteenth century there was always a geographic zone open to newcomers–the frontier. Neither the existence of the frontier nor its passing was peculiar to America. What characterizes American conditions is the fact that at the time the frontier disappeared ideological and institutional factors impeded the adjustment of the methods of land utilization to the change in the data. …

It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.

http://mises.org/humanaction/chap23sec6.asp

Ludwig von Mises, Part IV (Das Handeln in der Marktwirtschaft), Chapter 10 (Kapitel: Die Daten der Marktlage), Sec. VI (Die Grenzen des Sondereigentums und das Problem der external costs und external economies), Nationalökonomie: Theorie des Handelns und Wirtschaftens (Geneva: Editions Union, 1940). The quote provided is from Mises’s expanded English translation, Chapter XXIII: “The Data of the Market,” Sec. 6: “The Limits of Property Rights and the Problems of External Costs and External Economies,” Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949).

 

By the way, it has has elsewhere been noted on LvMI that with this essay, Mises explained how environmental problems arise from the lack of clear, appropriate and enforceable property rights some decades before bioethicist Garrett Hardin in his famous 1968 essay,  “The Tragedy of the Commons”http://mises.org/daily/1373But we should not ignore that Mises pointed not only at the problem of externalities, but also at the transitions that societies make, deliberately or through changes in customs, to reduce externalities.

 

 


 

 

 

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

September 27th, 2007 2 comments

[My very first post on this LvMI-hosted blog. Also, I see this was my first “Avatar”-related piece.]

Dan McLaughlin asks the first of these interesting questions on the Mises blog,  http://mises.org/daily/2718.  The second question is mine, and I addressed it briefly in the blog responses to Dan.

I take the liberty of posting that response here (revised slightly and with a few further comments and emphasis):

Too many or too few? Good question, Dan. I agree with you that the population question is like any other aspect of the social order: best addressed by the market and by free societies.

There are just a few small problems – even within the developed world (and very clearly outside of it), there are many important resources that are unowned and thus not fully priced in the “market” economy.

Unowned resources include almost all of Nature.  Primary productivity (the amount of vegetation produced from photosynthesis) has changed little, so as we use technology and our organizational abilities to divert more and more of it to feed us, this is an inevitable cost to other species, either directly or in the form of altered environments that support less life (and less diversity of life).

In altering our environments to suit us, we are of course no different from other life forms that compete for resources to live and propagate, but with our technical and organizational abilities, mankind has clearly triumphed over the rest of nature (except perhaps evolving microbes, to whom we represent an increasingly large and relatively untapped food source). But at what cost?

Through the centuries we have wiped out many wild systems of food and other resources – because they were never owned, and because our improving technology enabled us to race each other to take the resources before others (or from others, in the case of many native peoples). Not only Jared Diamond`s “guns, germs and steel”, but also forms of social organization have played deciding roles in the competition between human societies for survival, growth and dominance.  In this regard, societies that recognize and protect property rights internally and utilize free markets have proven clearly superior in the competition with other societies to obtain and utilize available resources.

But our struggle has been not only to capture resources and to use them before others do, but also to manage and protect them effectively.  Evolving ownership systems have been a key means of limiting wasteful “tragedy of the commons” struggles (see Yandle; von Mises), but even where ownership systems have been implemented, we have generally replaced complex natural systems with simpler systems designed solely to feed us (and particularly so where, due to higher consumptive demand, we have replaced common property systems with private property systems (Ostrom)).

Meanwhile, virtually all of the natural world – the world’s oceans, atmosphere, tropical reefs, tropical forests and other great commons – remain unowned and thus unmanaged and unregulated (or indigenous occupants have been forced aside).  For example, the great cod fishery off of the Grand Banks that fed Europe for centuries has now disappeared, and other fishery stocks worldwide are crashing – to be “replaced” by “farmed” fish that are fed to a substantial degree by catching and grinding up fish stocks that humans prefer not to consume directly, and in part by fish firms that are established by destroying the mangroves that are estuaries to various fisheries.  The same is true of the replacement of vast tracts of tropical forests with soybeans or oil palm plantations, with the rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 (and attendant risks to climate) and with the correspondly geolologically rapid increases in ocean acidification (and threats to plankton, corals and shellfish).

While populations in the developed economies are now relatively stable, demand from our markets (as well as the burgeoning developing markets) continues to strip out unowned (or mismanaged “public”) resources from the oceans or undeveloped countries, aided by kleptocratic elites who are happy to steal from the peoples they supposedly represent in order to line their own pockets.  

As Dan points out, property rights failures in poorer nations contribute to population growth there by delaying the demographic transitions that we have experienced.  Developed economies face similar problems with respect to “public”, state-owned lands, for which rent-seeking by and sweet deals to insiders are enduring problems and sources of politcal conflict (as markets cannot work to allocate resources).

Dan states that the stunningly rapid growth of human populations from the Renaissance to the present (6+ billion now expected to nearly double again soon) “actually represents the rise of capitalism and capital development … [and]  shows … the stunning capacity of freedom to provide for the whole world.”  While partly correct, this misses completely the question of our massive impact, within a very short period of geological time, on the environment in which we evolved over millions of years, the fact this has occurred because clear and enforceable property rights have not been created in many of the resources that have been consumed, and the corollary fact that we continue to lack the ability to manage our impact on our endowment of natural resources.

The market clearly does NOT send accurate pricing signals with respect to goods that are unowned or ineffectively owned; these goods are either unpriced or underpriced, so the effect is overconsumption until the point that the resource is greatly degraded, at which point attention is turned to the next unowned resource. Thus, human populations are responding to rather imperfect market signals.  And where resources are unowned, individuals and groups with differing values and desires cannot adjust or realize those desires by means of private, market transactions.  As a result, we are seeing a recourse to the public and political arenas – and the inevitable discordant debates – as various parties seek to use either moral suasion or the levers of government (locally, nationally and internationally) to advance what they consider to be their own interests.  (Of course, in a “tragedy of the commons” situation, all resource users share an interest is the future availability of a resource; the difficulty is in the prisoners’ dilemma negotiations at the primary user level about how to allocate short-term pain in the interest of long-term gains, compounded in the case of multinational resources by rent-seeking with each national participant.)

A cynic may say that our ongoing assault on nature is only “natural”, presents no moral or philosophical issues and that we hardly owe any responsibilities to “nature” or even “future generations” –  so let’s just all keep on partying, consuming for today, and patting ourselves on the back at how marvelous our market systems are.  And that we should keep on hurling invective at those evil “enviros” who want to crash the party and drag us all back to the Stone Age.

Perhaps I suffer from a want of sufficient cynicism.

TT