Home > Austrians, climate change, commons, Enviro Derangement Syndrome, John Quiggin, ostrom > A few more comments to John Quiggin on climate, libertarian principles and the enclosure of the commons

A few more comments to John Quiggin on climate, libertarian principles and the enclosure of the commons

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

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

    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.

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