Archive for the ‘collective action’ Category

To John Quiggin: Reassuring climate "delusions" help us all to avoid engaging with "enemies" in exploring common ground

November 6th, 2009 No comments

I left the following comment on John Quiggin`s “Libertarians and delusion” post (other comments are noted in my preceding posts):


November 6th, 2009 at 14:03 | #34


I “have started to entertain the view that there is either an
actual or perceived conflict between reality and libertarian ideology.”

Thanks for this concession, John, but of course this is true for ANY
ideology (as well for the rest of us more perfect humans who always
have to battle with cognitive conservatism). And yes, it leads to a
combination of tribalism and wishful thinking, and in some cases a
denial of inconvenient science.

Sea Bass says it well: “So what we have is many libertarians, who
are usually not experts on the science of climate change, being asked
to blindly accept scientific conclusions that are often promoted by
people and organisations whose political beliefs are antithetical to
their own.”

Thinking that libertarians are more susceptible to “delusion” than
anyone else is itself a cognitive trap – one that provides comfort to
those who believe that there is a serious cause for concern about
climate change (me too), and that it`s one easily addressed by
government, and leads them to ignore the empirical evidence for the
ways governments screw up (and are manipulated, and to conclude that
those who oppose government action are evil.

I`ve made several references to the empirical case for caution in
thinking that government is going to make things better rather than
worse; the work of Lin Ostrom and the reasons the Nobel Prize committee
gave her the award are a recent one. But as I noted in comments to a
post by Tim Lambert earlier this year on the “economists`s consensus”:

85 “Free market people do not argue that all government allocation
of goods is ineffective. It simply suffers from a high incidence of
moral hazard and inefficiency, and if it does not account for the
market (which it has little incentive to do as it is mostly about
politics) any growth from it will likely be unsustainable.”

Well said, Craig; commonsense examples of moral hazard and inefficiency can be seen in:

* our oversupply and overuse of our “defense”, e.g., Iraq &
Halliburton, Homeland Security, domestic spying, military-industrial
stuff generally;
* our agricultural pork: price supports, ethanol, sugar;
* the government’s provision of “war on drugs” to save us from mad
reefer smokers, etc., resulting in Prohibition-like
crime/corruption/stifled inner city growth, trampled stae and local
rights and troubles in all supplying/conduit countries;
* cheap oil/gas/hardrock mineral/timber/grazing leases;
* an oversupplied but underperforming levee system;
* huge bonuses and huge risks generated at Freddie and Fannie;
* an FDA and Ag Dept that notes bad peanut butter mfg but says nothing,
yet prohibits small dairy and meat producers from advertising
hormone-free milk and mad cow disease-free beef, etc.

Who couldn’t want more of this?

Posted by: TokyoTom | February 17, 2009 6:47 AM

All issues that Tim – and you, too, apparently – just conveniently
don`t seem to see at all, or at least have a tough time finding the
time or space to address, preferring to delve into arcania about
various libertarian cults. But of course now there are lots of
environmentalists, voters, pundits and even scientists like Jim Hansen
who are decrying what looks like an enormous C&T road wreck
emerging as the preferred climate option in Washington.

Just as I am working hard to make sure that libertarians are not
blunting their own message by hiding their heads in the sand on the
science, so do I think that those who (rightly I think) are concerned
about AGW ought to be paying quite a bit more attention to the problems
pointed out by libertarians about the misuse of government by powerful
insiders, the knowledge problem and bureaucratic perversities.

Sadly, there seems to be little interest by most in exploring the
very wide middle ground of undoing the screwed up policies that have
helped to generate the frustrations that many feel today and the
engender what has become a snowballing fight over the wheel of

Why can`t we have a little more exploration of root causes and
common ground? Must it remain a no-man`s land, while partisans battle,
and corporate interests scheme?


A few more "delusional" thoughts to John Quiggin on partisan perceptions & libertarian opposition to collective action

November 5th, 2009 No comments

Further to my preceding posts regarding John Quiggin`s post on “Libertarians and delusionism“, I copy below a few of the comments that I left there:

November 4th, 2009 at 08:13 | #3

thanks for raising the topic more widely. However, I think you`ve
wandered a bit astray yourself by missing the problem of cognitive
traps, as well as missing a libertarian point or two.

I respond more fully here:


November 4th, 2009 at 18:09 | #33

I note that I have made a few additional comments, chiefly in an effort
to clarify my understanding of libertarian views on property:

I look forward to your further thoughts.



November 5th, 2009 at 00:43 | #48

John, obviously my own experience at Mises (and at the libertarian law
blog Volokh Conspiracy) is that while decidedly irrational “skepticism”
and wishful thinking predominates, it is not universal. But those like
me who believe that climate concerns are justified and want to analyze
policy (and who are critical of ad homs directed toward “enviros”)
always face challenges and criticism from those who feel too threaded
to venture out into a discussion of policy.

However, outside of boards like that, it seems to me that there is a
general swing by libertarian commenters on climate to an acceptance of
a rather mainstream science view, though there remains natural policy
disagreements. Ron Bailey, science correspondence at Reason and Jon
Adler, a resources law prof at Case Western, Lynne Kiesling at
Knowledge Problem blog, David Zetland, who blogs on water issues, come
to mind. Others, at AEI, CEI, IER and Master Resource are partly in the
business of running cover for fossil fuel interests, and so frequently
challenge both science and policy.

There have been several open disputes, where Bailey, Kiesling and
others have challenged skepticism at CEI and elsewhere, as I noted on
my recent “libertarian views” summary post. Readers might also find
this upbraiding of Penn & Teller to be interesting:

BTW, I note that one self-described libertarian group in California
has specifically proposed carbon taxes, though this is a rather obscure
group and their “Pay Your Air Share” proposal appears to be

  1. November 5th, 2009 at 17:08 | #36

    “It is the collective action that is required that extreme libertarians hate so much. ”

    Libertarians don`t oppose collective action per se, but are opposed
    to “collective” actions that are dictated by the state -because it
    hampers the ability of communities to respond to problems on their own,
    weakens links between resource users and the relevant resource,
    frequently locks in benefits for powerful insiders (viz., the big firms
    that profess to love markets but really love their deals from
    government that lock in their advantageous position) – thereby setting
    up enduring fights over the wheel of government -and because the
    “knowledge problem” generally ensures that solutions will be ham-handed
    and generate a need for further interventions.

    You, John and others might not have noticed, but these are some of
    the chief conclusions of the empirical research by “tragedy of the
    commons” expert Elinor Ostrom, and her writings about how
    counter-productive stated-led “development” and commons-management
    efforts have been is precisely the reason why the Swedes awarded her
    the Nobel Prize in economics.

  2. November 5th, 2009 at 17:19 | #37

    Alice, on the topic of “watermelons”, surely the libertarians have a
    point that many environmentalists really do not understand how markets
    or free societies function, but typically this term is used not to
    explain, but as an ad hom, both to dismiss concerns over climate
    science and to avoid the heavy work of arguing over policy, as I`ve
    noted here:

  3. November 5th, 2009 at 17:33 | #39

    to sum up, while clearly many libertarians are guilty of wishful
    thinking as to the climate science, by the same token many
    environmentalists and leftists seem to blithely ignore all of the
    problems that are associated with state/bureaucratic responses.

    Yes, there are self-deluded on both sides, but to seek to explain
    away (or dispense with considering) the opposition of others is itself
    a flight from reason and responsibility.

    That this is understandable , human and a common phenomenon in the
    case of tribal or partisan conflict – as Nick Kristof points out:
    – makes it something that we should all the more try to avoid, rather
    than indulge in, which seems to be the drift of this post and many of
    your commenters.

    On this point, I would recommend that you and others take a look at
    some of the opposition to cap-and-trade now springing up on the left in
    the US; see the comments of two EPA lawyers and of Dr. Janese Hansen

    Says Hansen: “I hope that Williams and Zabel give decision makers
    pause. This is no time to be rushing into costly ineffectual
    legislation. It is time to call a halt on any legislation this year,
    and take time to understand the matter. It would take 20 years to fix
    the mess that Congress, with the help of special interests, seems
    intent on creating.”