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Breaking the impasse on ANWR and OCS (Part III): WSJ op-ed supports Alaska-style direct pass-through of royalties from oil/gas produced from OCS leases

September 8th, 2008 No comments

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by James P. Lucier, Jr., a managing director of Capital Alpha Partners, LLC, in Washington, D.C.

Lucier`s piece describes how Alaska shares its oil revenues with residents, and suggests that John McCain adopt a page from Alaska`s book to get popular support for oil and gas drilling in the OCS (on top of revenue sharing with the relevant states).  Here are Lucier’s key points:

this year every Alaskan will receive a $1,200 check as a share of the oil bonanza. (The check comes in addition to the
approximately $2,000 every Alaskan will receive this year as a dividend from the Permanent Fund, which was established by state constitutional
amendment in 1976 as a way of sharing the state’s mineral wealth with the people.)

A direct share in oil profits for every citizen is the ultimate incentive for more drilling. That’s why in Alaska drilling for
oil seems almost universally popular, while other states are drill-phobic.

The real comparison is …  between Alaska’s constitutional rule — that the people must share
directly in the state’s mineral wealth — and Mr. McCain’s proposal that coastal states should share in federal offshore oil revenue. His
plan is for the funds to be used for public purposes like roads, schools and conservation. A share of royalties dramatically improves
the coastal states’ incentive to support drilling. But if Mr. McCain offered every individual American a royalty check too, he might find it
easier to sell his program.

(emphasis added)

As I’ve previously noted, this makes eminent sense to me!

Let`s hope this good idea for royalty-sharing snowballs.  It`s something alot of people could get behind, even enviros – and if extended could vastly improve federal land management and could as well point the way to a rebated carbon tax.

Categories: ANWR, carbon pricing, Lucier, OCS, oil, royalties Tags:

Breaking the impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development Part II; a response to Bob Murphy

July 29th, 2008 No comments

On the main Mises blog, Bob Murphy has just advocated opening ANWR and the OCS to oil and natural gas exploration and development, for the purpose of providing “rapid relief at the pump”.  As my comment has been held up – it only had two links for Pete’s sake! – I’ve decided to post a back-up copy here.

My comment (with minor tweaks) follows:

Bob, I agree generally with your analysis, but you really fail to address or answer the question of WHY the government should open up ANWR or the OCS – you state that the best reason to do so is because opening up more federal lands for drilling will “alter current behavior, leading to rapid relief at the pump.”

Interesting, but unexamined.  Is it the government’s job to open up lands that political decisions, on the basis of competing values, have kept off the market, simply to provide relief to the complaining parts of the market (fuel users)?  If so, should the government also open up the SPR whenever markets climb and users complain?  Are there other markets that the government should also try to manage for the benefit of consumers?  And how do we choose between what markets and market segments to listen to – what happens if, say, environmental demands rise suddenly after an oil spill – should the government then rapidly move producing areas off lease and into reserves?

You also conclusorily state that it is an “absurd situation where 94 percent of federal land, and 97 percent of federal offshore waters, are not being leased by energy companies.”  How is it that you have the wisdom to know how much and where the unidentified oil and gas resources lie, so you know what percentage of federal lands SHOULD be under an energy company lease?  And what about the small consideration of other values for the land in question – have you decided that energy trumps all?

Finally you conclude that “the ideal solution would be to completely privatize federal lands, so that the decision of whether or not to drill would no longer be a political one.”  As my initial questions to you may indicate, I actually agree with you on this, but the reason for privatization is NOT to provide relief to consumers and other users at the pump, but in order to end incompetent and politicized and sometimes logjammed federal management, while improving management of both environmental and other resource values.

Not only have I done a more thorough job of explaining WHY the feds and our Congresscritters ought to open up ANWR and the OCS, I’ve also explained HOW we can move past the existing deadlock – in a proposal I laid out last week in my blog here:  “Breaking the senseless impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development – a tax and rebate proposal”.

A deal on OCS seems easier to do than ANWR, because all that is needed to get the coastal states to agree is greater revenue-sharing with the states.

An ANWR deal should happen just out of fairness to the Inuit who own some land that is now bottled up in ANWR. [If they were given fee simple, then they could start drilling immediately, and while they’d have a right to access and transport across the wildlife reserve, they’d carry the liability for all environmental damage.  Sitting on ANWR makes it more likely that environmentally riskier OCS exploration and development in the Arctic Ocean will proceeed.]

By the way, has it ever occurred to you to wonder how much COAL leasing would occur if private parties and not the federal (and state) government owned the Western lands on which production is occurring?  With all of the royalties flowing into the coffers of federal and state governments?

Or to wonder how much extremely destructive coal production would occur in West Virgina and the rest of the Appalachians, if the governments were not being paid tremendous sums to turn a blind eye and to deny justice to those who are suffering all of the costs of the ongoing violation of private health and property rights and the transfer of costs and risks?  I addressed some of those issues here:  Almost levelled, West Virginia: Crooked justice allows mountain-top removal practices to freely injure homes and health“.



As I noted on my related post, enviros should move on ANWR because they can get a better deal – on federal resource management generally, and even on climate change – than by sitting pat.  And Austrians and others ought to support both such movement, and the type of changes in federal resource management that I’ve outlined.

Breaking the senseless impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development – a tax and rebate proposal

July 16th, 2008 10 comments

It’s long been obvious that:

(1) government policy concerning the use of public lands is highly bureaucratized, often inept and subject to behind the scenes sweet deals favoring insiders;

(2) discussions about how the public lands should be used often very politicized;

(3) politicization is especially prominent with respect to public lands that have potentially high commercial value but where development requires additional approvals from legislators or others outside of the Administration/regulatory bureaucracy – such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the native lands within it, which cannot be explored without Congressional approval, and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), further development of which has been blocked both by Executive Order and by annual moratoria imposed by Congress, with the strong backing of many coastal states that wish to protect their tourism industries; and

(4) supporters on both sides – whether for development of ANWR and OCS or for the continued preservation of wildlife, recreation or tourism values or protection of other objectives – have perfectly legitimate interests, and excellent arguments to make (and some not so excellent) in support of those interests.

But it has not been so obvious that the different interests are in fact irreconcilable, especially when one notes how well conservation groups that own land have been able to balance their conservation objectives with active resource extraction – which can be done carefully while providing revenues for other activities.  In fact, I suppose that if any of the major environmental groups had been given title to ANWR, development would have been well underway years ago (as I have previously suggested).  Likewise, the states that have until now blocked further OCS development have done so in good part because the federal government takes the lion’s share of the royalty revenues, while leaving the states and local communities with the short end of the stick and the risks of feared development disasters.

So – for the rather simple reason that there is no private owner of the resources at stake, but instead a politically-controlled legal owner (the U.S. citizens via their government) and an array of shadow owners (the various interest groups and bureaucrats) who have been unable either to conclude any deals or to force their preferences down the throats of those they disagree with – we have deadlock, with valuable resources sitting in the ground, and possibilities for mutually beneficial deals lost.  This is a rather basic analysis that has been recognized by libertarian thinkers and free market environmentalists like John Baden for quite some time.

Recently, in response to a proposal by Iain Murray of CEI that ANWR and the OCS be opened to development, I indicated some further thoughts on possible paths forward:

The key is to end politicized control, not to run roughshod over conservationists.  If we are serious about ANWR, we ought to simply cede it to the Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy.  They would certainly pump from it AND protect it, and use the revenues to support more important conservation projects.   As for the OCS, exploration is limited only because states don`t want to bear the burden of pollution risks with a slim share of revenues.  With more generous revenue sharing, more OCS development will occur.

However, I’d like to change tack a little bit, as these disputes are part of the bigger problem of federalized management, and we are unlikely to see Congress act in the near future to privatize ANWR or other federal lands, or even to turn them over to environmental groups to manage.  We face a real problem with respect to most of federal lands that revenues from resource extraction go into the big black hole of general funds, with very little ability of the resource managers to capture the benefit of managing well, and very little incentive by American taxpayers to make sure that resources are well-managed, priced to receive good returns and do not leave taxpayers generally holding the bag for environmental risks.  A litany of horror stories could easily be assembled on these points. 

How can we get started on improving incentives on our government resource management projects?  Well, a small idea occurs to me:

I’ve recently reviewed a slew of recent arguments on the climate change front and noted wide-ranging support (driven by equity, efficiency and expedience) for a federal carbon pricing scheme (whether by carbon taxes or by emission rights under a cap and trade scheme), particularly if all of the funds raised by the tax or permit sale are passed through to Americans on a per capita basisWhy couldn’t we apply the same concept to ANWR and the OCS lands, with a small percentage being kept by the relevant oversight agency to fund and incentivize oversight? 

If royalty revenues are passed through to citizens, Americans will directly benefit from moving ahead (without encouraging government bloat), so that development will not be seen as simply a giveaway by politicians to evil oil and gas companies.  Further, citizens (and entrepreneurial prosecutors) will have greater incentives to monitor government performance (as in not giving away the resources too cheaply, and actually collecting revenues owed), and will able use the dividend checks to fund, to their hearts’ content, further environmental protection.  In the case of the OCS, clearly a greater cut of the royalties ought to go to citizens in the relevant coastal states to compensate them for the relatively higher environmnetal risks they bear.

To incentivize the environmental groups to support this type of approach, as well as to provide better assurance of environmental oversight, I would suggest that new leases to explore or develop in ANWR and the OCS include as a contracting party an environmental group, either as the direct lessee (subcontracting to a preferred oil and gas company) or as environmental risk manager, in either case capturing a share of the royalty.  The environmental groups will reap some benefit (that they can use for other projects) and will be subject to oversight by their members, and to competition from other environmental groups to protect wildlife and other values.

Such schemes would incentivize all stakeholders to work together in a win-win manner, while minimizing environmental risk, and directly rewarding citizens and leading to improved resource management.

Maybe the strong desire of many to see carbon pricing at the federal level can be leveraged to enhance both environmental protection AND economic growth, while streamline government and rewarding good resource management, at least in the case of ANWR and the OCS.  (Next up, federal lands – forests, hard rock mining and oil and gas – generally!)

Just a thought.

Can Enviros Manage Land? Give ANWR to the Nature Conservancy!

October 30th, 2007 No comments

The NYT has an interesting article up on Nature Conservancy’s extensive holdings in the Adirondacks:

 Nothing like ownership to incentivize environmentalists to strive for balance and profits.


Categories: enviros, Nature conservancy, oil, timber Tags:

Immodest thoughts: To fix capitalism, we must get govt out of corporate risk-management (rent-selling) business and get shareholders to stop playing ‘victim’ & start paying attention to risks

May 11th, 2011 2 comments

I am prompted by recent events to follow up on thoughts I emailed to Sheldon Richman a few months back:

I feel strongly that If we want to fix the country (and if libertarians don’t want to be dismissed as irrelevant/patsies for rent-seekers) we need to find ways to restore shareholder ownership of downside risk. This is the only way to back away from the destruction of communities and our natural and government commons by faceless elites through corporations – and the battle for control over Government micromanagement that so often is captured by corporations and serves as barriers to entry.

Insurers would step in to help shareholders and act as a check on management.

The states that create corporations retain power under the 14th Amendment to discriminate in favor of local, unlimited liability forms of corporation or corporations in which shares are not fully-paid up. There is nothing like a substantial risk tail to focus shareholders on managing management.


In addition, allow me to summarize thoughts that I have posted extensively elsewhereThe state has institutionalized moral hazard and exacerbated principal-agent problems via the grant of limited liability to corporate shareholders. This grant is at the core of why investors chose to us the corporate form (as opposed to traditional partnerships and older versions of corporations where shareholders retained substantial risk), and is something that cannot be obtained merely by voluntary transactions – as it involves future potential involuntary victims of acts by the new corporate legal entity (lenders and other parties can of course agree in advance to liability caps and recourse limits). 

This state intervention has set in motion and greatly fuelled the growth of government and battles with citizen groups over the wheel of government — battles in which insider elites, generally acting through long-lived and deep pocketed corporations that are armed with greater knowledge and cloaked with anonymity, have the overwhelming advantage. I earlier summarized these dynamics here: The Cliff Notes version of my stilted enviro-fascist view of corporations and government


As I have noted elsewhere: I am NOT arguing FOR a general rule that shareholders SHOULD be liable for corporate torts. Rather, I

(1) point out that limited liability itself has served to muddle the question of whom, exactly, should be responsible for the very real harms that corporations frequently cause (if, as some argue, the corporations and their shareholders themselves are the “victims” of the troubles they create, then whom, exactly, are the perpetrators?),

(2) note that the limited-liability corporate form has enabled risk-generation and -shifting on a massive scale, with innocent third parties frequently being stuck holding the bag (not solely when liabilities exceed assets, but more generally since the cycle of escalating government interventions to rein in corporations perversely ends up raising barriers to entry and giving corporations regulatory “rights to pollute” that curtail liability even when sufficient assets are available),

(3) argue that libertarians should reconsider the grant of limited liability for torts (as opposed to limited liability as to those who contract with the corporation on a voluntary basis) not simply because it is clearly non-libertarian to begin with, but because it has had profoundly perverse consequences (consequences at a serious enough level that state-loving libertarians in effect concede simply by troubling themselves to argue against curtailing limited liability),

(4) note that the most efficacious way to roll back the regulatory state lie in the direction of shifting ultimate responsibility for managing risks to enterprise owners (and ending the counter-productive regulatory risk-management experiment), and

(5) note that a curtailment of limited liability for torts could be hedged by shareholders via insurance, and could be achieved by state governments and the federal government offering more lenient regulation to busness enterprises that operate as partnerships, unlimited liability corporations, or in cases where shares are not fully paid up so that calls for significant additional capital could be made against shareholders if needed to pay claims.

All of this should be quite evident in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the nuclear crony-capitalism behind the decision-making that has now come back to bite Japanese individuals and firms that use TEPCO power or which are downwind of their tsunami-damaged nuclear plants (though both of these cases are compounded by even deeper governmental interventions). It should also be evident in the many cases at home and abroad where corporations act to exploit (and pay royalties to governments on) mineral and energy resources that governments purport to “own”, and where governments grant corporations “public utility” monopoly rights.

Any suggestion that one must “provide a theory of liability that coherently distinguishes shareholders from any other patron of the company” BEFORE one can examine any justifications FOR the state grant of limited liability or the consequences of such intervention would be both sadly non-libertarian and dangerously blind and shallow.

Can I interest any other libertarians in pursuing this avenue of rolling back the state?

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On Feel Sorry for BP Day, Coast Guard reports blasts Transocean's Deepwater Horizon, a Marshall Islands flagship. Somehow role of Govt as irresponsible resource owner is overlooked

April 23rd, 2011 No comments

Yesterday, on Feel Sorry for BP Day (we all know that BP is just another victim of fishermen,other purported victims and Government, right?), the WSJ provided coverage of a Coast Guard report blasting Transocean, owner of Deepwater Horizon, a Marshall Islands flagship owner of the rig that blew up and sank last year, leaving an oil will that has greatly affected the Gulf of Mexico and the health and livelihoods of many thousands of people.

Somehow, both the Coast Guard and the WSJ reporters managed to overlook the 800 lb. gorilla in the room: namely, the role of Government as irresponsible resource owner. How convenient!

These days, even supposedly ‘capitalist’ new organizations don’t seem to have any grasp of how profoundly “non-capitalist” is our energy sector, which is heavily tied to government as resource owner and pollution-permit authorizer.

Here’s the link.

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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

November 7th, 2010 No comments

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.,

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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Nice short clip by CEI's RJ Smith, explaining government's role in the destructive exploitation of wildlife resources

September 24th, 2010 No comments

I attach for the benefit of readers a short video explaining the “Tragedy of the Commons” by author and environmental historian Robert J. Smith, founder and director of the Center for Private Conservation (a former CEI project), an adjunct scholar in environmental policy at CEI. Smith is also a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Distinguished Adjunct Scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 

Read more by Robert J. Smith here

I note that I have commented extensively on various commons issues: e.g., bisonfish, whales, “public” lands, oil & gas, and indigenous resources


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A BP Reader: statist corporations, "the environment" and the Tragedy of the Government-Owned/-Managed Commons

June 16th, 2010 No comments

For lack of a better place I left the following note on the moribund comment thread at Lew Rockwell’s May 5 “Feel Sorry for BP?” post:

TokyoTom June 16, 2010 at 2:41 am

It’s more than a little disappointing – given how serious the economic damage being wrought by the BP situation is, and the role of government and BP in the genesis of the problem – how unproductive this thread has turned out to be.

Here is more information and analysis for any interested Austrians out there:

My related blog posts (including comments on/links to posts by Sheldon Richman, Kevin Carson, Ed Dolan, Matt Yglesias, Scott Sumner and Shawn Wilbur) can be found here:

Roderick Long has links to various posts by others (Carson, Richman, plus Darian Worden, Gary Chartier, Alex Knight) here:

My posts on fish and ocean drilling are also relevant:



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Who’s at the short end of the stick when Government "Play[s] Fast and Loose with Civilization" in the Gulf of Mexico?

June 8th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post! [links updated] I have just stumbled across  by Jeffrey Tucker’s May 27, 2010 post on the Mises Economics Blog regarding the Obama administration’s decision, in response to the BP mess in the Gulf, to suspend consideration of applications to drill in the Arctic.

1.  I was inspired to leave a few comments, which I copy here [a link or two added; my apologies for the bolding, but I’ve been out-witted by the html]:

TokyoTom June 8, 2010 at 5:14 am

“But what strikes me as just how willy nilly the state acts toward the goods and services that fuel civilization itself.” “rarely been more obvious, day to day, that the machinery of the state, while pretending to be the caretaker of mother earth, only destroys hope for real human beings.”

Jeffrey, how true – but how ironic and sad that, like Lew, you only look at the potential impact on US consumers (and businesses) of Obama’s (much, much, MUCH delayed) action to suspend consideration of applications to drill in the Arctic (and now elsewhere on the OCS), but ignore the PRESENT and very real impact of incompetent and corrupt government management on all of the people who live in, on and draw their LIVELIHOODS from the Gulf of Mexico commons that are now being despoiled by the BP spill. I mean, aren’t losses to fishermen and others in the Gulf region staring us in the face?

See, e.g., the reports here on marginalized fishermen it’s a shame that, rather than float ideas on how to end the Tragedy of the Government-Owned/-Managed Commons – such as expanding fishermen’s rights to manage Gulf resources – you see fit to suggest that the real solution lies in more Avatar-like Drill, Baby, Drill! resource exploitation under the current and obviously flawed rules. As for the rest of you, generally my disappointment with shallow, partisan thinking continues. Perhaps a cut and paste from a recent post will serve?

I continue to scratch my head on the knee-jerk reactions by Austrian-libertarians on problems regarding management of common resources: are not our physical and electronic communities commons? Don’t commons support many people directly, and us all indirectly? Aren’t there huge and obvious commons-related problems that stem from government ownership and “management” of resources – be they federal lands, the seas, our fiat currency, or our financial institutions and publicly-listed companies? Don’t we all know that government gets in the way, frustrating the ability of people with differing preferences to search for and reach mutual accommodations, and instead putting them at loggerheads in zero-sum situations? The unbecoming reflexive hostility indicates that even those who think they have their thinking caps on cannot see past the partisan conflict that government itself generates. Kind regards, your resident Austrian misanthrope, Tom

2. For those who want to put their thinking caps on, I note that I have a number of posts on managing commons resources – see my posts on Nobel-Prizewinner Elinor Ostrom for starts – and on fisheries and on federally-owned oil and gas resources like the OCS and ANWR. They might provide a little grist for the mill.

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