Home > Uncategorized > A continuing story of "STUFF" and Stupidity: when enviros appear, Austrians stuff their thinking caps into a jar by the door, and rush out to defend the corporate-statist status quo

A continuing story of "STUFF" and Stupidity: when enviros appear, Austrians stuff their thinking caps into a jar by the door, and rush out to defend the corporate-statist status quo

I just stumbled across a Mises Daily post by Sterling T. Terrell (an “economist and writer living outside of San Antonio, TX”) on “The Story of Stuff” video by  Annie Leonard (a former Greenpeacer)

I couldn’t resist making a few comments, which I copy below.

Frankly, while I was disappointed by the shallow analysis by Terrell, I can’t say I was surprised – Austrians seem to like nothing better than to abandon principles and productive engagement in favor of partisanship, particularly if it enables dodging or defending corporate statism. What are principles over an emotional thrill, anyway?

Oh, you damned enviros! You make us Austrians/libertarians so stupid! (emphasis and some links added; further comments in brackets)

TokyoTom November 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Sterling, I’m late to the party, I see, but allow me to offer a few comments:

– Leonard “presses forward and laments the increasing size and importance of corporations, ignoring that the rise of corporations has been largely an outcome of consumer preferences.

My own humble view is that the rise of corporations has been more than a little affected by the fact that they are risk-transfer machines created by government and that could not exist in present form in a truly free market (certainly people injured by corporate actions do not chose the corporate structure of their tort-feasors).The grant of limited liability to shareholders has had a profound impact on society and communities and on the growth of the captured mega-regulatory
. See, e.g., http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2010/09/26/limited-liability-part-4-libertarians-sidestep-the-gift-of-limited-liability-amp-the-resulting-wreckage-by-arguing-it-39-s-now-unfair-to-make-irresponsible-shareholders-liable.aspx.

I agree with Mushindo here.

1. “We are using too much stuff”? Compared to what? How Malthusian can Leonard be? One can grow tired repeating over and over the concept of the tragedy of the commons to those that are unable to think two steps ahead.

How about, compared to what our societies would exploit if governments across the world did not fuel the tragedy of the commons by purporting to “own” so much of the commons (often stealing it from natives and preventing management by users) and auctioning off lease rights to favored inside corporations for a song? [e.g., offshore oil and other public lands]

Why do Austrians feel compelled to contest phenomena that they know full well exist? [Does Austrian knowledge of the roots of a problem make the problem magically disappear?]

2. Aren’t you the least bit embarrassed?

3. “Leonard later contends that the United States’ response to consuming too much stuff is that it just takes someone else’s”

Did you miss the movie Avatar or our discussion of it? Isn’t it obvious that property rights are respected even LESS in the Third World than in the US? What does this imply for prices of raw materials sourced from the Third World, or for used products we dump there? [What does this imply for the protection of valued resources that neither indigenous peoples nor evil enviros are able to defend title to?]

4. “Seventy-five percent of global fisheries are fished at or beyond capacity.” Again, it would be helpful if Leonard understood the tragedy of the commons.

True; but again, it would be helpful if you acknowledged that, far from being something Leonard got wrong, this is one of those points that lack of property rights in and/or government ownership of fisheries means she is absolutely right.

5. Leonard is right that we live in a very materialistic society with weakening communities; Austrians should recognize that this is fuelled by the government actions that favor corporations, and by the growth of the government itself, including fiscal and monetary policy [as well as the captured regulatory state].

What is it with the reflexive disagreement with Leonard? Can’t one disagree with many aspects, but yet find common ground and venture productive explanations?

6. I doubt it is actually common for truly toxic products to be produced and sold in the United States.

Do you also doubt that cancer and pulmonary problems are clearly linked to environmental toxins? Do you doubt the existence of Superfund sites, and toxicity associated with US nuclear weapons production programs and mines generally?

Furthermore, I doubt many corporations would be in business for long if they sold them.
Have you failed to notice greenwashing by chemical cos? Or that federal pollution licensing regs keep in business Midwestern industries whose pollution East Coast states have been suing for decades to halt?

8. “Our primary identity is that of being consumers — not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers.”

Isn’t it obvious that Leonard is referring to how we are perceived/treated by corporations and governments – and like you personally believes we are much more than that? You continue to drum up disagreements where there don’t appear to be any.

9. “the American economy’s purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” Leonard bemoans the statement, but the advisor was right! Everything is produced for consumption.

Now I’m confused: in 8 you suggest that our primary identity is NOT as consumers, but now you inform us that the whole “purpose” of the American economy is to produce more consumer goods.

In any event, any Austrian should disagree with you: the “American economy” has NO purpose whatsoever; rather, only individuals, acting alone and in groups, have purposes. Such purposes may necessitate purchases of goods and services, but I would wager that no one has a purpose of simply consuming consumer goods.

10. “Our national happiness peaked in the 1950s, the same time that this consumption mania exploded. Hmmm. Interesting coincidence,” Leonard says

Leonard hasn’t offered a conclusion, but simply offered a rather pedestrian suggestion that consumerism may adversely affect personal happiness – a viewpoint that is widely echoed by religious leaders and psychologists. I don’t believe that Austrians disagree axiomatically here – did I miss something?


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