Home > AGW, climate change, commons, John Quiggin, libertarian > [Update] A left-wing economist discusses "Libertarians and global warming"

[Update] A left-wing economist discusses "Libertarians and global warming"

Australian economist John Quiggin (whom I’ve cited previously on climate change costs) has a post up with this title, both at his own blog and at Crooked Timber.  Does anybody care to comment?

My own response to John was as follows:

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. 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.



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