Archive for the ‘Austrians’ Category

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

November 4th, 2009 No comments

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.

    John Quiggin plays Pin-the-tail-on-the-Donkey with "Libertarians and delusionism"

    November 3rd, 2009 No comments

    John Quiggin, a left-leaning Australian economist and professor at the University of Queensland, has noted my recent post on the penchant for bloggers
    and readers at the Mises Blog to attack climate science – are “almost universally committed to delusional views on climate science“, as he puts it – though these are not words fairly put into my mouth.  Like me, though, Quiggin wonders why wonders why libertarians focus on climate science at the near-exclusion of policy discussions, since (1) he sees “plenty of political opportunities to use climate change to attack subsidies and other existing interventions” and (2) he supposes that the environmental movement`s widespread shift “from profound suspicion
    of markets to enthusiastic support for market-based policies such as
    carbon taxes and cap and trade” seems like a big win for libertarians.

    Quiggin previously commented on “Libertarians and global warming” last June; this seems to be a follow up.

    Quiggins posits that Austrians/libertarians exhibit a “near-universal rejection of mainstream climate science,” and asserts that:

    we can draw one of only three conclusions
    (a) Austrians/libertarians are characterized by delusional belief in
    their own intellectual superiority, to the point where they think they
    can produce an analysis of complex scientific problems superior to that
    of actual scientists, in their spare time and with limited or no
    scientific training in the relevant disciplines, reaching a startling
    degree of unanimity for self-described “sceptics”
    (b) Austrians/libertarians don’t understand their own theory and
    falsely believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own
    views must be wrong
    (c) Austrians/libertarians do understand their own theory and correctly
    believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own views
    must be wrong

    John concludes:

    “Overall, though I, think that acceptance of the reality of climate
    change would be good for libertarianism as a political movement. It
    would kill off the most extreme and unappealing kinds of a priori
    logic-chopping, while promoting an appreciation of Hayekian arguments
    about the power of market mechanisms. And the very fact of uncertainty
    about climate change is a reminder of the fatality of conceits of
    perfect knowledge.”

    While John asks a good question and reveals some appreciation of markets, it`s clear that he is still pretty much groping in the dark when it comes to understanding libertarians` concerns about climate policy, indeed, even as to libertarian aims and concerns generally. He also overlooks various cognitive/psychological factors that appear to be at play. Naturally, I appreciate the opportunity for discussion.

    1. Before addressing his three possible conclusions, let me note that while “market-based policies such as
    carbon taxes and cap and trade” may seem to John “like a big win for libertarians”, this is most definitely NOT the case for most libertarians in the context of climate change, as these “market-based policies” represent an enormous expansion of government that libertarians feel very strongly, based on past experience, will be profoundly porky, counterproductive and costly. In the face of the fight for favor in Washington and the choice of opaque cap-and-trade over a more open rebated carbon tax and other deregulatory options, there is good reason to believe that libertarians are right.

    2. Regarding conclusion (a), let me first note that John reveals the self-same “conceit of perfect knowledge” that he accuses Austrians/libertarians of having: the “acceptance of reality of climate change” would undoubtedly be good for everyone, but just what is that reality, and how can a layman of any stripe confirm himself that climate is changing and that man is responsible? The very fact that this “reality” is nearly impossible to confirm personally (even over the course of a lifetime) means that even those whom John considers as having “accepted reality” have basically just adopted a frame of reference, on the basis of the consistency of the AGW frame with other previously established mental frames, a reliance on authority, peer-group acceptance, etc.

    “Reality” in this case inevitably, for most people, has very large personal and social components; accordingly, both “acceptance” and “skepticism” of it may look like a group belief, which may help to explain why it is possible to perceive “a startling
    degree of unanimity” of views on climate science, the contents of such views varying by group.

    As for Austrians/libertarians, while I don`t think it is fair to conclude they (we) are characterized by delusional belief in
    their own intellectual superiority, but that many do have a belief, not so much in the superiority of their intellect, but in the correctness of their views on political science and economics (this is common in other groups, of course). This may affect their views on climate science, for several reasons that I have noted to John previously, and may be related for some of them to his conclusions (b) and (c).

    3. Concerning conclusions (b) and (c), these are both over-generalizations; libertarians are a heterogenous bunch. But if I may generalize myself, to me there appears no conflict whatsoever between Austrian views, which are primarily about interpersonal relations and the role of government, and climate science. “Mainstream science” has nothing to do with these views, so if Austrians are wrong about “mainstream climate science”, this does not imply that any Austrian views
    must be wrong. So Quiggins` (c) is wrong.

    Quiggins`(b) – that Austrians may not understand their own theory and
    may falsely believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own
    views must be wrong – may be right for some Austrians, but certainly not generally. Rather, what I suspect is going on is much more ordinary, as I previously noted to Quiggin as a comment on his related June post; that I need to repeat myself indicates that maybe John is having cognitive difficulties of his own (emphasis added):

    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 [see this long list]. 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
    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.

    I`ve discussed a number of times how we all easily fall into partisan cognitive traps, as summarized here.

    A related piece of the dynamic is that some libertarians may feel that if they agree that AGW may be a problem, that this will be taken – wrongly – by others in the political arena as a conclusion that the libertarian message is no longer relevant.

    4. Some support for these points can be seen in Edwin Dolan`s 2006 paper, “Science, Public Policy and Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position” (Cato), in which Dolan suggests that many libertarian climate skeptics are acting quite as
    if they are “conservatives” of the type condemned by Friedrich Hayek
    Dolan cites Hayek’s 1960 essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative” (1960),
    in which Hayek identified the following traits that distinguish
    conservatism from market liberalism:

    • Habitual resistance to change, hence the term “conservative.”
    • Lack of understanding of spontaneous order as a guiding principle of economic life.
    • Use of state authority to protect established privileges against the forces of economic change.
    • Claim to superior wisdom based on self-arrogated superior quality in place of rational argument.
    • A propensity to reject scientific knowledge because of dislike of the consequences that seem to follow from it.

    Further support is provided by Jonathan Adler, a libertarian law professor at Case Western who focusses on resource issues, and who has concluded that climate change is a serious concern, and that man is contributing to it. His February 2008 post, “Climate Change, Cumulative Evidence, and Ideology” (and the comment thread) is instructive:

    “Almost every time I post something on climate
    change policy, the comment thread quickly devolves into a debate over
    the existence of antrhopogenic global warming at all. (See, for
    instance, this post
    on “conservative” approaches to climate change policy.) I have largely
    refused to engage in these discussions because I find them quite
    unproductive. The same arguments are repeated ad nauseum, and no one is
    convinced (if anyone even listens to what the other side is saying). …

    “Given my strong libertarian leanings, it would certainly be
    ideologically convenient if the evidence for a human contribution to
    climate change were less strong. Alas, I believe the preponderance of
    evidence strongly supports the claim that anthropogenic emissions are
    having an effect on the global climate, and that effect will increase
    as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. While I reject most
    apocalyptic scenarios as unfounded or unduly speculative, I am
    convinced that the human contribution to climate change will cause or
    exacerbate significant problems in at least some parts of the world.
    For instance, even a relatively modest warming over the coming decades
    is very likely to have a meaningful effect on the timing and
    distribution of precipitation and evaporation rates, which will, in
    turn, have a substantial impact on freshwater supplies. That we do not
    know with any precision the when, where, and how much does not change
    the fact that we are quite certain that such changes will occur.

    “So-called climate “skeptics” make many valid points about the
    weakness or unreliability of many individual arguments and studies on
    climate. They also point out how policy advocates routinely exaggerate
    the implications of various studies or the likely consequences of even
    the most robust climate predictions. Economists and others have also
    done important work questioning whether climate risks justify extreme
    mitigation measures. But none of this changes the fact that the
    cumulative evidence for a human contribution to present and future
    climate changes, when taken as a whole, is quite strong. In this
    regard, I think it is worth quoting something Ilya wrote below about
    the nature of evidence in his post about 12 Angry Men”:

    often dismiss individual arguments and evidence against their preferred
    position without considering the cumulative weight of the other side’s
    points. It’s a very easy fallacy to fall into. But the beginning of
    wisdom is to at least be aware of the problem.

    “The “divide
    and conquer” strategy of dissecting each piece of evidence
    independently can make for effective advocacy, but it is not a good way
    to find the truth”

    I  noted the following in response to Adler:

    I think that there are many Austrians who understand WHY there might
    be a climate change problem to which man contributes, as the atmosphere
    is an open-access resource, in which there are no clear or
    enforceable property rights that rein in externalities or that give
    parties with differing preferences an ability to engage in meaingful
    transactions that reflect those preferences. 

    But, flawed human beings that we are, we have difficulty truly
    keeping our minds open (subconscious dismissal of inconsistent data is
    a cognitive rule) and we easily fall into tribal modes of conflict that
    provide us with great satisfaction in disagreeing with those evil
    “others” while circling the wagons
    (and counting coup) with our
    brothers in arms.

    Sadly, this is very much in evidence in the thread to your own post.

    5. I have pulled together a post that indicates that a number of libertarians are trying to engage in good faith on climate change, and which may also serve as a good introduction for interested readers to libertarian thinking on environmental issues.

    6. Finally, let me note that many of the problems that concern libertarians also concern progressives, chief of these being the negative effects of state actions on communities, development and on open-access (and hitherto local, indigenous-managed) commons.  This is the same concern that the Nobel Prize committee expressed when extending the prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom, signalling their desire for a change in international aid policy.

    You might find these remarks by Nicholas Hildyard, Larry Lohmann, Sarah Sexton and Simon Fairlie in “Reclaiming the Commons” (1995) to be pertinent; domestic cap-and-trade is an enclosure of the atmospheric commons, for the benefit of firms receiving grants of permits and costs flowing regressively to energy consumers, and internationally represents a vast expansion of state authority and bureaucracies, with attendant enclosure of local resources:

    The creation of empires and states, business conglomerates and
    civic dictatorships — whether in pre-colonial times or in the modern
    era — has only been possible through dismantling the commons and
    harnessing the fragments, deprived of their old significance, to build
    up new economic and social patterns that are responsive to the
    interests of a dominant minority. The modern nation state has been
    built only by stripping power and control from commons regimes and
    creating structures of governance from which the great mass of humanity
    (particularly women) are excluded. Likewise, the market economy has
    expanded primarily by enabling state and commercial interests to gain
    control of territory that has traditionally been used and cherished by
    others, and by transforming that territory – together with the people
    themselves – into expendable “resources” for exploitation. By enclosing
    forests, the state and private enterprise have torn them out of fabrics
    of peasant subsistence; by providing local leaders with an outside
    power base, unaccountable to local people, they have undermined village
    checks and balances; by stimulating demand for cash goods, they have
    impelled villagers to seek an ever wider range of things to sell. Such
    a policy was as determinedly pursued by the courts of Aztec Mexico, the
    feudal lords of West Africa, and the factory owners of Lancashire and
    the British Rail as it is today by the International Monetary Fund or
    Coca-Cola Inc.

    Only in this way has it been possible to convert peasants into
    labour for a global economy, replace traditional with modern
    agriculture, and free up the commons for the industrial economy.
    Similarly, only by atomizing tasks and separating workers from the
    moral authority, crafts and natural surroundings created by their
    communities has it been possible to transform them into modern,
    universal individuals susceptible to “management”. In short, only by
    deliberately taking apart local cultures and reassembling them in new
    forms has it been possible to open them up to global trade.[FN L.
    Lohmann, ‘Resisting Green Globalism’ in W. Sachs (ed), Global Ecology:
    Conflicts and Contradictions, Zed Books, London and New Jersey, 1993.]

    To achieve that “condition of economic progress”, millions have
    been marginalized as a calculated act of policy, their commons
    dismantled and degraded, their cultures denigrated and devalued and
    their own worth reduced to their value as labour. Seen from this
    perspective, many of the processes that now go under the rubric of
    “nation-building”, “economic growth”, and “progress” are first ad
    foremost processes of expropriation, exclusion, denial and
    dispossession. In a word, of “enclosure”.

    Because history’s best-known examples of enclosure involved the
    fencing in of common pasture, enclosure is often reduced to a synonym
    for “expropriation”. But enclosure involves more than land and fences,
    and implies more than simply privatization or takeover by the state. It
    is a compound process which affects nature and culture, home and
    market, production and consumption, germination and harvest, birth,
    sickness and death. It is a process to which no aspect of life or
    culture is immune. ..,

    Enclosure tears people and their lands, forests, crafts,
    technologies and cosmologies out of the cultural framework in which
    they are embedded and tries to force them into a new framework which
    reflects and reinforces the values and interests of newly-dominant
    groups. Any pieces which will not fit into the new framework are
    devalued and discarded. In the modern age, the architecture of this new
    framework is determined by market forces, science, state and corporate
    bureaucracies, patriarchal forms of social organization, and ideologies
    of environmental and social management.

    Land, for example, once it is integrated into a framework of
    fences, roads and property laws, is “disembedded” from local fabrics of
    self-reliance and redefined as “property” or “real estate”. Forests are
    divided into rigidly defined precincts – mining concessions, logging
    concessions, wildlife corridors and national parks – and transformed
    from providers of water, game, wood and vegetables into scarce
    exploitable economic resources. Today they are on the point of being
    enclosed still further as the dominant industrial culture seeks to
    convert them into yet another set of components of the industrial
    system, redefining them as “sinks” to absorb industrial carbon dioxide
    and as pools of “biodiversity”. Air is being enclosed as economists
    seek to transform it into a marketable “waste sink”; and genetic
    material by subjecting it to laws which convert it into the
    “intellectual property” of private interests.

    People too are enclosed as they are fitted into a new society where
    they must sell their labour, learn clock-time and accustom themselves
    to a life of production and consumption; groups of people are redefined
    as “populations’, quantifiable entities whose size must be adjusted to
    take pressure off resources required for the global economy. …

    enclosure transforms the environment into a “resource” for national or
    global production – into so many chips that can be cashed in as
    commodities, handed out as political favours and otherwise used to
    accrue power. …

    Enclosure thus cordons off those aspects of the environment that are
    deemed “useful” to the encloser — whether grass for sheep in 16th
    century England or stands of timber for logging in modern-say Sarawak
    — and defines them, and them alone, as valuable. A street becomes a
    conduit for vehicles; a wetland, a field to be drained; flowing water,
    a wasted asset to be harnessed for energy or agriculture. Instead of
    being a source of multiple benefits, the environment becomes a
    one-dimensional asset to be exploited for a single purpose – that
    purpose reflecting the interests of the encloser, and the priorities of
    the wider political economy in which the encloser operates….

    Enclosure opens the way for the bureaucratization and enclosure of
    knowledge itself. It accords power to those who master the language of
    the new professionals and who are versed in its etiquette and its
    social nuances, which are inaccessible to those who have not been to
    school or to university, who do not have professional qualifications,
    who cannot operate computers, who cannot fathom the apparent mysteries
    of a cost-benefit analysis, or who refuse to adopt the forceful tones
    of an increasingly “masculine” world.

    In that respect, as Illich notes, “enclosure is as much in the
    interest of professionals and of state bureaucrats as it is in the
    interests of capitalists.” For as local ways of knowing and doing are
    devalued or appropriated, and as vernacular forms of governance are
    eroded, so state and professional bodies are able to insert themselves
    within the commons, taking over areas of life that were previously
    under the control of individuals, households and the community.
    Enclosure “allows the bureaucrat to define the local community as
    impotent to provide for its own survival.”[FN I Illich, ‘Silence is a
    Commons’, The Coevolution Quarterly, Winter 1983.] It invites the
    professional to come to the “rescue” of those whose own knowledge is
    deemed inferior to that of the encloser.

    Enclosure is thus a change in the networks of power which enmesh
    the environment, production, distribution, the political process,
    knowledge, research and the law. It reduces the control of local people
    over community affairs. Whether female or male, a person’s influence
    and ability to make a living depends increasingly on becoming absorbed
    into the new policy created by enclosure, on accepting — willingly or
    unwillingly — a new role as a consumer, a worker, a client or an
    administrator, on playing the game according to new rules. The way is
    thus cleared for cajoling people into the mainstream, be it through
    programmes to bring women “into development”, to entice smallholders
    “into the market” or to foster paid employment.[FN P. Simmons, ‘Women
    in Development’, The Ecologist, Vol. 22, No.1, 1992, pp.16-21.]

    Those who remain on the margins of the new mainstream, either by
    choice or because that is where society has pushed them, are not only
    deemed to have little value: they are perceived as a threat. Thus it is
    the landless, the poor, the dispossessed who are blamed for forest
    destruction; their poverty which is held responsible for
    “overpopulation”; their protests which are classed as subversive and a
    threat to political stability. And because they are perceived as a
    threat, they become objects to be controlled, the legitimate subjects
    of yet further enclosure. …

    People who would oppose dams, logging, the redevelopment of their
    neighbourhoods or the pollution of their rivers are often left few
    means of expressing or arguing their case unless they are prepared to
    engage in a debate framed by the languages of cost-benefit analysis,
    reductionist science, utilitarianism, male domination — and,
    increasingly, English. Not only are these languages in which many local
    objection — such as that which holds ancestral community rights to a
    particular place to have precedence over the imperatives of “national
    development” — appear disreputable. They are also languages whose use
    allows enclosers to eavesdrop on, “correct” and dominate the
    conversations of the enclosed. …

    Because they hold themselves to be speaking a universal language,
    the modern enclosers who work for development agencies and governments
    feel no qualms in presuming to speak for the enclosed. They assume
    reflexively that they understand their predicament as well as or better
    than the enclosed do themselves. It is this tacit assumption that
    legitimizes enclosure in the encloser’s mind – and it is an assumption
    that cannot be countered simply by transferring what are
    conventionbally assumed to be the trappings of power from one group to

    A space for the commons cannot be created by economists,
    development planners, legislators, “empowerment” specialists or other
    paternalistic outsiders. To place the future in the hands of such
    individuals would be to maintain the webs of power that are currently
    stifling commons regimes. One cannot legislate the commons into
    existence; nor can the commons be reclaimed simply by adopting “green
    techniques” such as organic agriculture, alternative energy strategies
    or better public transport — necessary and desirable though such
    techniques often are. Rather, commons regimes emerge through ordinary
    people’s day-to-day resistance to enclosure, and through their efforts
    to regain livelihoods and the mutual support, responsibility and trust
    that sustain the commons.

    That is not to say that one can ignore policy-makers or
    policy-making. The depredations of transnational corporations,
    international bureaucracies and national governments cannot be allowed
    to go unchallenged. But movements for social change have a
    responsibility to ensure that in seeking solutions, they do not remove
    the initiative from those who are defending their commons or attempting
    to regenerate common regimes — a responsibility they should take

    Might there be good reason NOT to rush into a vast expansion of government world-wide?


    A libertarian immodestly summarizes a few modest climate policy proposals

    November 3rd, 2009 No comments

    [Folks, I hope you do a better job than I do at saving draft posts before they`re finalized; I just lost alot of work. This will necessarily be shorter.]

    I have on numerous occasions tried to point out, to posters on the Mises
    Blog who have addressed climate issues, the stunning unproductive approach. Rather than simply reiterating my criticisms, let me get started with a
    list of policy changes that I think libertarians can and should be
    championing in response to the climate policy proposals of others.

    The incessant calls for – and criticism of –
    government climate change policies and government subsidies and mandates for “green/clean power” both ignore root
    causes and potential common ground.  As a result, both sides of the
    debate are largely talking past each other, one talking about why there
    is a pressing need for government policy to address climate change
    while the other is concerned chiefly about the likelihood of
    heavy-handed mis-regulation and wasted resources. This leaves the
    middle ground unexplored.

    There are plenty of root causes for the calls for legislative
    and regulatory mandates in favor of climate policies and clean / green / renewable power,
    such as:

    • concerns about climate change,
    • the political deal in favor of dirty coal and older power plants under the Clean Air Act, 
    • the enduring role of the federal and state governments in owning
      vast coal and oil & gas fields and relying on the royalties, which it do not go to
      citizens but into the General Pork Pool, with an unhealthy cut to states), 
    • the unwillingness of state courts, in the face of the political
      power of the energy and power industries, to protect persons and private property from
      pollution and environmental disruption created by federally-licensed energy and power projects,
    • the deep involvement of the government in developing, encouraging and regulating nuclear power, and
    • the
      frustration of consumer demand for green energy, and the inefficient
      and inaccurate pricing and supply of electricity
      , resulting from the
      grant by states of public utility monopolies and the regulation of the pricing
      and investments by utilities, which greatly restricts the freedom of power
      markets, from the ability of consumers to choose their provider, to the
      freedom of utilities to determine what infrastructure to invest in, to
      even simple information as to the cost of power as it varies by time of day and season, and the amount of electricity that consumers use by time of day or appliance.

    So what is a good libertarian to suggest? This seems rather straight-forward, once one doffs his partisan, do-battle-with-evil-green-fascist-commies armor and puts on his thinking cap.

    From my earlier comment to Stephan Kinsella:

    As Rob Bradley once reluctantly acknowledged to me, in the halcyon days before he banned me from the “free-market” Master Resource blog, “a
    free-market approach is not about “do nothing” but implementing a whole
    new energy approach to remove myriad regulation and subsidies that have
    built up over a century or more.”
    But unfortunately the wheels of this principled concern have never hit the ground at MR [my persistence in
    pointing this out it, and in questioning whether his blog was a front for
    fossil fuel interests, apparently earned me the boot

    As I have noted in a litany of posts at my blog, pro-freedom regulatory changes might include:

    • accelerating cleaner power investments by eliminating corporate
      income taxes or allowing immediate depreciation of capital investment
      (which would make new investments more attractive),
    • eliminating antitrust immunity for public utility monopolies (to
      increase competition, allow consumer choice, peak pricing and “smart metering” that will
      rapidly push efficiency gains),
    • ending Clean Air Act handouts to the worst utilities (or otherwise
      unwinding burdensome regulations and moving to lighter and more
      common-law dependent approaches),
    • ending energy subsidies generally (including federal liability caps for nuclear power (and allowing states to license),
    • speeding economic growth and adaptation in the poorer countries
      most threatened by climate change by rolling back domestic agricultural
      corporate welfare programs
      (ethanol and sugar), and
    • if there is to be any type of carbon pricing at all, insisting that it is a per capita, fully-rebated carbon tax
      (puts the revenues in the hands of those with the best claim to it,
      eliminates regressive impact and price volatility, least new
      bureaucracy, most transparent, and least susceptible to pork).

    Other policy changes could also be put
    on the table, such as an insistence that government resource management
    be improved by requiring that half of all royalties be rebated to
    (with a slice to the administering agency).

    I`m not the only one – other libertarian climate proposals are here:

    Several libertarians have recently been urging constructive libertarian approaches to climate change:

    These discussions and exchanges of view are also worthy of note:

    • The Cato Institute has dedicated its entire August 2008 monthly issue of Cato Unbound, its online forum, to discussing policy responses to ongoing climate change.  The issue, entitled “Keeping Our Cool: What to Do about Global Warming“, contains essays from and several rounds of discussion between Cato Institute author Indur Goklany; climate scientist Joseph J. Romm, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the co-founders of The Breakthrough Institute.  My extended comments are here.

    • Debate at Reason, October 2007, Ron Bailey, Science Correspondent at Reason, Fred L. Smith, Jr., President and Founder of
      CEI, and Lynne Kiesling, Senior Lecturer in Economics at
      Northwestern University, and former director of economic policy at the
      Reason Foundation.
    • Reason Foundation, Global Warming and Potential Policy Solutions September 7th, 2006 (Reason’s Shikha Dalmia, George Mason University Department of Economics
      Chair Don Boudreaux, and the International Policy Network’s
      Julian Morris)

    Finally, I have collected here some Austrian-based papers on environmental issues that are worthy of note:

    Environmental Markets?  Links to Austrians

    One such paper is the following: Terry L. Anderson and J. Bishop Grewell, Property Rights Solutions for the Global Commons: Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

    Environmental Markets? Links to Austrians

    October 2nd, 2007 3 comments

    Here’s a partial list of useful articles, alphabetically by author:

    Terry L. Anderson and J. Bishop Grewell
    Property Rights Solutions for the Global Commons: Bottom-Up or Top-Down?’y+F.+73+pdf

    H. Barnett and Bruce Yandle
    The End of the Externality Revolution

    Walter Block 
    Environmentalism and Economic Freedom: the Case for Private Property Rights

    Robert W. McGee and Walter E. Block
    Pollution Trading Permits as a Form of Market Socialism and the Search for a Real Market Solution to Environmental Pollution
    John Bratland
    Toward a Calculational Theory and Policy of Intergenerational Sustainability

    Roy E. Cordato
    Toward An Austrian Theory of Environmental Economics

    The Common Law Approach to Pollution Prevention; a Roundtable Discussion (1997) ( Hope Babcock, Elizabeth Brubaker, David Schoenbrod, Bruce Yandle, Michael Krauss )

    Peter J. Hill

    Market-Based Environmentalism and the Free Market; they’re Not the Same

    Murray N. Rothbard 
    Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution

    Fred L. Smith Jr 
    The Bankruptcy of Collectivist Environmental Policy

    Fred L. Smith, Jr. 
    Eco-Socialism: Threat to Liberty around the World

    Robert J. Smith 
    Resolving the Tragedy of the Commons by Creating Private Property Rights in Wildlife

    Ludwig von Mises 
    “The Limits of Property Rights and the Problems of External Costs and External Economies”, in Human Action

    Bruce Yandle
    Coase, Pigou, and Environmental Rights

    Bruce Yandle
    The Commons: Tragedy or Triumph?