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"Free market" Rob Bradley prefers to mock enviros rather than to make common cause

February 4th, 2009 No comments

Robert L. Bradley, Jr. is an energy expert (author, former speechwriter for Key Lay and director of public policy analysis at Enron, founder and CEO of Institute for Energy Research) with libertarian leanings. 

But in a series of posts on climate issues on the recently launched  “free market” energy group blog MasterResource that he spearheads, Rob doesn’t come off as much of a libertarian, free-market guy as he suggests, since he doesn’t so much advocate for free market approaches to such issues as he takes evident pleasure in mocking enviros (and the preferences they share with many others) – all while ignoring that the status quo isn’t free of rent-seekers (precisely as Roderick Long and Ed Dolan have criticized libertarians).

1.  Take, for example, his January 25 post, Why Do the Alarmists Feel Bad About Debates–and Debating?.  In this post, Rob examines an online debate between scientist Joe Romm of Climate Progress and Jerry Taylor of Cato, notes that Joe later seems to acknowledge that Jerry did better in the debate, but skips over some of Joe’s chief criticisms of “skeptic” opponents by concluding:

Mr. Romm has all but conceded that the skeptics of climate alarmism beat the alarmists in debate, posting about it here and here. He blames it on the dishonesty of the “deniers,” but in fact they might have a much stronger intellectual and practical case. And I dare say that Romm does not feel he did particularly well against Taylor in their online debate and is not itching to debate him again, particularly in person.

But if I am wrong, I say: let’s get a big audience for it. Make the stakes high. Sell tickets. Poll the audience. It will be that entertaining!

Here was my comment to Rob:

Well Rob, Joe Romm isn’t ALL alarmists, but I’d say it’s rather clear that he’s saying that “scientists” are not good policy debaters – as it’s something that they’re not trained in. I suppose you would hardly disagree.

On top of that, Joe Romm and others simply are not trained in public choice or Austrian perspectives on political economy issues, so he clearly doesn’t understand what Jerry patiently tries to explain. But there’s rather alot of that to go around – across the political spectrum and on many, many issues – and I rather fail to understand how mocking that who lack understanding is a good way to open their minds to how wealth creation occurs and to the perils of using the state.

In addition, Jerry Taylor is clearly different from – more open and intellectually honest – most of the other debaters Joe Romm refers to.

2.  In another thread, Rob suggested that “doing nothing” was the preferred policy approach to climate; thankfully, in response to a comment from me, Rob expressly noted that

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.

Great!  Inquiring minds are waiting to hear about what it is that Rob Bradley and others at “MasterResource” actually recommend as an approach to climate concerns!

Meanwhile, can we stop pretending that “enviros” are the only ones fighting over the wheel of government, much less that they can hold a candle to wealthy corporate insiders?

[Revised] Corporations, the state, limited liability and rent-seeking: Some criticisms of Huebert and Block's criticisms of Long

November 26th, 2008 No comments

[Update:  Items 2 & 3 revised and an item 4 added.]

J.H. Huebert and Walter Block have posted a critique of Roderick Long‘s recent Cato essay.  Allow me to make a few comments:

1.  Huebert and Long argue that “There Is No Such Thing as Corporate Power”, stating that:

“Long writes that “Corporate power depends crucially on government intervention in the marketplace.”

But what does he mean by “corporate power”? A corporation is merely a group of individuals who have entered into a particular type of business relationship. The corporate form allows them to be known collectively by their business’s name instead of their own names. And it allows them to enter into contracts under which they limit their own liability – something which is perfectly legitimate under libertarianism. (Objectivist historian Robert Hessen has made this point well in his book, In Defense of the Corporation, and see our article, “Defending Corporations,” forthcoming in the Cumberland Law Review.)

The corporation, therefore, has no power to speak of.

Instead, only the state has power.”

(emphasis added)

This omits something rather crucial – that the corporate form allows owners to sidestep any personal liability for the wrongful acts that their corporation commits, with the result that liability of the corporation is limited by its assets.  Can someone point me to where libertarian principles defend this result?

2.   Huebert and Block further state that:

“sometimes the state uses its power to confer benefits, direct and indirect, on corporations. It also uses its power to confer benefits on partnerships. And sole proprietorships. And individuals. There is nothing special or different about government privileges for corporations – so why does Long single them out?”

I’m sorry, but a state grant of uncontracted-for limited liability vis-a-vis consumers and others IS a special privilege , and the very reason why so much economic activity is concentrated in corporations, as opposed to partnerships, sole proprietorships and individuals.

Further, there is indisputably quite a difference in SCALE of the benefits that the state confers on corporations, particularly larger ones.

3.  Huebert and Block concede that

“There is a kernel of truth in Long’s viewpoint – some larger firms do use the apparatus of the state to steal an advantage over smaller competitors. As a matter of history, things work out this way more often than in the opposite direction.”

But they fail to acknowledge the obvious implications of this concession:  the aggregated resources and long lives of larger corporations make it much easier for them, as compared to individuals, other forms of association and smaller corporate rivals, to effectively seek rents from the state by offering bribes of various forms (campaign contributions, lecture fees, junkets and revolving-door employment) .  Consequently, the state very often marches to the tune of large corporate drummers, with lobbyists and politicians acting as entrepreneurs in brokering the rents.  It is readily apparent that in the larger firms, executives are very effective at extracting equity at the cost of investors, and are often likewise effective in socializing costs (via federal and state bailouts) when their firms fail.

The creation and expansion of the corporate form has worked hand-in-glove with a steadily expanding and intrusive state.  Huebert’s and Block’s statements that “The corporation, therefore, has no power to speak of” and “onlly the state has power” are both obvious rhetorical excess.

4.  While Long argues that “In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous … and corporate power would be in shambles. Small wonder that big business, despite often paying lip service to free market ideals, tends to systematically oppose them in practice.”  Huebert and Block take this to mean that Long is making the “unfounded” assertion that “big business needs the state to survive”.  Rather than being unfounded, such a view simply cannot be found in Long’s essay.

Huebert and Block argue that:

As it is, there are big businesses that don’t benefit much from government and there are small businesses that benefit greatly from government. In a fully free market, undoubtedly, large and small businesses would both survive, succeed, and prosper. Long’s assertions to the contrary are unfounded speculation.

The first two sentences are unobjectionable, and are not inconsistent with Long’s points. 

Of course what a fully free market would look like is pure speculation, all around.  But without the ability of larger firms to use the state to raise barriers to entry, it seems to me axiomatic that there would be a greater percentage of smaller firms.