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On climate, myopic progressives console themselves by pointing out fossil $ behind science "skeptics"; but miss the same from left and ignore middle ground

February 28th, 2010 No comments

Case in point is Kate Sheppard, reporter on energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones‘ Washington bureau (previously political reporter for Grist.org and a writing fellow at The American Prospect), who has an interesting but shallow piece up called “Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All” (Fri Feb. 26, 2010), which digs into climate scientist/policy-peddler Patrick Michaels, who –  as I have previously noted – acts as a paid mouthpiece for fossil fuel interests.

Sheppard’s piece is fair enough, as far as it goes. That THERE BE RENT-SEEKERS trying to win favors from government surely ought not to be a surprise to any libertarians following the Climate Wars, even though most tend naturally to fall into a partisan camp that makes them acutely aware of the Other Bad Guys while ignoring the self-seeking among the fossil fuel interests and other Well-Intentioned People who are on their own side of the fence.

The climate worriers also have blinders on, and frequently fail to engage in criticisms of the motives and self-seeking in climate change champions (like Gore) and their climate alliance business supporters (though some, like climate scientist Jim Hansen and Greenpeace strongly criticize the porkiness of legislative actions). They also ignore that they, too – like fossil fuel firms – are members of interest groups trying to influence government (on this, I think it is clear that fossil fuel firms, which are seeking to defend existing business turf, are much more powerful, sophisticated and effective than the climate coalitions).

While I have noted that cui bono arguments are fair and unavoidable (and have made a number of them myself), I do regret that the way people fall into partisan camps continues to get in the way of them noticing the very wide area of common ground, which if addressed would bring benefits to both sides.

But if libertarians – who know very well how government ownership and management of resources frustrates private deal-making and leads to politicized battles – cannot themselves break away from politicized battles to try to work for common ground, how can we expect those who think that Big Government is the only solution to the problems created by Big, Bad Corporations (which after all, do benefit from the very unlibertarian grant of limited liability) to do so?

Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for explicating that trust and communication are key elements by which communities can effectively manage common resources and common problems. Yet it seems that the past few Administrations (and Congress and the Supreme Court) have done a great job of destroying mutual trust and trust In federal government in general. In this climate, the effort to enlist a bulky federal government in climate regulation efforts has provided even further fuel to hose who benefit from polarization.

Is either communication or trust still possible on climate and energy? Maybe, but people have to start seeing that there are reasons to  cooperate. A shared future and ample middle ground seems like good reasons to me.

 

Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, Avatar & the Climate (of distrust); or, Can we move from a tribal questioning of motives to win-win policies?

February 13th, 2010 No comments

“Whhhaaat the heck is TT up NOW?” I can hear some of you asking yourselves. Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, the movie Avatar and climate?

Just what elusive illusions am I alluding to here? (Stop playing, you say.) Well, brace yourself, and bear with me.

Roger Pielke, Jr. has a post up regarding a interesting recent piece by Bill Gates on how to address climate issues (I will address Gates’ piece separately). The comment section at Roger’s predictably fell into into the usual patterns of questioning climate science, and a mutual questioning of motives and rationality. I just happened to run into it, and was moved to try to post a few thoughts there.

Libertarians ought to understand why suspicions run rampant on climate issues – even as they can’t seem to get past it (despite my annoying, incessant and level-headed ravings). But many others are so wrapped up in Climate KombatTM that they never think to even to question WHY – why all of the hostility, why all of the circling of wagons, and why the lack of interest in examining root problems and possible win-win approaches?

Well, that’s what my “Avatar” reference is intended to shorthand (pardon an archaic expression; maybe I shouldn’t telegraph my antiquity like this!): that movie was all about thefttheft that we can see all around us even today as I have noted in a number of posts (even as we may be blind to those that advantage us) –  group advantage, and communal responses to threats. Communal responses involve perceiving threats and banding together with brothers to defend all that is good, sacred, holy and OURS. This, I posit, is not only instinctive and reflexive, but EXACTLY what the climate discussion is about, on many levels.

It’s just that the disputants have entirely different views on who is trying to steal what from whom, and what or who is the threat, on who is an enemy, who is a brother, what is to be defended, and on strategy and tactics (as well as how to be advance personal interests).

I penned a few thoughts at Roger’s (I note that both Roger and his father. climate scientist Roger Pielke, Sr. , are in the thick of the climate wars, their own positions frequently being misunderstood in the fog of war). Being a bit inspired and prolix, the Muses ran a bit long. Roger is pretty good at letting comments through but I thought I post a copy here; perhaps you will be amused.

Here is what I tried to post (cleaned up slightly and with additional links and emphasis), in response to several who said to the effect, “Why should we agree to anything, until it is established to our satisfaction that CO2 reduction is important?“, and to others who questioned the motivations of Roger and others:

Those who do not agree now – with either the AGW thesis/science or the good faith, motives, intelligence or rationality of those who profess concern about a clearly changing climate and about whether man’s activities pose serious threats to human welfare and to things
that we value – still have lots to gain from plenty of win-win policies, policies that
would advance the interests of those who profess to love free markets but that are now just sitting about unused because practically everyone is too busy fighting, vilifying and mistrusting to actually step back from the emotional rush of partisan battle, sit back and to
exchange their armor and weapons for thinking caps (more on
these policies at end of this comment).

Nobel-prizewinner
political economist Elinor Ostrom reminds us that one sine qua non for solving
any commons problem is TRUST [see my post here].

Sadly,
that lack of that trust – nay, distrust and active hostility – are what
characterize our “discussions” on modern-day politics, and especially
climate change (the “our” in this case being a complex one at many
levels).

This
DISTRUST is the natural product of many factors:

– the
lack of property rights in the atmosphere & of any legal recourse by
individuals against GHG emitters/albedo changers
, which together mean that –
unlike for other resources that can be bought, sold and husbanded – the
voluntary actions of individuals and firms via market exchanges simply are not
functioning, thus forcing climate concerns – and scientists and this discussion
– into the political realm;

 – in
the US, both parties have grossly MIS-governed and abused the public trust, via
political pandering, grasping for power at all costs (cynically sowing division
and cheapening discourse by selling war, hatred and suspicion, corruptly
selling favors to the highest bidders, and simply managing resources
incompetently). As a result, I think many people rightly feel that the US
government generally DOES NOT DESERVE our trust (this sentiment can be seen not
only in the TeaParty movement, but in calls by the likes of Larry Lessig for a
Constitutional Convention
to fix our corrupt, broken political system);

 – as
has been the case since corporations were created as the faceless profit-making
machines
of wealthy investors whose liability for the damage they do and risks
that they shift to others is limited by statute (
http://bit.ly/4CKFPh), those corporations that have
licenses to pollute under current law and whose climate-risk generating
activities are now FREE and unregulated work hard to protect their favored status
(via behind-the-scenes influence-buying of politicians and
“free-market” pundit/voice-pieces, and deliberate PR
smokescreen/mis-direction campaigns designed to GENERATE mistrust)
;

 –
likewise, other corporations/investors have been busy working to buy climate
legislation that will help to put money in their pockets
– while those who act
as spokesmen have not been voluntarily taking actions that show they put their
money (and life-style) where their mouth
is;

 – most
of the science has been funded by governments
, which makes it easier for
skeptics to dismiss it – and to ignore all of the sophisticated private
institutions and corporations that now strongly agree with the
“warmers”
(viz., notably virtually all oil & gas majors and
virtually all insurers);

 – the
fact that the chief “solutions” proposed by our Western governments
are coercive and ham-handed
, would serve to further drive basic manufacturing
to developing countries
that care even less than we do about respecting
human/property rights, would give further give domestic industry rights to
behave in ways that are seen as harmful, would provide benefits to a host of
favorite insiders while shifting costs to middle and lower income classes
, is being agreed behind closed doors (and written up
drafted by lobbyists in mind-mumbingly long and opaque legislation) and our leaders lack the moral and political courage to be straight-forward and transparent about the need and purposes of the legislative/regulatory actions;

 –
Mistrust is not only NATURAL, it’s something that we LOVE to do; there is an
undeniable human penchant for viewing issues in a tribal, “us against
them” manner, which reflects a natural cognitive conservatism that means
we subconsciously ignore information that contradicts our pre-existing mental
map of reality, and to a strong tendency to reflexively support our tribal
brothers and “comrades” and to defend our pre-existing views against
what we tend to see as “attacks” by “enemies”;

– this
leads to group-think, black & white views, hostility, self-justification and to strawmen that
ignores the real issues
: you know, “they have a religion”, we are
right and act in good faith, they are stupid, irrational, are evil and want to
destroy all we hold dear, versus capitalism is evil, those against cap and trade are
all pawns, of Big Oil and a host of other mantras regarding “truths” that respective group-thinks requires its members to hold as “self-evident”;

– while our moral senses are essential for managing our in-group interactions, unfortunately that lends itself both to moral outrage and to intolerance of the moral preachings and inconsistencies of others;

 – the
“climate” is enormously complex, will never be fully understood or
predictable,  the changes that we
are  forcing in it cannot be simply and
convincing demonstrated or understood by anyone
, the system has many
inputs/outputs and displays tremendous variability, has great inertia that is
played out on scales of centuries, 
millennia and eons, and we have NO OTHER EARTHS to run ANY independently
verifiable “TESTS” on … just a number of computer models – again,
funded by governments, and with innards none of us has any real ability to
verify, much less understand;

 –
finally, as climate change is a global issue, it cannot be solved unilaterally
by ANY single individual, group, community, corporation or government/polity;
the “community” that must address it is the community of nations, the leaders and citizens of which all having a welter of differing interests and priorities.

To be flip – Trust
me; it’s natural for you NOT to trust me! Don’t we ALL understand this? (Roger,
I’m pretty sure you – and Joe Romm – know what I mean.)

But the high we get from self-righteousness and group struggle is such an easy
evil, such an addictive self-drug.

Sadly,
it is a clear political tactic by many on the climate issue to treat it as a war, and
to deliberately sow mistrust and misinformation,
with the intention either to
defend turf previously purchased from government or to use government to cram
down preferred solutions. But I repeat myself.

Let me
end by noting that

 –
those who are concerned about climate change risks would do well by
fostering not anger but trust, and by seeking to use hammers only to build
bridges
;

 –
those who are concerned chiefly with the mis-use of government might do well to
re-examine how government has already been misused, and explore whether there
are ways to harness the passionate “delusions” of evil/stoopid
enviro-fascists to actually achieve goals that self-professed market cultists
(I’m one!) ought to desire
;

 – I
have humbly picked up my own hammer and started an exploratory
“task-force” of one, to look at the ways that corporate interests
have already mis-used government to lot in economic rigidity and market share,
and stand in the way of economic freedom and the massive wave of innovation,
investment and wealth-creation that would surely result if existing blockages
were removed. My
chief thoughts are here, intended initially as a plea to fellow libertarians
(who are deeply distrusting of enviro-facists like me who hope to disguise
their nefarious goals by falsely putting on libertarian clothing):

 http://bit.ly/ax3JB

A few
related thoughts at
http://bit.ly/aUOcWC (libertarians/climate) and http://bit.ly/bLX25X  (delusion).

 

Readers, thanks for your indulgence!

 

Nice Post by David Henderson on "Avatar", property, corporatism & right of natives to live as they please

January 12th, 2010 No comments

David R. Henderson has a nice post up at Antiwar.com, titled “In Defense of Avatar”, in which he takes issue with reviews of Avatar by Reihan Salam and Edward Hudgins. (My earlier comments on Stephan Kinsella`s review of Avatar are here.)

I would just note that Henderson has presumed that the Avatar natives – non-humans – have “rights” that we are obliged to respect.. I think that history tells us that, even for humans in other civilizations, “property rights” are respected only when it suits the purposes of both sides (viz., can be protected by the side claiming them, as I`ve noted on several occasions, most recently here).

A few excerpts:

I don’t think Avatar is an attack on capitalism. One could leave
the movie and have no idea, based on just the movie, about James Cameron’s
view of capitalism. And while it did have some clichés (most movies
do), I didn’t find it loaded. So what is Avatar? In fact, Avatar
is a powerful antiwar movie – and a defense of property rights. For that reason,
I found it easy to identify with those whose way of life was being destroyed
by military might. …

“But here’s the crucial question, a question that neither Salam nor Hudgins
addresses: Do savages, noble or otherwise, have rights?

If given a choice between high-tech, with all its creature comforts, and the
jungle life of Tarzan, I, like Salam and Hudgins, will take high-tech every
time. But that’s not what the movie’s about. It’s about people from a high-tech
civilization using technology to make war on people from a more primitive society
so that they can steal their stuff. That’s a very different choice. I would
choose not to kill them and take their property. What would Salam or Hudgins
choose? They don’t make their answers clear, although they show zero sympathy
for the victims of the attack. …

To the extent that it makes any statement about capitalism, Avatar
is a defense of capitalism. Capitalism is based on property rights and
voluntary exchange. The Na’vi had property rights in the crucial tree and various
other properties surrounding it. Did they own it as individuals or as community
tribal property? We can’t be sure, but probably the latter. They had refused
to sell the property to the outsiders. There was nothing the outsiders could
give them that would make it worth their while. What should we, if we are good
capitalists, conclude? That, just as in the Kelo case, the people currently
sitting on the land value it more than the outsiders. The land is already in
its highest-valued use. Hudgins and Salam could argue that that’s implausible.
Surely there would be some finite price that the Na’vi would take in return
for the Unobtainium. Maybe, maybe not. But once the Na’vi have made it clear
that they’re unwilling to exchange it, that should be the end of things, shouldn’t
it?…

Hudgins argues that James Cameron is claiming, “That’s capitalism for
you.” As noted earlier, it’s not clear that Cameron is so arguing. But
if that’s what Cameron believes, shouldn’t Hudgins’s response be, “No,
that’s corporatism for you.” …

Read through everything Hudgins has written on Kelo
and you won’t find a wisp of discussion about how low-tech or high-tech, savage
or civilized, Mrs. Dery is. And that’s because it doesn’t matter. People
in high-tech societies have rights. So do savages. It would be nice if Hudgins
showed even one tenth of the concern for the “savages” over whom
the “non-savages” of the U.S. military and CIA roll as he shows for
an old woman who lives (or used to live) in a house. …

 

Avatar is an eloquent defense of the right of people in other civilizations
to live as they please.

Thoughts of an envirofacist avatar on "Avatar"; or Resources, Property Rights, Corporations & Government-Enabled Theft

December 22nd, 2009 1 comment

My pal Stephan Kinsella has a remarkably enviro-friendly post (“Avatar Is Great and Libertarian”) up regarding the new movie “Avatar”; his remarks and others on the thread prompted me to leave a few comments, which I copy below (in furtherance of my nefarious and/or insanely misguided agenda .

Many thanks to Stephan for aiding and abetting this. Ive added a bit of emphasis, fixed a typo or two, and a few additional comments, in brackets.

Published: December 22, 2009 2:38 PM

TokyoTom

Stephan, I welcome you to the dark, enviro-facist side!

– “you have to fight for and use might to protect your rights”

I see you are starting to buy into my real-world view of property rights, that “principles” and force are just two different ways we seek to protect what we consider ours, with the first being most efficacious within a community [and recourse to the later perhaps being necessary]. As I noted on a previous thread of yours,

“The deep roots of “property” are not in principle but in simple competition, physical defense of assets valuable enough to make the effort worthwhile, and in the grudging recognition by others – more willingly offered by those who share bonds of community – that yielding to others’ claims may be more productive than challenging them. This is as true for rest of creation as it is for man. While we have developed property to a very sophisticated degree, at its core property remains very much about the Darwinian struggle to survive and prosper, violence, theft and calculations as to when challenging control over an asset is not worth the effort.”

http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/2009/12/21/quot-property-quot-weird-thoughts-evolution-society-quot-property-rights-quot-quot-intellectual-property-quot-principles-structure-justify/

Sounds like this struggle over resources is at the core of Avatar, along with a boatload of Western guilt over our historical theft of land and assets from indigenous peoples, whom of course have also been involved for eons in bloody battles for resources with other tribes.

Far from being simply a dead relic of the past, however, the often violent struggle to take resources from indigenous peoples continues in many places, though out of sight from most of us (not simply those who are trying hard not to see) – oil & gas, minerals, timber, ranching, soybeans, oil palms, World Bank-funded dams and roads, fisheries – you name it, a violent conflict that the natives are losing to kleptocratic governments & elites can be found.

Western corporations are often in the thick of such conflicts, but even where not, modern technology (and growing consumer markets) provide the key tools and incentives for such conflicts, in which natives may be more or less hapless. Local governments typically either “nationalize” the resource or turn a blind eye, with the result that resource exploitation frequently takes on the appearance of a tragedy of the commons.

Western liberals sometimes exacerbate these problems – not simply by seeing “greed” and capitalism as the problem, and not kleptocratic regimes (often supported by the West and by aid money) or the lack of enforceable property rights – but also by demanding misguided policies such as “biofuels” incentives, which lie behind tropical forest destruction in much of SE Asia.

Libertarians should be familiar with these problems, which are a large part of the dynamics in petroleum-cursed nations and elsewhere. Such problems are also linked generally to “aid” efforts and to other centrally-directed development schemes. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in part for her work in showing that local communities, if their rights are respected, can generally do a good job of managing their own resources [and how government efforts frequently go astray].

I’ve commented on these issues a number of times, but here are a couple of links for those who might care to scratch the surface:

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/09/28/too-many-or-too-few-people-does-the-market-provide-an-answer.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/12/16/bison-markets-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-and-the-indian-war.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/11/26/theft-and-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-mother-jones-ponders-quot-conservation-indigenous-people-s-enemy-no-1-quot.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/05/24/capitalism-the-destructive-exploitation-of-the-amazon-and-the-tragedy-of-the-government-owned-commons.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/01/07/somali-piracy-flows-from-the-greater-and-continuing-western-theft-and-abuse-of-somali-marine-resources.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/06/02/environmental-damage-as-theft-report-by-prominent-enviros-quot-highlights-the-need-for-secure-ownership-of-wildlife-resources-by-poor-people-quot.aspx

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

Stephan, if youve made it this far, let me remind you of our conversations about corporations [most recently here], which have very unfortunately been inescapably tainted with statism from the get-go, in ways that play out negatively both abroad and at home. Ive devoted a fair amount of time to examining the entanglement of corporations and government: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=limited

  • Our state governments were wrong to get into competition with each other to grant corporate status to investor-owned enterprises, in exchange for fees and later taxes. Corporate status freed owners from down-side risk, by limiting liability to the amount of capital contributed. This incentivized investors to encourage corporations to embark on risky activities that shifted costs to innocent third parties; the concentration of wealth in corporations (that now have unlimited lives and purposes, subject to survival in the market); the corruption of the court system that once protected third parties from damages caused by others (by replacing strict liability with balancing tests); and the ensuing battle over legislatures and courts to check corporate abuses.What happens abroad at the “Avatar” is pretty basic, but the same nonsense, with taxpayers, investors and consumers playing the role of victim, can be seen at home. Has anybody seen the jaw-droppingly appalling report that the WSJ has run on “Fixing Global Finance”, based on their “Future of Finance Initiative”, in which they cheerlead a bunch of financial firms in their efforts to abandon free markets and to structure global regulation and regulators, to be staffed by a revolving door of themselves? [I think Im being fair to see this as posing a threat to markets and freedom at least as great as what others see in the more multi-faceted climate change muddle.] Even Paul Volker was appalled, not at their willingness to create more regulation, but at their unwillingness to confront the moral hazard problems (tied to regulation of public corporations and the financial sector) that lie at the core of the financial meltdown. [Volker seems to overlooked the crucial role of government in driving and feeding the moral hazard problems.]Heres the link, for those of you who missed it:
    http://online.wsj.com/public/page/future-of-finance-121409.html

 

Property rights, corporations and government-complicit theft? Hmm. [Sounds familiar. Maybe some of those who want to battle corporate excesses might not be so crazy after all, even if they neglect to understand the risks of negative consequences of seeking help from government. And maybe someday libertarians will get a little more serious about addressing the festering concatenation of corporate-linked problems that are generating so much rot at the core of our government and public company/financial company sector.]

 

Oh, I almost forgot to remind everyone for the need for group holiday cheer (as alternative to productive engagement on a libertarian, Austrian-based climate agenda):

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/12/16/holiday-joy-quot-watermelons-quot-roasting-on-an-open-pyre.aspx

 

What IS "property"? A few weird thoughts on evolution, society, "property rights" and "intellectual property", and the "principles" we structure to justify them

December 21st, 2009 2 comments

I copy here some thoughts I posted on two linked threads by Jeffrey Tucker and Stephan Kinsella in November [2009] regarding problems with intellectual property, as well as some relevant parts of the comment thread by Stephan and others:

My own view has come around to the idea that state-created IP is abusive and has been hijacked by rent-seeking. Firms and individuals that want to maintain information as property should do so without state grants, other than the use of courts in providing remedies for theft.

But that the idea of IP itself as “property” does not seem absurd to me in the least; the prevalence of the idea is an example of the way that communities adopt and internalize rules and apply them rather reflexively (and feel them morally) and is a testament to the capacity of humans to minimize tragedy of the commons situations (as Yandle and Ostrom have noted). The problem is simply that IP has slipped its moorings and become abusive to the point that we need to start working (via legislation, no?) to lessen the evident parasitism and abuse.
Published: November 19, 2009 7:57 AM

Stephan Kinsella:
TokyoTizzom:
These comments have an odd air to them–state created IP is “abusive”? It’s been “hijacked”? Libertarians talk about just and unjust, rights and rights violations. And IP was not hijacked by the state any more than taxing power or regulation of wage and working hour or outlawing cocaine was hijacked by the state. It’s not as if these things would occur in a free market.
Yes, let’s just work with the state to decree more unjust fake “laws” …. that’ll work.
Published: November 19, 2009 9:36 AM

TT:
“And IP was not hijacked by the state any more than taxing power or regulation of wage and working hour or outlawing cocaine was hijacked by the state. It’s not as if these things would occur in a free market.”

I’m not sure why you want to drum up disagreements; is it because I agree with you as a practical matter, rather than delving into principle? If we change anything here, it will not be so much as a result of principle as getting others, as a practical matter, to agree that IP has gotten out of hand.

In any event, I was referring to abuse by rent-seekers, not by the state.

Further, while I don’t see how we can possibly conclude that communities cannot, without use of a state, derive the equivalent of taxes, wage regulations or outlawing cocaine, how is this even relevant to a discussion of the legitimacy of IP?

Care to clarify the following?
me: “The problem is simply that IP has slipped its moorings and become abusive to the point that we need to start working (via legislation, no?) to lessen the evident parasitism and abuse.”
You: “Yes, let’s just work with the state to decree more unjust fake “laws” …. that’ll work.”
I’m not following you – what is YOUR proposed course of action for rolling back IP? Are you expecting everyone to simply ignore the state and IP laws? Seriously, I’m missing something.
Tizzy Tom
Published: November 20, 2009 2:06 AM

TT:
It seems to me that Stephan – as most libertarians who focus on principles – fails to ground his fine edifice on or link it into what we understand of the continual saga of competition and cooperation in Nature for acquiring, using and protecting scarce resources, and man’s ascendant path.

Basically, “property” is simply the name we give to the resources that we are able personally to protect, as well as those which – via sophisticated shared mechanisms that continue to be developed within communities over time – we can protect, plus our recognized share of common assets.

In a state of nature, very little is secure, as most life forms have limited means of securing or maintaining exclusive control over assets. What one predator catches, another often soon steals. Different species have developed different ways of coping with the ongoing struggle, utilizing varying degrees of cunning, speed, strength and cooperation.

Humans have triumphed over the rest of nature because we have found sophisticated ways of balancing individual initiative and moderating intra-group struggle with cooperation, and devised methods to acquire, use and defend resources.

Property has been a key tool, but we can readily see that our “property” has its roots in the ways that our cousin creatures invest energy in marking out territory, fighting (individually or in groups) to protect their young, and growling over bones. At the same time, we can see that animals treat each other as dinner, make calculated decisions as to when to “steal” resources that others are guarding, and as well find advantage in cooperating, both with relatives of their kind and with others.

Our need to defend property from other groups has fed our inbred mutual suspicions of “others”, and our ongoing battles, both for dominance within groups and to acquire the resources held by rival groups, – and has led directly to states.

Bruce Yandle has addressed the ascendance of man through methods such as property to facilitate cooperation and to abate ruinous conflicts over resources; he has an interesting short piece I’ve excerpted here: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/11/20/bruce-yandle-on-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-the-evolution-of-cooperation-and-property.aspx

To tie this in more closely with Stephan’s battle with libertarians and others over IP, I note I have further discussed the ways that groups have, in order to strengthen group cohesion and dampen conflict, of developing and inculcating mores; formal religions are obviously just one branch of this tree:

– see my discussion with “fundamentalist” here: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/08/30/a-few-simple-thoughts-on-the-evolution-of-moral-codes-and-why-we-fight-over-them-and-religion-liberty-and-the-state.aspx

– and my discussions with Gene Callahan and Bob Murphy on whether there are “objective” moral truths, or simply a felt need on their part to find some: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=callahan+moral

These are relevant because they explore not property per se, but our related need to make our property rules stick, by tying them to “sacred postulates” of one kind or another. The problem with this, of course, is that it makes us difficult to abandon what we all pretty much assumed was sacred, like IP. (Of course it also makes even discussing property quite difficult at times.)

TT
Published: November 20, 2009 9:13 AM

• Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light
TokyoTom’s latest post is, frankly, bizarre, and I fail to see that it has anything do with the issues of property rights and IP.
Published: November 20, 2009 9:19 AM

• Stephan Kinsella
Lord B– re TokyoTizzom — I kind of agree.
Tom: I really am not sure what you are asking. You seem to be rambling in a sort of New Age libertarian “we’re all practical moderates can’t we just get along Rodney king” kind of way, “can’t we just have incremental improvement, kumbaya”.

Maybe I’m misreading you. I just can’t follow this amorphous way of thinking.
Published: November 20, 2009 10:43 AM

• TokyoTom
LBBPL & Stephan:
Sure, it’s a bolt from the blue and kinda past my bedtime, but it’s not so hard:

The deep roots of “property” are not in principle but in simple competition, physical defense of assets valuable enough to make the effort worthwhile, and in the grudging recognition by others – more willingly offered by those who share bonds of community – that yielding to others’ claims may be more productive than challenging them.

This is as true for rest of creation as it is for man. While we have developed property to a a very sophisticated degree, at its core property remains very much about the Darwinian struggle to survive and prosper, violence, theft and calculations as to when challenging control over an asset is not worth the effort.

To the extent we’re past that, which is quite a ways indeed, property is a social construct that is flexible (though rigidified in various ways, including legislation) and based primarily on practical considerations as to what parameters best engender wealth and respond to shared purposes by minimizing free-for-alls, externalities, free-riding & rent-seeking and facilitating voluntary transactions.

Elinor Ostrom has spent alot of time documenting sophisticated local community property rights, all of which at the end of the day all supported by threats of sanctions and violence against rule breakers and outsiders. http://bit.ly/2caqUr

It’s natural that we feel strongly about what we consider to be ours, but this feeling is a gut one that is not in essence grounded on principles deeper than our sense of fair play and just desserts in a community to which we feel we have bonds of common purpose.

And we have a natural tendency to dress up our shared institutions – such as property rights – in moral precepts.
But we always remain subject to problems of theft, especially so as our bonds of community and shared purpose loosen. Libertarians are absolutely right to keep shining a spotlight on how the state has become an instrument of theft.

As for IP, as specialized knowledge can be quite valuable, it seems quite possible for me to imagine a society that developed IP and enforced it mutually, as a way to minimize high costs for protecting trade secrets.But such rules would not be enforceable against other societies, unless resort is made to government. And it seems clear to me that there are substantial rent-seeking costs now associated with state-granted IP.

To roll things back, just the argument that things are out of control and IP is now grossly abused and counterproductive is good enough for me, but I wish you luck in wielding arguments of principle. That’s the great thing about being a pragmatist.
TT
Published: November 20, 2009 11:54 AM

Elinor Ostrom: Another Nobel Laureate jumps the climate shark (Proceed at Own Risk)

December 18th, 2009 No comments

On December 16, Spiegel Online ran the following interview with Elinor Ostrom, whose 2009 Nobel prize in economics (shared with Oliver Williamson), was widely applauded by Austrian economists (and whose work I have referred to any number of time previously).

Der Spiegel asked some good questions, and Ostrom provided interesting responses, though thoughtful readers of course are left asking for more.

I`ve tweaked the formatting, added my own emphasis, and interspersed a few bracketed comments of my own:

 

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom

‘Climate Rules Set from the Top Are Not Enough`

The world is gathered in Copenhagen in an
effort to reach an agreement to slow global warming. Elinor Ostrom,
winner of this year’s Nobel prize for economics, spoke with SPIEGEL
ONLINE about shared ownership, local action and why we can’t sit around
waiting for politicians to act.

 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Copenhagen summit is about setting new
global rules for how we treat the Earth. But are people willing to
change their personal lives
accordingly?

Elinor Ostrom: Under the right circumstances, people are willing
to accept additional efforts and costs. It all depends on trust in the
fact that others will also act.
Humans have the capacity to engage and
see that their own long-term future is harmed if they don’t change
their lifestyles. Under the right circumstances they understand: It’s
not me against you. It’s all of us against ourselves, if we don’t act.
So trust really is the most important resource.

[The multi-decade, global trust-building exercise has made a great deal of progress, despite being hampered by gamesmanship, domestic rent-seeking, partisan mistrust, legitimate worries about abuse of government, and the difficulty we all face in actually agreeing there might be a problem (as opposed to a big scam/mass delusion).]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How can we generate enough trust so that we all act in concert?

Ostrom: Rules set from the top are not enough. Successful
communities often have a few common design principles —
monitoring and
sanctioning of the participants, for example. They also have conflict
resolution mechanisms
in place and the people have some authority to
make their own rules
. Under those circumstances humans can develop some
trust in each other — faith that if they take a costly action that
benefits everybody in the long run, others will also invest.

[Yes, but does “community”-level action scale? How do we make a “community” with billions of people we have little interaction with? Is Ostrom suggesting we need more global-level “grassroots” community-building, in addition to leader-level trust-building?]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is it less effective if governments establish strict rules from the top down?

Ostrom: Because people will not identify with it. My research
has shown that forests managed by local communities are in a far better
state than state-run parks, where locals feel left out and officials
can be bribed.
Let us imagine, we live in a village and have all agreed
that none of us is going to be in the forest on Saturday or Sunday, so
that we can give the forest time to recreate. If I then see you in the
forest when you’re not supposed to be, I will probably yell at you. If
only the state is in charge, I will just walk on past.

[Now she`s talking; libertarians and a host of others almost completely reject even climate “science” out of a reflexive but understandable concern that climate “policy” is or will be sufficiently corrupt as to vitiate any intended/purported gains. The same is true with many on environmentalists and others on the left, who feel that powerful corporate insiders will make climate policy ineffective.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your research, you focused on local and
regional levels. What makes you think that your solutions would work
for the entire planet as well?

Ostrom: Indeed, the global scale is a challenge. Building that
kind of knowledge between the different parties is tricky. We need our
global leaders to take some of the decisions on a very big level.
Here
at the summit, those guys are talking to each other and gaining some
trust because they meet face to face. But then they go home — and
that’s when the real action starts.

[It`s tricky, but much progress has been made; even Sen. Robert “Coal” Byrd is signalling that coal states need to change, and China abd India both concede change is needed – though naturally they make an equity argument that they have a right to catch up with out per capita CO2 emissons (which are four times theirs).]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can money help to build trust between developing nations and industrialized nations?

Ostrom: Maybe, and it is hard to see a climate deal without
serious financial commitments.
But at the same time, I am very worried
and nervous about corruption. If we pour money into a country in which
the corruption level is very high, we would be kidding ourselves not to
think that some of it will end up in the wrong pockets.
At first, a lot
of the proposals on the table sound great. But four to six years later,
you have a lot of politicians who have money in Swiss bank accounts.
What we need are tight rules and controls to ensure that the billions
that might be put on the table here are used correctly.

[Ostrom is absolutely right, if understated – perhaps most “development” aid has been disastrous. Still, it might make sense for some aid money to go to climate adaptation projects, and to allow offsets for preserving tropical forests – if the money goes to indigenous peoples, and not corrupt governments.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, an anti-corruption task force
like the one that exists in Indonesia — might be the best
environmental protection agency?

Ostrom: Absolutely! If you look at the role corruption plays in
giving away forests to big corporations and in looking away if forest
protection rules are broken, you will see that bribery is one of the
main contributors to environmental destruction.

[A fruitful focus by libertarians and conservatives might be on simply helping to bolster law and order – including the property rights of locals – in developing nations.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it possible to save the climate with a single treaty?

Ostrom: One treaty will not solve the problem entirely. This is
why I propose a so-called polycentric approach to tackling climate
change. We need all levels of human society to work on this to be
effective in the long run. Cities, villages, communities and networks
of people have been neglected as players.

[I`m not sure I agree with Otrom here; there has been plenty of action on climate on individual, local, corporate and state levels, thanks in no small part to the stifling of climate policy at federal levels under the GWB/Cheney administrations. While such “thousand points of light” efforts may be bolstering mutual trust at various levels around the world, federal and international policy coordination is still needed, fraught with rent-seeking problems though it may be, ]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happens if there is no agreement?

Ostrom: We need to get away from the idea that there is only one
solution on the global scale. There are many, many levels in between.
So we need to take action on smaller levels. If the politicians do not
agree in Copenhagen, I would like to embarrass the hell out of them
by
getting some agreements going where people are doing something —
essentially saying: “We are tired of waiting for you.” The city of
Freiburg is a very good place to see what that actually means.

[Politicians don`t embarrasss so easily; rather they see opportunities to jump on and use band wagons to bolster their own careers and to steer favors to rent-seekers.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why Freiburg of all places?

Ostrom: I spend quite a bit of time in Germany and I’m very
impressed by some of the local action I see. Local action cannot do it
fully, but just think about all the bicycle-paths that they have built
there. That is a case where the action of individuals is reducing
emissions. At the same time it is a very healthy thing. On Sundays
everybody is going to the woods and has a good time on their bikes —
and not in their cars. It’s good for your health and for the
environment. So everyone should ask himself: Why don’t I bike to work
and leave the damn car at home or get rid of it entirely?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, such a decentralized approach sounds
painfully slow. We need rapid action if we wish to limit global warming
to 2 degrees Celsius.

Ostrom: If we sit here and twiddle our thumbs and wait for these
guys up there to make a decision — that is what I would call painfully
slow. Should we just blame the politicians? I am not saying that we can
solve it entirely, but we can make significant steps. To some extent we
can challenge them. Everyone can contact foolish politicians like some
US Congressmen who oppose climate change action by e-mail or phone and
let them know that they are acting irresponsibly.

[Unfortunately, Ostrom doesn`t address how we figure out how to trust our own government, and how to mitigate/manage the problem of rent-seeking. But I`ve tried to note the types of policies that libertarians cand – and should – support here. Some Austrians might even want to consider the root cause of rampant renk-seeking and fights over the wheel – the corporate risk-shifting juggernaut that has its genesis in the grant of limited liability]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is the US so reluctant to fight climate change?

Ostrom: In the economic emergency we are experiencing, some
people think that we cannot afford it. I think it is the other way
around, if we don’t act now we will run into even greater economic
problems in the future. And of course we still have the bad legacy of
our previous president, George W. Bush.
For eight years, the White
House didn’t consider the issue to be important. We did not have
American leaders who understood that there is a scientific foundation.
Obama has a much higher chance of understanding the science. But even
for him it is just damn tough.

[It`s  even more complicated, obviously. The Bush administrtion actually DID work on building trust with China and India, supported the IPCC science process, etc. But they were also rather naked catering to coal and other fossil feul interests, while making political hay by labelling all concerned scare-mongering socialists. Not only is it extremely difficult to coordinate this issue globally, it`s also difficult politicaly to tell Americans that fossil-fuel-based energy is underpriced, to seek to undo public utility monopolies, or to address the favors to dirty coal in the Clean Air Act, or to streamline nuclear power licensing.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Worries about climate change have slowly
resulted in people seeing the Earth’s atmosphere as a common good that
we all must protect. Where is the next challenge?

Ostrom: The oceans! They are being threatened to an ever greater
degree. It is a disaster, a very difficult situation. The fish
resources are overexploited and waste, including CO2, is dumped in huge
quantities into the ocean. The law of the sea has not been effective at
all. A lot of fishing ships act like roving bandits. That’s why better
ocean governance is one of the top priorities for safeguarding the
future.

Interview conducted by Christoph Seidler and Christian Schwägerl

I would be remiss if I did not point out that Ostrom recently elucidated her views on climate policy in much greater length in a paper that she prepared at the behest of the World Bank. Yes, Ostrom`s trying to give the Beast indigestion – from the Inside. 

Here`s the extract of her paper,  “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change”:

Abstract: This paper
proposes an alternative approach to addressing the complex problems of
climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The author, who won
the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, argues that single policies
adopted only at a global scale are unlikely to generate sufficient
trust among citizens and firms so that collective action can take place
in a comprehensive and transparent manner that will effectively reduce
global warming. Furthermore, simply recommending a single governmental
unit to solve global collective action problems is inherently weak
because of free-rider problems. For example, the Carbon Development
Mechanism (CDM) can be ‘gamed’ in ways that hike up prices of natural
resources and in some cases can lead to further natural resource
exploitation. Some flaws are also noticeable in the Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries
(REDD) program. Both the CDM and REDD are vulnerable to the free-rider
problem. As an alternative, the paper proposes a polycentric approach
at various levels with active oversight of local, regional, and
national stakeholders. Efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions are a classic collective action problem that is best
addressed at multiple scales and levels.
Given the slowness and
conflict involved in achieving a global solution to climate change,
recognizing the potential for building a more effective way of reducing
green house gas emissions at multiple levels is an important step
forward. A polycentric approach has the main advantage of encouraging
experimental efforts at multiple levels, leading to the development of
methods for assessing the benefits and costs of particular strategies
adopted in one type of ecosystem and compared to results obtained in
other ecosystems. Building a strong commitment to find ways of reducing
individual emissions is an important element for coping with this
problem, and having others also take responsibility can be more
effectively undertaken in small- to medium-scale governance units that
are linked together through information networks and monitoring at all
levels. This paper was prepared as a background paper for the 2010
World Development Report on Climate Change
.

I left this earlier comment on the paper at the blog of libertarian-leaning water economist David Zetland:

TokyoTom
said…

David, I saw this elsewhere and read through this,but count me
unimpressed. It`s basically a recounting of what we already know – that
there are formidable barriers to reaching coordinated global decisions
on climate policies, that local, regional and efforts are proceeding
and will be needed in any event, both in mitigation and adaptation.

Nothing about whether local, regional and national efforts scale to the size of the problem.

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.
The
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
generations.
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
conservation.

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:

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=ostrom

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
offsets.”)
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
destruction.

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
legislation.

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
tragedy.

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
atmosphere.”

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
    problematic.”

    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
    evidence.
    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”:

    People
    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
    another….

    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
    seriously.

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