Archive for the ‘commons’ Category

Third-World land theft & the tragedy of the commons: Mother Jones ponders, "Conservation: Indigenous peoples’ enemy No. 1?"

November 26th, 2009 No comments

[Post note: Anybody see the movie Avatar? Well that’s how native people perceive conservation efforts – as helping governing elites to steal their lands.]

The Mother Jones magazine has been running a series of on-line articles which exemplify how some progressives are exploring the ways in which various parts of the environmental/conservation agenda in developing countries have been counterproductive, adversely affected indigenous peoples, favored Western companies and played into the hands of local elites.

The articles are worth reviewing, as they reveal that enviros are starting to realize that protecting nature in the developing world requires protecting the property rights of indigenous communities.

One such article, by Mark Dowie, appeared in Mother Jones` on-line edition on November  2. The headline reads, “Conservation: Indigenous people’s enemy No. 1?”, the sub-header states, “For centuries we’ve displaced people to save nature. A huge project in Africa offers a chance to turn that around.” Dowie, an award-winning investigative journalist, is an author of several books published by the MIT Press, including his most recent, Conservation Refugees – The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples.

Dowie`s thesis is that, until recently, conservationists have typically taken the approach that the best way to preserve tropical forests and other wild ecosystems, the right approach was to establish pristine reserves from which people were excluded, and describes the change in strategy in the context of a new series of parks that the government in Gabon, central Africa. Dowie notes that the traditional approach – of establishing government-owned and -administered parks free of native residents – has a long, and long-forgotten history in the US (emphasis added):

But there was another, more historically significant opportunity
facing Gabon that day, one that Fay merely hinted at in his
presentation and Sanderson didn’t mention at all. It was the
opportunity their own industry, transnational conservation, had in
Gabon: to do right by the thousands of tribal people living inside
those emerald patches, by allowing them to remain in their homelands
and participate directly in the stewardship and management of the new
parks. They would then not be passive “stakeholders” relocated to the
margins of the park, the typical fate of indigenous peoples who find
themselves in conservation “hot spots,” but equal players in the
complex and challenging process of defending biological diversity.
goal of such a policy would be the concurrent preservation of nature
and culture; Gabon just might come to signify a happy ending of a
tense, century-long conflict between global environmentalism and native
people, millions of whom have been displaced from traditional homelands in the interest of conservation.

It’s a century-long story of violence and abuse that began in Yosemite Valley in the mid 19th century,
when the Ahwahneechee band of Miwoks were chased about, caught on, then
forcefully expelled from a landscape they had cultivated for about 200
Militias like the vicious Mariposa Battalion were sent
into Yosemite
to burn acorn caches and rout native people from remote reaches of the
Valley. After the militias came the nature romantics who mythologized
the vacated valley as the wilderness it never was, then lobbied state
and federal governments to create a national park. They got their wish
in 1890, and the remaining Indians were removed
from the area, with a
few allowed to remain temporarily, as menial laborers in a segregated
village of 20-by-20-foot shacks.

Yosemite’s Indian policy spread to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde,
Mount Ranier, Zion, Glacier, Everglades, and Olympic National Parks,
all of which expelled thousands of tribal people from their homes and
hunting grounds so the new parks could remain in an undisturbed “state
of nature.”
Three hundred Shoshone
Indians were killed in a single day during the expulsion from
Yellowstone. This was the birth of what would come to be known,
worldwide, as the Yosemite model of wildlife conservation. In Africa
it would be renamed “fortress conservation,” and like so many other
products from the North, the model would be exported with vigor to all
other continents. …

Teddy Roosevelt also proclaimed that “the rude, fierce settler who
drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt
to him… It is of incalculable importance that America,
Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red,
black, and yellow aboriginal owners and become the heritage of the
dominant world races.”

Our own history of theft from natives aside (which I have addressed tangentially in the context of the near-extirpation of the bison herds and the ongoing gross mismanagement and destruction of the salmon), what indigenous peoples in their right minds would not be opposed to the complicity of conservationists in continuing the process of the older colonial theft of their lands, even if the purpose was to “save” the land?  I won`t explore this now, but the record of “development” is replete with many examples – old and new – of such kinds of theft, with local ownership replaced by government ownership and a resulting “tragedy of the commons”-type of race to plunder “government” lands for valuable resources – oil and gas, minerals and timber.

Dowie notes the natural rise of indigenous opposition to “conservation” projects:

One consequence of creating a few million conservation refugees
around the world has been the emergence of a vast and surprisingly
powerful movement of communities that have proven themselves stewards
of nature (otherwise conservationists would have no interest in their
land), but were turned by circumstance into self-described “enemies of

In early 2004, a United Nations
meeting was convened for the ninth year in a row to push for passage of
a resolution protecting the territorial and human rights of indigenous
peoples. During the meeting, one indigenous delegate rose to state that
extractive industries, while still a serious threat to their welfare
and cultural integrity, were no longer the main antagonist of native
cultures. Their new and biggest enemy, she said, was “conservation.”
Later that spring, at a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia,
of the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping, all 200 delegates
signed a declaration stating that “conservation has become the number
one threat to indigenous territories.”

Then in February 2008, representatives of the International
Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) walked out of a Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) annual meeting, condemning the convention
for ignoring their interests. “We found ourselves marginalized and
without opportunity to take the floor and express our views,” read
their statement. “None of our recommendations were included in [the
meeting’s report]. So we have decided to leave this process…”

These are all rhetorical jabs, of course, and perhaps not entirely
accurate or fair. But they are based on fact and driven by experience,
and have shaken the international conservation community. So have a
spate of critical studies and articles calling international
conservationists to task for their historical mistreatment of
indigenous peoples.

The Mother Jones article looks like an excerpt from Dowie`s new book, which MIT describes as follows:

Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially
protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely
at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About
half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous
peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for
generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story.

This is a “good guy vs. good guy” story, Dowie writes; the indigenous
peoples’ movement and conservation organizations have a vital common
goal—to protect biological diversity—and could work effectively and
powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve species and
ecosystem diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two
forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable
protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing
on their ancestral lands or “assimilated” but permanently indentured on
the lowest rungs of the economy.

The punch line of the book summary?

When conservationists and native peoples
acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and
cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and
much more effective paradigm for conservation.

I am quite sympathetic with Dowie`s thinking, but it seems to me that he could make use of a little more intellectual framework, such as (i) the Austrian/libertarian awareness of the frequently negative role played by the state and of the usefulness of property rights (as I noted in this earlier post about the destruction of the Amazon), and (ii) Elinor Ostrom`s research into successful management of open-access, common-pool resources by communities, including natives.

I left the following comments for Dowie at Mother Jones:

Mark, great article. It`s good to hear
that the broader conservation community is waking up, but groups like
Survival International have always tried to protect indigenous
peoples`s rights.

I`m afraid the headline is a bit of a distraction, because of course
the broader development effort as a whole has been much more
destructive, by even more widely putting power into the hands on
central elites, who often behaved kleptocratically.

Regardless of the broader background, it`s surprising that you
didn’t see fit to link your topic to the whole problem of the “tragedy
of the commons”, which is often tied to the nationalization of
resources, which deprives users of any control over the resources they
depend on. Elinor Ostrom has extensively studied this problem in
developing countries and elsewhere, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in
economics precisely for pointing out how “government” is often the
problem and not the solution:

I commend this effort by Dowie, and note some other interesting articles at Mother Jones:

GM’s Rainforest Racket: People with some of the world’s smallest carbon footprints are being displaced—so their forests can become offsets(“There is another vexing question inherent in
preserving forests: What happens to the people who use the land?
Efforts to protect biodiversity in the dwindling wildlands of the world
have increasingly run into a discomfiting tension between the impulse
toward absolute preservation and the needs of people—many of them
indigenous—who have lived sustainably in forestlands for decades or
centuries. Such tensions are playing out in the new economics of carbon
Better REDD Than Dead: The byzantine politics of paying countries to save trees: (“Indigenous people around the world, many of whom have been displaced
through preservation efforts, are demanding “free, prior, and informed
consent” before new restrictions move forward. Some also want tribes,
like the Guarani in Brazil, to be compensated for preserving forests
for centuries.”)

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?

    [Update] Bob Murphy & Gene Callahan flesh out the "objective" moral order: it applies only to those able to perceive it?

    September 8th, 2009 2 comments

    [Update: Bob Murphy sends in an email comment, copied (in relevant part) at the bottom of this post.]

    I`ve addressed here on five different threads the question of whether there is an “objective moral order”, which Gene Callahan broached in a May blog post. I`ve commented here mainly because I find the subject interesting, but the subsequent discussions at Gene Callahan`s blog and at Bob Murphy`s blog to be rather unproductive, if not frustrating and disappointing.  However, I note that Bob Murphy, bless his soul, has kindly emailed me a comment for me to post on one of my recent threads, in which Bob refers to a recent relevant comment elsewhere by Gene.

    Allow me to repost here Bob Murphy`s comment, and my response, but first here`s some context from the post that Bob Murphy is responding to:

    1. Me:

    While I certainly agree that man has an exquisite moral sense, my
    own view is that that sense and capacity are something that we acquired
    via the process of evolution, as an aid to intra-group cooperation,

    – as Bruce Yandle has suggested,

    – as argued by Roy Rappaport (former head of the American
    Anthropology Assn.)
    in his book “Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity” (which I have discussed here) and – as I have recently discovered –

    – as David Sloan Wilson has argued in his book “Darwin`s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society“.

    I note that the NYT has recently run a series of posts on related topics

    In my view, our moral sense, rituals and “sacred postulates” (later, religions) have played a central role in the evolution of man as a
    social animal, by
    providing a fundamental way of ordering the world, the group`s role in
    it, and the individual`s role in the group – thereby abating commons
    problems both within and created by the group. The religious
    lies at the root of our human nature, even as its inviolable, sacred
    truths continue to fall by the wayside during the long march of
    culture and science out of the Garden of Eden. While we certainly have
    made progress (partly with the aid of “universal” religions) in
    expanding the boundaries of our groups, we very much remain group,
    tribal animals, fiercely attentive to rival groups and who is within or
    outside our group, and this tribal nature is clearly at work in our
    cognition (our penchant for finding enemies, including those who have
    different religious beliefs that ours).

    But I didn`t really kick off this discussion – why are Callahan and
    Murphy so reticent to describe what it is they think they mean when
    they assert that there are “objective moral truths” and an “objective
    moral order”?  (I can understand why I seem to have earned the clear
    hostility of one them; after all I have proven by my persistence and/or
    thickheadedness to be, if not an “enemy”, then in any case not one of
    the august clear-sighted.)

    Here are a few questions I left with them at Bob`s most recent post:

    Are those who believe that there is an objective “moral” order
    asserting that, for every being – regardless of species – that there is
    a uniform, objective moral order in the universe? Or is the argument
    that there is an object moral order only for conscious and self-aware
    beings, and none for organisms that are not conscious, or are conscious
    but not self-aware?

    – Or is the argument that the “objective”
    moral order exists only for humans, and perhaps someday can be
    identified and located in universally shared mental processes, based on
    brain activity and arising from shared genes?  Will such objective moral order still exist if all mankind ceases to exist?

    – Or is the
    objective moral order one that exists for some humans, but not all –
    depending on physical development of the brain as we mature (with the
    development of some being impaired via genetic or other defect)?

    – Is the human “objective” moral order universal, for all individuals – of whatever, gender or age – across all history?

    – Is an objective moral order something real that can be tested for
    despite the inability of a particular observer to perceive directly –
    like beings that can`t directly perceive light (or like us who can`t
    personally physically observe much of what technology allows us to)?

    – And
    if the objective moral order is a part of the universe, can we apply
    the scientific method to confirm its existence of and explore its
    parameters, and to explain (and test) it with “laws”?

    – What are some of the parameters and laws governing the moral order?

    2.  Bob Murphy`s comments: (emphasis added)

    On the general issue of “are morals objective for everyone?” I refer to this excellent discussion by Gene Callahan:…/freedoms-just-another-word-for.html

    [Here is Gene`s relevant comment:

    “Something that is correct only ‘to’ someone is subjectively, not
    objectively, correct. What ‘objective’ means is precisely ‘to any and
    all possible perceivers.’ And, of course, it is simply a further muddle
    to introduce beings incapable of perceiving the objective item in
    question, as if that raised doubts about its objective status. ‘Would
    this be objectively correct for ants?’ makes no more sense than ‘Is it
    objectively true for ants that Mars has two moons?’ It is objectively
    true, not ‘for’ anyone, that Mars has two moons, and it is also
    objectively true that ants are a kind of being that cannot peer through
    telescopes or count to two. It is objectively true that murder is
    wrong, and if ants were the sort of being capable of murder, which they are not (as far as we know!), it would be wrong for them to commit murders.”

    When I say that I think morality is objective, what I mean is that a
    statement such as “it is better to kiss an infant than to drown it” is
    a different type of thing from the statement “chocolate ice cream is
    better than vanilla.” The latter is clearly stating a subjective
    preference, whereas the former is (I claim) reflecting an objective
    truth about reality.

    Note that to say morality is objective doesn’t necessarily mean that
    ‘the same rules’ apply to everybody,
    at least not in the sense that I
    think you mean. It might not be immoral for Eskimos to euthanize old
    people, whereas it could be considered murder in Manhattan.
    But this
    doesn’t actually prove morality is subjective. By the same token, it’s
    OK for me to eat the food in my fridge. But if somebody else wandered
    into my house and did the ‘same thing,’ it would be theft.

    I’m a Christian so if you ask me for a list of these rules, a good
    start is the Ten Commandments. And then if you want to know how to
    apply these rules, I’d tell you to read the gospels and study the life
    of Jesus.

    As far as your specific questions, I don’t want to bother trying to
    answer them. I admit I can’t give you great answers on some.
    But to me,
    that doesn’t show that morality is subjective after all. There are
    plenty of non-material things (like mathematics etc.) that are
    rock-solid objectively true. So I think our difference here is much
    deeper than an issue of mere morality. I think you are a materialist
    and I’m not, which is influencing our discussion on morality.

    3.  My response: (emphasis added)

    Bob, thanks for troubling to visit and
    read, but your comments are obviously a disappointment – as you`ve
    simply done none of the heavy lifting that you have implied by
    insisting on various occasions that there is an “objective” moral order.

    All that you`ve done here is to make a very weak argument that MAN
    has a moral sense regarding how we treat others. But this is not only
    obvious, it is also something that I have asserted all along.
    While it
    tells us something I agree is objectively true generally about man –
    something that I have made various attempts to explore here and to
    sketch out on your blog and Gene`s – it tells us essentially nothing
    about an objective moral order to the universe
    , that is applicable to
    other life forms, and that will survive mankind if we were all ever to

    I`m afraid I have to disagree with you about Gene`s post, which in
    fact illustrates the weakness of his position regarding “objective
    While he suggests that by “objectively correct” we mean
    something that is correct for `any and all possible perceivers’ (so
    far, so good), he then presents the example of ants, for whom he
    asserts it would be wrong for them to commit murder IF THEY WERE
    CAPABLE of committing murder. But he`s failed to notice that he`s not
    only begged the question about what we mean by saying that “it is
    objectively true that murder is wrong”, but he`s suggested that because
    ants lack a capacity to perceive moral strictures against murder, they are unable to commit it.
    By doing so, he`s just invited in all of the questions that I`ve
    outlined above
    [in item 1 here], plus questions of culture and exigency that you have
    pointed out by your reference to Eskimos.
    Can any animals or life forms
    other than man commit murder? Do moral restrictions against murder
    require some threshold level of self-reflection, intellectual capacity,
    typical social structure, physical and social maturity, or upbringing?

    So there IS an objective moral order, but it only applies to those
    able to perceive it? 
    This is both a very modest position, as well as
    one that oddly smacks of belief in Leprechauns.

    Rather than arguing that still undefined but “objective” moral rules are embedded in the structure of the universe but have only limited application, isn`t it easier to acknowledge that man has a moral sense, observe
    that it enhances our ability to cooperate, observe that other animals
    also exhibit patterns of reciprocal behavior and posit that our moral
    sense is something that we have evolved, as it enhanced our ability to
    survive and procreate?


    re: Evolution, religion and our insistence on a still undefined “objective” moral order

    [Remove this Comment]

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009 4:27 AM

    By the way, I note that fellow Community blogger lilburne and I agree generally about morality*

    “There is a burgeoning school of thought in evolutionary biology and
    the cognitive sciences (led by Marc Hauser and Steven Pinker) which
    contends that morality is not just cultural artifice, but that it is an
    intrinsic feature of the human mind which evolved over the countless
    millennia of humans living together.”…/245211.aspx


    If anyone is still reading, let me note that I posted a week or so ago further thoughts on the evolution of moral codes and why we fight over them (rarely applying to those outside our group the same moral standards that we apply to those within our groups).

    [Update:] Further email comment from Bob Murphy (posted with approval):

    I’m going to have to punt on this debate for now. If you agree that
    “Bob should not kill an infant” has a truth value more significant
    than “Bob should not wear a dress to work” than I’m happy. I think
    maybe when I say “morality is objective” you are interpreting it to
    mean something more than what I do mean. After all, you are saying
    moral rules apply to all humans, so I don’t know what our difference
    is at this point. I thought originally you were saying you were a
    moral relativist.

    A few simple thoughts on the evolution of moral codes, and why we fight over them (and religion, liberty and the state)

    August 30th, 2009 No comments

    A recent post on the Mises Daily pages on the “Religious Roots of Liberty” by the late Congregationalist minister Rev. Edmund Optiz (1914-2006) (originally published in The Freeman, February 1955) provides an opportunity to restate and discuss some of the thoughts I’ve been working though on evolution, group dynamics, religion and on the assertions of some that there is an “objective moral order”.

    It seems like quite a bit to chew, I know, but I dared (with the modesty and boldness of the inexpert, of course) to venture a few thoughts.

    [And since I’m having problems with formatting here, I am linking to the archived version of this post.]

    Tragedy of the panicked enviro IV: not capitalism, but intensive use of unowned resources is the problem

    August 28th, 2009 No comments

    This is my third follow-up post to “Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro“,
    where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks for understanding
    and addressing resource problems, in response to confusion in comments
    by others.

    Posted 9:26 pm
    27 Aug 2009

    … [addressed to T Worstall]

    In fact I do
    understand what Hardin was saying. Hardin sets up a hypothetcial
    situation and then sets about knocking it down. We call that a strawman

    But you didn’t address my salient point. We live in an
    era of the ascendency of private property and yet we have witnessed an
    acceleration of the destruction of our natural heritage. Under the
    management and control of private interests, we can witness the
    remaining rain forests of south east Asia being raised for palm oil
    plantations. Under the control and and management of private interests
    we can witness boreal forests being decimated. In fact, over the past
    fifty years as control and managenment of resources to pass to private
    interests, we witness the acceleration of the their destruction.

    The reality puts the lie to Hardin’s strawman argument.

    issue of sustainability is not one of private or public ownership as
    The Church and its followers would prefer to frame it. The issue is the
    central role of profit above all else in our culture.

    The free
    market economy generates wealth by converting a living planet to a dead
    planet; that is, by converting living ecosystems into commodities for
    trade and profit. To the free market and its economists, a forest which
    provides erosion control, flood control, climate and water
    conditioning, habitat, sustenance, and any number of other services not
    only to humans but all other species is only valuable in our free
    market system when it has been converted to lumber or pulverized for
    paper or some other use. That is the true tragedy of the commons. Not
    ownership, but the short-sighted stupidity of people and especially of
    those worship wealth without understanding its source.


    Posted 2:29 am

    29 Aug 2009

    cyberfarer, I`m sorry, but this couldn`t be more wrong in its
    understanding of WHY messes happen (and they undeniably do); the result
    is that you (and Sacks) have no clue where to start in trying to solve

    The free market economy generates wealth by converting a living planet
    to a dead planet; that is, by converting living ecosystems into
    commodities for trade and profit.

    free market system is really simply people trading what they have to
    others for what they want, and it works quite well where resources are
    owned (either privately or by communities).  It can, however, be a
    powerful engine of destruction for resources that are not owned – such
    as for resources sourced where property rights are not protected or the
    government (elites) “own” too much.  Thus our continued political
    struggles over giveaways of public resources, the destruction of the
    Amazon/Indonesian forests (and Philippine under Marcos), and the
    collapse of fisheries that fishermen – often just guys trying to make a
    living – have no rights to actually protect the resource.

    To the free market and its
    economists, a forest which provides erosion control, flood control,
    climate and water conditioning, habitat, sustenance, and any number of
    other services not only to humans but all other species is only
    valuable in our free market system when it has been converted to lumber
    or pulverized for paper or some other use. That is the true tragedy of
    the commons.

    are only right in part, as all of these things have obvious value, and
    people protect them privately or band together as groups to manage them
    wherever they desire and can (and are not prevented by the government).
    There is an awful lot of private and community conservation going on
    around the world.  The absolute worst cases are where the resources are
    owned by governments, with rights to exploit being leased to companies
    that have no property rights and thus no longer-term rights or obligations. 

    Not ownership, but the short-sighted stupidity of people
    and especially of those worship wealth without understanding its source.

    absolutely ownership; people and groups compete for resources, and can
    preserve valuable ones only when they can PROTECT them by excluding
    others (i.e., owning) them

    You, like Sacks, think that the only
    way to solve problems is to radically change either capitalism (while
    ignoring worse destruction takes place outside of free market regimes)
    or human nature.  Sorry, but this is blind and stupid, and ignores the
    fact that local traction is available for most problems.

    See the case of the Amazon, for example:

    highly recommend you start studying (not simply free thinking), which
    will make your very legitimate concerns much more effective.  I mean,
    even the environmental groups are calling for better property
    rights/protection for fisheries, species, forests and water.  Are they
    stupid and evil too?

    Tragedy of the panicked enviro III: learning from Elinor Ostrom about cooperative action

    August 28th, 2009 No comments

    This is the second follow-up to my post “Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro“,
    where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks for understanding
    and addressing resource problems, in response to confusion in comments
    by others.

    T Worstall
    Posted 5:27 pm
    27 Aug 2009

    TokyoTom makes most of the points I would wish to make. Except for this
    one: you clearly do not understand what Hardin was saying about the
    tragedy of the commons. For example, he made very clear that there are
    two possible solutions to the degradation of an open access resource.
    We can have social (socialist) regulations and limitations or we can
    have private (capitalist) property solutions. Those are his
    descriptions BTW. Which works best depends upon the society and the
    resource. He emphatically did NOT say that pricvate property sultions
    were the only ones possible. And nor does any economist say that
    private property solutions are the only ones either possible or
    desirable. Try reading some Ronald Coase on transaction costs to see


    Posted 10:03 pm

    27 Aug 2009

    Let me add some further nuance to Mr. Worstall`s comment by saying
    that Hardin`s fertile observations have fuelled extensive further
    research on common property problems, with Elinor Ostrom being recognized as a leading light.

    Here is one general bibliography on commons research:

    has refined Hardin`s work in the following way (quoting from a review
    of Ostrom`s 1990 ground-breaking and extensively researched book
    , GOVERNING THE COMMONS, The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action):

    Ostrom uses the term “common pool resources” to denote natural
    resources used by many individuals in common, such as fisheries,
    groundwater basins, and irrigation systems. Such resources have long
    been subject to overexploitation and misuse by individuals acting in
    their own best interests. Conventional solutions typically involve
    either centralized governmental regulation or privatization of the
    resource. But, according to Ostrom, there is a third approach to
    resolving the problem of the commons: the design of durable cooperative
    institutions that are organized and governed by the resource users

    “The central question in this
    study,” she writes, “is how a group of principals who are in an
    interdependent situation can organize and govern themselves to obtain
    continuing joint benefits when all face temptations to free-ride,
    shirk, or otherwise act opportunistically.”

    heart of this study is an in-depth analysis of several long-standing
    and viable common property regimes, including Swiss grazing pastures,
    Japanese forests, and irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines.
    Although Ostrom insists that each of these situations must be evaluated
    on its own terms, she delineates a set of eight “design principles”
    common to each of the cases. These include clearly defined boundaries,
    monitors who are either resource users or accountable to them,
    graduated sanctions, and mechanisms dominated by the users themselves
    to resolve conflicts and to alter the rules. The challenge, she
    observes, is to foster contingent self-commitment among the members ….

    Throughout the book, she stresses the dangers of overly
    generalized theories of collective action, particularly when used
    “metaphorically” as the foundation for public policy. The three
    dominant models — the tragedy of the commons, the prisoners’s dilemma,
    and the logic of collective action — are all inadequate,
    she says, for
    they are based on the free-rider problem where individual, rational,
    resource users act against the best interest of the users collectively.
    These models are not necessarily wrong, Ostrom states, rather the
    conditions under which they hold are very particular. They apply only
    when the many, independently acting individuals involved have high
    discount rates and little mutual trust, no capacity to communicate or
    to enter into binding agreements, and when they do not arrange for
    monitoring and enforcing mechanisms to avoid overinvestment and overuse.

    concludes that “if this study does nothing more than shatter the
    convictions of many policy analysts that the only way to solve common
    pool resource problems is for external authorities to impose full
    private property rights or centralized regulation, it will have
    accomplished one major purpose.”

    profile of Ostrom, who is a member of the National Academies of Science
    and and Editor of its Proceedings, is here:

    Her work can be found here:,+Elinor&hl=en&btnG=Search and


    thing worth noting is that the historical and ongoing records are rife
    with examples – such as our crashing local fisheries – where government
    intervention has done more harm than good.
      In these cases and in
    others, Ostrom introduces an analytical approach that is acceptable
    widely across the political spectrum, even if differences in opinion
    will remain.  See, for example, this discussion at libertarian-leaning
    George Mason U:

    Categories: Adam Sacks, commons, Elinor Ostrom, Grist Tags:

    The tragedy of the panicked enviro II; understanding the "tragedy of the commons"

    August 28th, 2009 No comments

    This is the first of several follow-up posts to my post “Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro“, where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks for understanding and addressing resource problems, in response to confusion in comments by others.

    Posted 2:58 am
    27 Aug 2009

    I’m sorry, but the “tragedy of the commons” is utter B.S. The Western
    world has pursued a course of private property and has managed to leave
    ecological catastrophe in its wake. The “tragedy of the commons” and
    other simplistic market morality fail to understand the essence of that
    which it seeks to moderate, the capitalist consumer market premised on
    profit and only profit.

    The rate of exploitation and the decline
    of resources, water, energy, fisheries, soil, minerals, etc., all
    occured under a free market, private property paradigm. That is the
    facts and the reality. Pretending it isn’t true and wishing for a
    morality that doesn’t exist within the free market is juvenile and

    The “tragedy of the commons” represents a
    hypothetical situation that does not occur in real life. In real life,
    corporations own, or vie to own, resources or access to them for the
    purpose of extraction and profit and they seek to maximize profits
    through economies of scale, that is industrial extraction methods,
    drift netting, blowing up mountains, tossing mining waste into clear,
    pristine lakes. The money is in the resource and when the resource is
    exhausted they will move on to the next one.


    Posted 1:38 pm

    27 Aug 2009


    Thanks for your comments on the “tragedy of the
    commons”. Though you are way off base, you provide an opportunity for
    deeper discussion.

    The tragedy of the unmanaged commons paradigm
    is BS?  My flip response?  Go tell it to Gavin Schmidt at Real Climate,
    who posted a perceptive essay in May on the tragedy of the commons
    dynamics that are affecting climate
    and global climate policy
    Did you miss this and the relatively productive discussion thread?

    the Western
    world has managed to create many environmental problems, but we`ve
    largely cleaned up our own messes, haven`t we?  While it by no means
    excuses our own faults, far worse environmental problems have been
    created and are still stewing in Russia and other state-directed
    economies, and it`s no coincidence that the vast pollution being
    created in China and India are tied to governement-owned enterprise and
    an inability of injured people to sue for damages or to stop harmful
    activities.  And the great waves of extinctions created as man spread
    around the globe tens of thousands of years ago can hardly be laid at
    the foot of either the Western world or of private property rights (nor
    can the collapse of earlier civilizations).

    “tragedy of the commons” is NOT a “simplistic market morality”, but a
    description of cooperation problems and incentives relating to shared.
    open-access resources.  The tragedy of the commons and problems of
    cooperation – and theft – are not even limited to mankind, but permeate
    nature.  This perceptive article by Bruce Yandle touches on competition
    in nature, and links the ascendance of man to our evolution of
    relatively enhanced cooperation:

    “tragedy of the commons” paradigm is useful to analyze, but the
    paradigm doesn`t “seek to moderate” anything, and is just as useful in
    looking at the ways Western nations still contribute to environmental
    problems around the world (as I point out here: as it is in examining:

    – environmental devastation in Haiti (which has little or no property rights, and vast free-for-all “government” holdings),

    deforestation in Indonesia and the Amazon:,

    – pollution in China:, and

    crashing fisheries around the world as a result of government of marine
    resources (producing free-for-alls and fleet subsidies) and a
    free-for-all for other unowned or unprotected resources:

    On fish, you might note what the organization Defying Ocean’s End (cofounded by Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy,
    Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Wildlife
    Conservation Society, The World Conservation Union, and World Wildlife
    Fund) recently said:…

    high bycatch rates, the use of gear types that damage habitat (like
    trawls and dredges), and the large subsidies supporting fisheries
    (totally over $15 billion per year) are all symptoms of an underlying
    problem. In most fisheries that are exhibiting declines in
    landings and revenues, overfishing, bycatch, and habitat damage,
    actions that result in the symptoms are actually rational given the way
    the fisheries are managed. In these fisheries, secure privileges to
    catch certain amounts of fish are not specified, so naturally
    individual fishermen compete to maximize their individual shares of the
    catch. No incentives for conservation exist in this situation, because
    every fish conserved can be caught by another fisherman. The
    competition to maximize catch often results in a fishery “arms race”,
    resulting in the purchase of multiple vessels, the use of powerful
    engines and large vessels, and the use of highly efficient gear like

    “Most of the solutions that have been implemented or proposed to fix the world’s fisheries center on command-and-control
    measures: regulators or courts telling fishermen how to fish through
    the imposition of controls on effort (e.g., fishing vessel length,
    engine horsepower, gear restrictions, etc.). Prescriptions like these
    work against strong economic incentives for maximizing catch, which are
    not addressed by such measures, and are of course usually resisted by
    fishermen. Often, prescriptions create incentives for “work-arounds”
    and set up a cat-and-mouse game between fishermen and regulators
    – for example, if regulators impose a restriction on vessel size,
    fishermen may purchase two vessels to maintain high catch levels.

    in most natural resource problems, more effective solutions will
    address the fundamental drivers of unsustainable fisheries. In this
    case, the key necessary reform will be to designate secure catch

    say: “The rate of exploitation and the decline
    of resources, water, energy, fisheries, soil, minerals, etc., all
    occured under a free market, private property paradigm.”  This is
    clearly demonstrably wrong, and draws entirely the wrong lessons. While
    private property is certainly no panacea, neither are they what is
    wrong.  Very often, is is governments that have been and are wrong,
    though there is certainly some learning going on.

    Garrett Hardin`s “The Tragedy of the Commons” certainly represents a
    hypothetical situation, it is actually a very powerful analytical tool
    for understanding and fashioning solutions to countless “real life”
    problems. See Elinor Ostrom et al., Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges, Science, 04/09/99

    “In real life,
    corporations own, or vie to own, resources or access to them for the
    purpose of extraction and profit and they seek to maximize profits
    through economies of scale, that is industrial extraction methods,
    drift netting, blowing up mountains, tossing mining waste into clear,
    pristine lakes.

    you describe here is a conflict between preferences over how resources
    are used.  Do you prefer a free-for-all, or a situation where those who
    use a resource can protect it, negotiate with others who wish to see
    other values preserved, and who are responsible for negative
    consequences caused to others (not always a part of some property
    rights systems), or perhaps a situation where governments make all
    resource exploitation decisions?”

    “The money is in the resource and when the resource is
    exhausted they will move on to the next one.”

    money is never in the “resource”, but in the ways that people can use
    it or otherwise value it (and of course people also value pristine


    Categories: Adam Sacks, commons, Grist Tags:

    Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro: stop and think, about whether resources are OWNED and protected

    August 28th, 2009 No comments

    The Grist online environmental magazine lent its pages this week to a pessimistic climate change activist, Adam D. Sacks, former director of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution.  Mr. Sacks, echoing a despairing piece (“Beyond the point of no return”) by Ross Gelbspan in Grist in Novermber 2007, in a piece entitled “The fallacy of climate activism” paints a remarkably grim and obviously heart-felt picture about the prospect of unstoppable climate change and other environmental challenges. 

    While we may indeed be irretrievably embarked on what prove to be a very bumpy climate voyage, it`s Sack`s policy prescriptions that are most startling. Here are excerpts of the chief points:

    In the 20 years since we climate activists began our work in earnest,
    the state of the climate has become dramatically worse, and the change
    is accelerating—this despite all of our best efforts.  Clearly
    something is deeply wrong with this picture. …

    Climate activists are obsessed with greenhouse-gas emissions and
    concentrations.  Since global climate disruption is an effect of
    greenhouse gases, and a disastrous one, this is understandable.  But it
    is also a mistake. …

    The first error is our failure to understand that greenhouse gases
    are not a cause but a symptom, and addressing the symptom will do
    little but leave us with a devil’s sack full of many other symptoms,
    possibly somewhat less rapidly lethal but lethal nonetheless.

    The root cause, the source of the symptoms, is 300 years of our
    relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing
    technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical
    and colonial civilizations.
    This should be no news flash, but the seductive promise of endless
    growth has grasped all of us civilized folk by the collective throat,
    led us to expand our population in numbers beyond all reason and to
    commit genocide of indigenous cultures and destruction of other life on

    To be sure, global climate disruption is the No. 1 symptom.  But if
    planetary warming were to vanish tomorrow, we would still be left with
    ample catastrophic potential to extinguish many life forms in fairly
    short order: deforestation; desertification; poisoning of soil, water,
    air; habitat destruction; overfishing and general decimation of oceans;
    nuclear waste, depleted uranium, and nuclear weaponry—to name just a
    (While these symptoms exist independently, many are intensified
    by global warming.)

    We will not change course by addressing each of these as separate issues; we have to address root cultural cause. …

    The second error is our stubborn unwillingness to understand that
    the battle against greenhouse-gas emissions, as we have currently
    framed it, is over.

    It is absolutely over and we have lost.

    We have to say so.

    There are three primary components of escalating greenhouse-gas concentrations that are out of our control …

    The most expert scientific investigators have been blindsided by the
    velocity and extent of recent developments, and the climate models have
    likewise proved far more conservative than nature itself.  Given that
    scientists have underestimated impacts of even small changes in global
    temperature, it is understandably difficult to elicit an appropriate
    public and governmental response….

    Bitter climate truths are fundamentally bitter cultural truths. 
    Endless growth is an impossibility in the physical world, always—but always—ending
    in overshot and collapse.  Collapse: with a bang or a whimper, most
    likely both.  We are already witnessing it, whether we choose to
    acknowledge it or not.

    Because of this civilization’s obsession with growth, its demise is
    100 percent predictable.  We simply cannot go on living this way. Our
    version of life on earth has come to an end.

    Moreover, there are no “free market” or “economic” solutions.  And
    since corporations must have physically impossible endless growth in
    order to survive, corporate social responsibility is a myth.  The only
    socially responsible act that corporations can take is to dissolve.

    Some of our most important thinking happens while developing the
    problem statement, and the better the problem statement the richer our
    That’s why framing the global warming problem as
    greenhouse-gas concentrations has proved to be such a dead end.

    Here is the problem statement as it is beginning to unfold for me. 
    We are all a part of struggling to develop this thinking together:

    We must leave behind 10,000 years of civilization; this may be the
    hardest collective task we’ve ever faced.  It has given us the
    intoxicating power to create planetary changes in 200 years that under
    natural cycles require hundreds of thousands or millions of years—but
    none of the wisdom necessary to keep this Pandora’s Box tightly shut. 
    We have to discover and re-discover other ways of living on earth.

    We love our cars, our electricity, our iPods, our theme parks, our
    bananas, our Nikes, and our nukes, but we behave as if we understand
    nothing of the land and water and air that gives us life.  It is past
    time to think and act differently.

    If we live at all, we will have to figure out how to live locally
    and sustainably.  Living locally means we are able get everything we
    need within walking (or animal riding) distance.
    We may eventually
    figure out sustainable ways of moving beyond those small circles to
    bring things home, but our track record isn’t good and we’d better
    think it through very carefully.

    Likewise, any technology has to be locally based, using local
    resources and accessible tools, renewable and non-toxic.  We have much
    re-thinking to do, and re-learning from our hunter-gatherer forebears
    who managed to survive for a couple of hundred thousand years in ways
    that we with our civilized blinders we can barely imagine or understand

    Desperate hopes notwithstanding, there are no high-tech solutions
    here, only wishful thinking—the tools that got us into this mess are
    incapable of getting us out.

    All that being said, we needn’t discard all that we’ve learned, far from it. But we must use our knowledge with great discretion, and lock much of it away as so much nuclear weaponry and waste.

    Time is running very short, but the forgiveness of this little blue
    orb in a vast lonely universe will continue to astonish and nourish
    us—if we only give it the chance.

    Our obligation as activists, the first step, the essence, is to part the cultural veil at long last, and to tell the truth.


    Wow.  It strikes me that though Sacks might very well be right the we have irreversibly embarked on a bumpy climate ride, are we to conclude not only that the best solution is to abandon civilization as we know it and live as hunter-gathers, but that we can actually persuade anyone to abandon the use of energy?  Not only does Sacks offer no prescription from getting here to where he thinks we need to go, but he completely ignores the institutional setting of the problems that concern him (tragedy of the commons), and thus any discussion of potential solutions (fprivate or community property institutions). Certainly environmentalists may wish to start experiments in alternative living – this might provide useful knowledge or even necessary in dire situations – but unless such experiments prove that they can provide shelter and sustenance for the world`s population, they will not address the needs of others who will make their own choices, based on modern civilization and technology.

    I left a short message on the Grist comment thread, as follows:

    Posted 2:32 am
    27 Aug 2009

    I`m with Dave, and more so.  There are no useful takeaways from
    thise piece, because the author, while showing an understanding of
    climate science, evinces no understanding of the institutional factors
    that are driving climate change and other resource problems.

    Garrett Hardin largely nailed the problem decades ago – the “Tragedy of the Commmons” that results when there are no clear or enforceable property rights (private or communmity) that enable users to protect resources from destructive exploitation.

    the environmental nightmare of the formerly communist countries, the
    resource abuse in kleptocratic developing countries, and incompetent
    bureaucracies, sweet insider deals and poorly managed “public” lands
    and fisheries have subsequently informed us of the corollary problem –
    the tragedy of the government commons.)

    We understand both the nature of our problems, and the directions in which solutions lie.  Let`s have at at `em.

    BTW, I realize that we have barely begun to scratch the surface on addressing climate change; this is a tragedy of the commons problem on which it appears we can have only marginal impacts at best.

    Categories: Adam Sacks, commons, Grist Tags: