Archive for the ‘libertarian’ Category

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize; "What For?" asks green group

October 9th, 2009 No comments

Pres. Obama has apparently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this morning “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” but there appears to be a few on the left who feel that the award is undeserved.

I copy below an interesting message that I just ran across in my Inbox from the group Green Change; the message – which looks like it could have been written by a libertarian group! (or Glenn Greenwald) – also appears on their webpage:

This morning, President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for
his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and
cooperation between peoples,” the Nobel Committee said.


Did Obama bring peace to Iraq?

No.  He continues to station 124,000 U.S. troops there, with tens of thousands deployed perhaps indefinitely.

Did he bring peace to Afghanistan?

No.  He has escalated the war there, and is part responsible for the scores of civilian deaths that have occurred there.  He has done this despite that most Americans now believe the Afghan war is “not worth fighting.”

Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee said in an
interview that “Obama has as president created a new climate in
international politics.” Has Obama done anything singular to stop the
worldwide crisis of climate change?

No.  He has spent little or no political capital on the climate crisis, and still refuses to publicly commit the U.S. to strong actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Jagland said that “The Nobel Committee has in particular looked at
Obama’s vision and work toward a world without atomic weapons.”  But on
this issue, Obama is merely implementing the ideas of the more
conservative foreign policy minds of our nation, including Henry Kissinger.

Did he beat the swords of the giant U.S. defense budget into plowshares of peace?

No.  In fact, he will soon approve the largest defense bill in our nation’s history

Has he brought home the troops scattered across the world stationed to maintain our empire?


Has he stopped our nation’s scandalous weapons trade?

No.  The U.S. has expanded its weapons trade.  We now supply 2/3rds of the world’s foreign armaments.

Did Obama sign the cluster munitions treaty to ban cluster bombs, because 98% of cluster bomb casualties are children?

No.  The U.S. has not signed the cluster munitions treaty.

Has Obama brought home the army of mercenaries we have stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan?

No.  He has expanded the ranks of these mercenaries to 250,000.

There are millions of people across our world who spend their blood
and sweat every day for peace — real peace.  Each and every one of
them deserves the Nobel Peace Prize far more than Barack Obama.


Gary Ruskin
Green Change

P.S. If you like our work, please help us reach our $25,000 fundraising goal by 12/31. Donate $15 or whatever you can today.


So why WAS Obama awarded the Peace Prize?  A cynic might wonder if it was given to put moral pressure on Obama not to become even more bellicose (towards Iran), and perhaps to encourage him to achieve more.

Categories: Glenn Greenwald, libertarian, Nobel, obama, peace, war Tags:

[Update] A left-wing economist discusses "Libertarians and global warming"

June 18th, 2008 No comments

Australian economist John Quiggin (whom I’ve cited previously on climate change costs) has a post up with this title, both at his own blog and at Crooked Timber.  Does anybody care to comment?

My own response to John was as follows:

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. 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
evidence. 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.



Edwin Dolan: applying the Lockean framework to climate change

February 13th, 2008 2 comments

I would like to bring readers’ attention to Edwin G. Dolan’s “Science, Public Policy and Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position“, from the Fall 2006 issue of The Cato Journal:  Dolan examines libertarian, “market liberal” reactions to climate change and walks through Lockean provisions that he believes require further consideration and elaboration by libertarians in the context of climate change.

FWIW, Dolan was the editor of the Austrian classic, The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1976)(online here:, and author of the classic pamphlet TANSTAAFL: An Economic Strategy for the Environmental Crisis (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1971), which outlined Dolan’s chief perspective:

The fundamental principle on which this strategy is built may be expressed in a simple slogan—There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, the “TANSTAAFL principle,” for short. The TANSTAAFL principle is closely related to the fundamental theorem of ecological economics, that everything depends on everything else. Everything worthwhile has a cost. Whenever you think you are getting something for nothing, look again—someone, somewhere, somehow is paying for it. Behind every free lunch there is a hidden cost to be accounted for.

The task of ecological economics is to figure out how to restructure the economic system so that these hidden costs will be brought out into the open, with the ultimate aim that no one who benefits from the use of the environment will be able to escape without paying in full. The rest of this book is devoted to working out specific applications of this general strategy in order to deal with specific problems.

In the interest of assisting readers, I take the liberty of excerpting liberally from Dolan’s Cato article below.

First, 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.

Second, Dolan examines whether any of the above “conservative” traits are at work in libertarian positions on climate change.

… We need to address several questions. One issue is what the status is of the privileges and interests of those who are threatened by the possibility of climate change and of those who are threatened by proposed actions to mitigate it. Which of these has the greater claim to the sympathy of market liberals, when viewed in terms of the standards they apply in other areas of public policy? Another issue is what the values are that lie behind the positions taken by various parties to the debate. The issue of values may determine when market liberals can make principled alliances with one of the other corners of the triangle and when they want to make only tactical alliances. Still another issue is what manner of argument should be employed. For example, what is the proper attitude toward the purely scientific element in the global warming controversy? It will be worth taking a closer look at this last issue before proceeding further.

Hayek expresses himself so well on the role of science that it is worth quoting him at length:

Personally, I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it—or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories. But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. . . . By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts [Hayek 1960: 404](emphasis added).

This passage raises obvious questions for the global warming debate. What lies behind the skepticism of market liberals regarding the propositions that the world is getting warmer at a rate that is unusually rapid in climate history, if not altogether unprecedented, and that this apparent trend is likely the joint product of natural cycles and human activity, rather than of the former acting alone? Are liberals correctly rejecting an inadequately grounded scientific fad? Or are they refusing to acknowledge facts for fear that doing so would upset their cherished beliefs?  …

Fortunately, the supposed dilemma is a false one. Liberals have long acclaimed the market as a way of adapting to change, and climate change should be no exception. … Also, market liberals should know well that effective environmental policy does not have to take the form of heavy-handed commandand-control measures. … The same kind of market-oriented policies should be possible in the case of climate change.

In short, if one takes into account both the market’s potential for adapting to change and market-based policy alternatives, there is no reason for market liberals to be anything but open-minded toward ongoing developments in climate science, whether those developments, as they unfold, reveal indications or counter-indications of global warming.

There could, instead, be another explanation for some market liberals’ apparent close-mindedness toward the global warming hypothesis. It could be that, when taking a position on issues of climatology, they are speaking not from perceived threats to their beliefs, but out of loyalty to conservative interests with whom they have struck some tactical alliance. For example, policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, no matter how carefully market-guided in their design, are likely to undermine the interests of politically powerful producers of carbon-based energy. Equally, they are likely to have a disproportionate impact on the United States relative to other, less carbon intensive, economies. It is understandable that a conservative member of Congress could be pledged to uphold the interests of energy industry workers or shareholders from his or her home constituency. It is also understandable that a U.S. negotiator at an international conference could work to increase the benefits for the United States of a proposed treaty while shifting the costs to other countries. What is harder to understand is why market liberals would see fit to support such positions, unless for the narrowest of tactical reasons. …

(emphasis added) 

Third, Dolan spends considerable time discussing how the Lockean framework of rights and duties applies to climate change, which he frames as follows:

In the case of global warming, the relevant unenclosed commons include the world air-shed, which, in one of its several competing uses, serves as a sink for greenhouse gasses, and the oceans, which serve as a sink for heat generated by the greenhouse effect and a catchment basin for melting ice. (We are still stipulating scientific certainty of these effects.) Whatever adverse impact the Midwestern power plant has on the Bangladeshi farmer are transmitted through the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on these common-property resources. What does a Lockean approach tell us about rights to make use of the global atmospheric and oceanic commons, and about how those rights might be established?

Dolan walks carefully through Locke’s three rights and three corresponding duties, which he summarizes as follows:

• to property in one’s own person
• to property in the fruits of one’s own labor
• to property in land and natural resources taken from nature when mixed with one’s own labor

• to abstain from harming others
• to abstain from taking property of others
• to leave enough and as good for others when taking from the common

His discussion here is quite useful.

Finally, Dolan summarizes his own analysis of “the proper market-liberal position on global warming,” that is, one “constructed on a sound Lockean respect for the persons and property of others”:

First, market liberals should keep arguments based on comparisons of costs and benefits in proper perspective. The fact that an action produces net benefits, even very large net benefits, does not shield the actor from liability if it also does harm. The relative magnitude of the costs and benefits, or their relative probabilities, is, in this regard, irrelevant. The duty not to harm people in their persons or property is not to be bypassed on the basis of any facile cost-benefit calculus. This is an essential part of what distinguishes the classical liberal tradition from other political theories that would invoke the power of the state to override individual rights in favor of some greater societal utility. This being said, cost-benefit calculations may in some other respects be relevant to the formulation of a market-liberal position on global warming. They may help choose between different mechanisms for implementing climate change policy. They may be relevant to the decision of whether to abstain from possibly harmful actions, or to risk possible harm while accepting a contingent duty of restitution. And they may be relevant to whether harm is better avoided by mitigation of climate change, or instead compensated through investments that help victims of climate change to adapt.

Second, the market-liberal position should be distinct from a conservative position that defends unjustly acquired privileges. Liberalism in America, in particular, grew up in a Lockean state of nature where it was really true, or at least seemed true, that homesteaders, loggers, grazers, and industrialists could take what they needed while leaving “enough and as good for others.” What the environmentalist side of the global warming debate is telling us is that we no longer live in such a world. It is not just that we can take no more from the commons; we have quite possibly already taken so much as to have breached our duty not to engross. To be sure, the science of just how much can safely be taken is not yet perfect. We may be way past the limit already or still a bit short of it. But to cry foul because those who have taken the most are now asked to bear a substantial share of the costs is not liberalism.

Third, market liberals should keep a clear head when it comes to the relationship between science and public policy. It is fine to be legitimately cautious when policies are urged on the basis of weakly established scientific fads. One should be vigilant against attempts to smuggle questionable economic or political assumptions into scientific analysis, as is sometimes done in the global warming debate, and also to possible biases in research produced by grant-seeking and public choice considerations. But at the same time, as Hayek warned, any reluctance to accept new scientific theories must itself be rational and must be kept separate from the regret that the new theories may upset cherished beliefs (let alone that they threaten the financial interests of useful allies). This is a fine line to walk, and I fear that the market-liberal camp may at times have overstepped it.

Fourth, market liberals should think about the implications of their principles not just for public policy, but for their personal conduct. It is fashionable in some conservative circles to ridicule environmentalism as a new religion that calls for a personal morality of abstinence (see, for example, Schlesinger 2005). Perhaps market liberals would not want to describe their beliefs as a religion, but all of the great thinkers to whom they pay homage make it clear that the duty not to harm others in their persons or property is not just an abstract guideline for public policy, but a specific imperative of personal morality.  To cede the moral high ground on environmental issues to the left is not just tactically foolish, it is unprincipled. To put it simply, a market liberal should not be ashamed to drive a Prius rather than a Humvee.

These broad outlines of a market-liberal position on global warming leave a great deal of room for debate and discussion. They leave open the whole area of how to design a policy to deal with global warming. Are the flaws of the Kyoto Protocol so serious that it is worse than doing nothing at all? Perhaps so—even its staunchest supporters acknowledge that it has many limitations. Should we act now, based on current scientific knowledge? Or should we wait, while firmly insisting on the principle of contingent liability, being prepared to make restitution should subsequent harm turn out to be greater than optimists think it will be? In formulating global warming policy, should each country act unilaterally, based on a duty to avoid harm regardless of what others do, or is it best to try to negotiate international agreements? If measures are to be taken, what role should be given to market-based mechanisms like tradable permits? How can such market-like devices, if used, be introduced in a way that respects existing property rights? How do such devices relate to Lockean principles regarding enclosure and management of residual unenclosed commons?

By addressing these and other questions, market liberals can make a uniquely valuable contribution to the global warming debate. If, however, they allow themselves to be perceived as ostriches whose only policy in the face of uncertainty is to hope for the best while ignoring the worst, and base their position on climate policy on arguments that they would disdain in any other context, they will end up making no useful contribution at all.

(emphasis added)

I hope others will take the time to look through Dolan’s framework, which I believe is useful as a call for constructive engagement by libertarians, even as it does not examine particular policy suggestions* or claim to be complete.  (For example, as Jeff Tucker has observed on another thread, Dolan’s article does not discuss the competency of the state to address climate change, if it is a problem.)

(h/t Donny with an A:  I note also that Sheldon Richman of the Foundation for Economic Education also recommends Dolan’s essay and calls for less wishful thinking and greater engagement by libertarians in the December 8, 2006 edition of The Freeman: The Goal Is Freedom: Global Warming and the Layman,

*  I note that Dolan has previously discussed pollution trading permits in the context of acid rain; his remarks were examined by Robert McGee and Walter Block in their “Pollution Trading Permits as a Form of Market Socialism and the Search for a Real Market Solution to Environmental Pollution,” Fordham Environmental Law Journal, vol. 16 (1994): 58

Categories: Block, climate, Dolan, Hayek, libertarian, Locke, TANSTAAFL Tags:

"Pay Your Air Share" – Libertarian think tank advocates carbon taxes!

February 13th, 2008 10 comments

1.  Check out the San Diego-based The Prometheus Institute,, which has just launched a new website calling for carbon taxes:

They propose that:

  • A tax be levied on all major emitters of greenhouse gases, set so that fossil fuel prices will reflect their true social cost, which will create a seamless market-based incentive for the development of alternative energy.

  • Most of the revenue raised should be returned to the people in the form of an across-the-board income tax cut, but as the climate system has great inertia, a portion of the carbon tax revenues should support private sector and community-based projects to adapt to effects of climate change.

The site contains a number of articles to explain just how in the heck The Prometheus Institute ( could convince itself to come up with this Pigouvian scheme. 

(h/t Greg Mankiw:

2.  Another recent piece that I highly recommend is Edwin G. Dolan‘s “Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position”, from the Fall 2006 issue of The Cato  Dolan argues that a Lockean position does not permit an easy dismissal of calls for policy changes relating to climate change.

FWIW, Dolan was the editor of the Austrian classic, The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1976).

(h/t Donny with an A: