Home > Bob Murphy, exxon capture, fossil fuels, rent-seeking > In which I try to help Bob Murphy figure out just what the heck I’m talking about (when I say he’s entangled in a partisan, rent-seeking game)

In which I try to help Bob Murphy figure out just what the heck I’m talking about (when I say he’s entangled in a partisan, rent-seeking game)

I recently posted a copy of a comment to Bob Murphy, trying to explain Roe Romm’s attack on Bob’s effort to explain some of the stupidity behind “green” or “clean” jobs, and how it is that Bob just doesn’t seem to be (and is in fact not) above the fray.

Well,  Bob has professed that he just doesn’t “get it”, so I copy here both his question and my further attempt to explain why hired guns tend to be treated as if they are hired guns:


Blogger Bob Murphy said…


I am being serious, I have no idea what your point is. Are you truly asking me why I didn’t go into IER’s funding at my Heritage talk? Of course you can’t possibly be saying that.

But then, I don’t know what you are saying. It seems with you I cannot win: Even if you agree with everything I say in a particular op ed or panel appearance–and even if I don’t take an issue on whether AGW is serious–you still devote 95% of your post to all the things I “conveniently” left out.

And what is particularly interesting is that I didn’t have the time to make the points you mention.

So, given that I was under the gun because others went long, which sentence(s) should I have taken out of my 5-minute remarks, and what should I have replaced them with?

I am not being sarcastic or “in your face.” I really have no idea if I am supposed to take your criticisms on this seriously, as if you are actually saying I should have said Y instead of X.

May 9, 2009 2:40 AM

Blogger TokyoTom said…

Bob, thanks for the response – but I’m puzzled that you’re not following me.

1. I often agree with you and occasionally give you a full thumb’s up comment. If you need more pats on the back, I’m happy to try harder on that. But I generally comment when I disagree with you, and think I have something to offer. YMMMV.

2. Presumably you understand well the Austrian and public choice perspectives on how government is frequently misused by favored insiders for private gain, or, when opposition is more organized, on how government becomes a public battleground between opposing interests with respect to resources that are not privately owned (so the expression of private preferences in the market is not possible or is frustrated).

3. Given this, can you see that while you might think you’re being even-handed, others see you as a hired hand for the long-dominant rent-seekers (the investors & industries for whom it is profitable to use our largest shared, open-access commons – the atmosphere – as a free dumping ground, while shifting risks on an uncontracted-for manner to others)?

4. And given such a perspective, can you understand that others – particularly others like Joe Romm who have been deeply involved in the rent-seeking battle – have a hard time actually listening to what you have to say, since they tend to see you as a wolf in sheep’s clothing? (Indeed, they may be so convinced that they’re “right” that they may not even notice that, like Joe, they are spokesmen for a little Baptists-bootleggers coalition of their own!)

5. As for your own position, have you really failed to notice that when speaking for IER you’re in the pay of the biggest “skeptic” rent-seekers left with respect to our largest open-access commons – the coal lobby? (Not oil, as Romm has overlooked that Exxon has stopped funding IER.)

And have you noted that Rob Bradley never talks about rent-seeking by coal (including their desire to have government fund billions for “clean” coal), while happily blocking from the “Master Resource” blog guys like me who point out these inconsistencies and some of the nonsense comming from his co-bloggers and readers?

6. Note that this point is not, as [other commenters deleted] would have it, an ad hominem; rather it is a fundamental, Austrian meta-argument about the misuse of government and the frustration of preferences when squabbles over government take place in the stead of private transactions (for clearly identified and defendable private property.

7. Of course I don’t expect you to mention in your Heritage talks your funding by IER/coal, but since you’ve brought it up, perhaps you might wish to consider – particularly if you wish to actually influence those who now have their fingers in their ears – how to address this issue. Here`s hoping that you strive to step above the fray and aim for more transparent balance.



May 9, 2009 7:24 AM


  1. TokyoTom
    May 20th, 2009 at 05:10 | #1

    LS, unfortunately, you might have missed it, but a key Austrian insight is that the business of government, which is what we`re discussing, is ABOUT rent-seeking (by business and others).

    Pointing out what is obvious is sometimes distasteful, but not dishonest.

    “Who cares who is tainted by who”? Maybe those who don`t want to get fleeced, in addition to those whose preferences differ and are battling over the wheel. Presumably you, too, which is why you bother to comment here.

    But if you don`t like it, maybe you should tell Republicans to stop questioning the motives of the big business interests that are supporting the Waxman bill: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0509/22734.html. I agree with fully with their criticism, but I just think that – rather obviously – there`s more than one side here. Only those who prefer to support one side of the rent-seeking game refer only to the bad motivations of others, while ignoring their own (or portraying their own as pure).

    “This isn’t high school for crissakes”

    It sure ain`t, which is why I find it hard to tolerate your own brand of uninformed, ad hom-laced (James Hansen fanclub”) and in-your-face (viz., “nonsense”, “withchunt”, “crissakes”) behavior. How long will you continue to belie your own purported interest in adult conversation? Inquiring minds want to know!

    Judging by your second paragraph, I`m sure you are capable of meeting higher standards.

  2. liberty student
    May 18th, 2009 at 06:22 | #2

    Isn’t this “hired guns” nonsense just a witchhunt?

    If Bob has said something dishonest, fine. If he hasn’t, and he’s representing the perspective of his employer with honesty, then who cares who is tainted by who?

    This isn’t high school for crissakes (although it might seem that way to the James Hansen fanclub).

  3. TokyoTom
    May 12th, 2009 at 09:55 | #3

    bob, thanks for your comments.  

    You refer to “seek[ing] appropriate damages” for pollution generally, as if we have clear property rights, court systems that enforce them, and no massive governmental regulatory interference.  Unfortunately, none of these is true, going back centuries, as Block and von Mises both recognize:



    The non-climate environmental costs of coals remain massive, as the American Lung Association points out, and of costs are much higher in China/India, which provide even less protection to health and property rights

    Generally, I favor a shift from our present regulatory structure to stricter enforcement of property rights, but see a legitimate role for government to play as a coordinator, particular with respect to regional and global commons.

    As for the rest, why withhold judgment?  The evidence is clear that IER is playing a rent-seeker`s game.  If Bob Murphy doesn`t want to encourage rent seeking then he ought to consider the terms of his relationship with IER, and whether his criticisms are one-sided.

  4. bob (not murphy)
    May 12th, 2009 at 07:35 | #4

    in re:
    2) you are also missing calculation problems arising from inaccurate prices, namely that those most damaged by harm to the environment would seek appropriate damages. But then the burden of proof is on them. it is not simply a question of malice. if you actually had prices and contracts such that those who pollution encroaches upon voluntarily agree to some tolerable degree of it, there is a sensible market solution before the need for legal action. And there is a motive to develop technology that’s cleaner or can actually clean the air. And it’s competitive…unless we try to centrally plan it. The problem is largely city planning over property rights, in regards to ownership of the environment – surely you should own some pattern of property you homestead – this is reinforced by noise laws – why not soot?

    as far as the rest) if IER is really attempting to engage in rent-seeking activity, they have done themselves a folly, as Dr. Murphy doesn’t encourage anything of the sort.

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