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That annoying off-beat drummer: In response to the 'heretic' Dr. Curry, more on my pig-headed libertarian open-mindness on climate issues

March 24th, 2011 No comments

I alerted readers in January to a blog post on libertarianism and the environment by Dr. Judith Curry, who heads the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and is known for her work on hurricanes, Arctic ice dynamics and other climate-related topics.

Scientific American  noted last October, in “Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues; Why can’t we have a civil conversation about climate?“, that:

over the past year or so she has become better known for something that annoys, even infuriates, many of her scientific colleagues. Curry has been engaging actively with the climate change skeptic community, largely by participating on outsider blogs such as Climate Audit, the Air Vent and the Black­board. Along the way, she has come to question how climatologists react to those who question the science, no matter how well established it is. Although many of the skeptics recycle critiques that have long since been disproved, others, she believes, bring up valid points—and by lumping the good with the bad, climate researchers not only miss out on a chance to improve their science, they come across to the public as haughty. “Yes, there’s a lot of crankology out there,” Curry says. “But not all of it is. If only 1 percent of it or 10 percent of what the skeptics say is right, that is time well spent because we have just been too encumbered by groupthink.”

While I recommend that interested readers review the whole thread, I copy below my comments and some related:

Judith, a climate scientist friend kindly gave me gave me a head’s up to your post.

I have been blogging and commenting for quite some time on environmental and climate issues from a libertarian perspective, and have also spent considerable time on trying both to help libertarians engage productively on environmental issues and to help leftist-environmentalists understand where libertarians are coming from.

Sadly, it’s largely a messy tale, reflecting how fights over government policy tend toward zero-sum games that blunt cooperation, the success that fossil fuel and other corporate interests have had in gaming the system, and how our tribal human nature leads many to abandon critical thinking in favor of choosing and reflexively defending sides and positions.

I have been highly critical of many libertarians in perpetuating unproductive discord, and have been the resident environmentalist pain-in-the-neck at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (for libertarian economics), which kindly hosts my blog. In particular, even while try to build bridges I have been critical of the Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute and MasterResource, which I view as being skewed by donations toward corporate agendas. There are of course some highly productive libertarians working on environmental and conservation matters; Terry Anderson and others at PERC (Properrty and Environment Research Center) have led the way on fisheries, water and other issues. (And then there are quasi-libertarians like Elinor Ostrom.)

Since you’ve expressed interest, allow me to load you up with a few links, to my exchanges with others such as John Quiggin, to my cajoling and castigating of libertarians, and to some of my views on climate/environment issues :

“Towards a productive libertarian approach on climate, energy and environmental issues ”

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

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

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

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

“The Cliff Notes version of my stilted enviro-fascist view of corporations and government ”

The Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of our age

For climate fever, take two open-air atom bombs & call me in the morning; “serious” libertarian suggestions from Kinsella & Reisman!?

Thanks, Dr. Reisman; or, How I Learned to Hate Enviros and Love Tantrums

“Escape from Reason: are Austrians conservatives, or neocons, on the environment? ”

“The Road Not Taken V: Libertarian hatred of misanthropic “watermelons” and the productive love of aloof ad-homs”

OMG – those ecofascists hate statist corps, too, and even want to – GASP – end that oh-so-libertarian state grant of limited liability!

“Who are the misanthropes – “Malthusians” or those who hate them? Rob Bradley and others resist good faith engagement despite obvious institutional failures/absence of property rights ”

On non-climate issues:

“Too Many or Too Few People? Does the market provide an answer? ”



  • Tokyo Tom, thanks much for your input. your post originally went to moderation owing to the large number of links.

    • Dr. Curry, thanks for your indulgence on this; given the time differences (bedtime now!) and my schedule tomorrow, I thought throwing out a few links might be useful (though I may be mistaken!!).


    • If I can add one further thought before I head off to bed, it would be that a key prerequisite (as Ostrom points out) for tackling commons issues like climate change that involves many players and countries is the need for TRUST, an element that is sadly lacking (a resource that libertarian analysis indicates is destroyed by squabbles over government) .

      Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, Avatar & the Climate (of distrust); or, Can we move from a tribal questioning of motives to win-win policies?

      On climate, myopic progressives console themselves by pointing out fossil $ behind science “skeptics”; but miss the same from left and ignore middle ground



One wee error in your intro:
“Sadly, it’s largely a messy tale, reflecting how fights over government policy tend toward zeronegative-sum games that blunt cooperation”
There. All fixed! ;)

Tom is someone who has managed to separate the difference between science and policy.

  • I am honored that you visit me, as you must be very busy in the Year of the Wabbit.

    Thanks, Eli, but it means that Tom is someone for whom the thrills of tribal comabt do not offset the woes of being the odd man out, if not “the enemy”.


Michael, Climate Etc. has technical threads and discussion threads. This is a discussion thread. I usually monitor things quite closely on technical threads, which are pretty much troll free. There have been excellent discussions with very knowledgeable skeptics on many of the technical threads. If you look at the denizens list, there are many people spending time here with serious credentials and wide ranging and varying professional experiences. This is not a place where mindless people bother hanging out.

What am I hoping to accomplish on discussion threads? I raise thorny topics on the discussion threads, at the interface between science and society. People challenge their own prejudices by arguing with people having different opinions. Invariably I learn something when people suggest interesting things to read (on this thread, i have found some of Tokyo Tom’s links to be interesting.)

Assuming i have time in the next day or do (which is not a good assumption, I’m afraid), i will do a Part II on this thread, picking out some points/ideas to focus on in a follow on thread. Once we get the heat out of the way, we often generate some light over here.

bob, I would be interested in a part II to this subject, and it would be great if Tokyo Tom or Rich wanted to do this, provided the topic was about how to deal with global environmental issues and potential tragedy of the commons issues.

  • Not sure how you could reconcile the distance between these two. Yes, they are both Libertarians. But one sees the climate issue like so:

    Yeah, I deny the anthropogenic carbon dioxide global temperature forcing “hypothesis” (not that it deserves even the courtesy use of that term). It started out as an extraordinary – hell, preposterous – effort to account for a completely screwed interpretation of insufficient surface temperature data (gained initially, it appears, from Stevenson screen thermometers “sited next to a lamp” by way of all sorts of instrumental screw-ups related to urban heat island effect and similar artifact) thirty years ago, and has proceeded through those three decades not only without the development of convincing evidence supporting this brain-dead blunder but suffused with a continuing agglomeration of data-doctoring, book-cooking, code-jiggering, suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, peer-review-perverting, dissident-censoring, cork-screwing, back-stabbing, dirty-dealing, and bald-faced lying.

    and the other sees it a bit differently: [my emphasis added]

    On environmental issues in general and climate in particular, find me someone ranting about “Malthusians” or “environazis” or somesuch, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand – or refuses to acknowledge – the difference between wealth-creating markets based on private property and/or voluntary interactions/contracts protected by law, and the tragedy of the commons situations that result when there are NO property rights (atmosphere, oceans) or when the pressures of developed markets swamp indigenous hunter-gather community rules.

    So what’s the deal? Here’s a perfect opportunity for skeptics to educate the supposedly market ignorant, but they refuse, preferring to focus instead on why concerned scientists must be wrong, how concerns by a broad swath of society about climate have become a matter of an irrational, deluded “religious” faith, or that those raising their concerns are “misanthropes” or worse.

    Some on the left likewise see libertarians and small-government conservatives as deluded.

    Both sides, it seems, prefer to fight – and to see themselves as right and the “others” as evil – rather than to reason

    While we should not regret that we cannot really constrain human nature very well, at least libertarian and others who profess to love markets ought to be paying attention to the inadequate institutional framework that is not only poisoning the political atmosphere, but posing risks to important globally and regionally shared open-access commons like the atmosphere and oceans (which are probably are in much more immediate and grave threat than the climate). And they also ought to recognize that there are important economic interests that profit from the current flawed institutional framework and have quite deliberately encouraged the current culture war.

    So, once again, ideological affiliations aside, there are people who look for ways to solve possible problems and people who look for reasons to ignore possible problems.

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A continuing story of "STUFF" and Stupidity: when enviros appear, Austrians stuff their thinking caps into a jar by the door, and rush out to defend the corporate-statist status quo

November 7th, 2010 No comments

I just stumbled across a Mises Daily post by Sterling T. Terrell (an “economist and writer living outside of San Antonio, TX”) on “The Story of Stuff” video by  Annie Leonard (a former Greenpeacer)

I couldn’t resist making a few comments, which I copy below.

Frankly, while I was disappointed by the shallow analysis by Terrell, I can’t say I was surprised – Austrians seem to like nothing better than to abandon principles and productive engagement in favor of partisanship, particularly if it enables dodging or defending corporate statism. What are principles over an emotional thrill, anyway?

Oh, you damned enviros! You make us Austrians/libertarians so stupid! (emphasis and some links added; further comments in brackets)

TokyoTom November 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Sterling, I’m late to the party, I see, but allow me to offer a few comments:

– Leonard “presses forward and laments the increasing size and importance of corporations, ignoring that the rise of corporations has been largely an outcome of consumer preferences.

My own humble view is that the rise of corporations has been more than a little affected by the fact that they are risk-transfer machines created by government and that could not exist in present form in a truly free market (certainly people injured by corporate actions do not chose the corporate structure of their tort-feasors).The grant of limited liability to shareholders has had a profound impact on society and communities and on the growth of the captured mega-regulatory
. See, e.g.,

I agree with Mushindo here.

1. “We are using too much stuff”? Compared to what? How Malthusian can Leonard be? One can grow tired repeating over and over the concept of the tragedy of the commons to those that are unable to think two steps ahead.

How about, compared to what our societies would exploit if governments across the world did not fuel the tragedy of the commons by purporting to “own” so much of the commons (often stealing it from natives and preventing management by users) and auctioning off lease rights to favored inside corporations for a song? [e.g., offshore oil and other public lands]

Why do Austrians feel compelled to contest phenomena that they know full well exist? [Does Austrian knowledge of the roots of a problem make the problem magically disappear?]

2. Aren’t you the least bit embarrassed?

3. “Leonard later contends that the United States’ response to consuming too much stuff is that it just takes someone else’s”

Did you miss the movie Avatar or our discussion of it? Isn’t it obvious that property rights are respected even LESS in the Third World than in the US? What does this imply for prices of raw materials sourced from the Third World, or for used products we dump there? [What does this imply for the protection of valued resources that neither indigenous peoples nor evil enviros are able to defend title to?]

4. “Seventy-five percent of global fisheries are fished at or beyond capacity.” Again, it would be helpful if Leonard understood the tragedy of the commons.

True; but again, it would be helpful if you acknowledged that, far from being something Leonard got wrong, this is one of those points that lack of property rights in and/or government ownership of fisheries means she is absolutely right.

5. Leonard is right that we live in a very materialistic society with weakening communities; Austrians should recognize that this is fuelled by the government actions that favor corporations, and by the growth of the government itself, including fiscal and monetary policy [as well as the captured regulatory state].

What is it with the reflexive disagreement with Leonard? Can’t one disagree with many aspects, but yet find common ground and venture productive explanations?

6. I doubt it is actually common for truly toxic products to be produced and sold in the United States.

Do you also doubt that cancer and pulmonary problems are clearly linked to environmental toxins? Do you doubt the existence of Superfund sites, and toxicity associated with US nuclear weapons production programs and mines generally?

Furthermore, I doubt many corporations would be in business for long if they sold them.
Have you failed to notice greenwashing by chemical cos? Or that federal pollution licensing regs keep in business Midwestern industries whose pollution East Coast states have been suing for decades to halt?

8. “Our primary identity is that of being consumers — not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers.”

Isn’t it obvious that Leonard is referring to how we are perceived/treated by corporations and governments – and like you personally believes we are much more than that? You continue to drum up disagreements where there don’t appear to be any.

9. “the American economy’s purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” Leonard bemoans the statement, but the advisor was right! Everything is produced for consumption.

Now I’m confused: in 8 you suggest that our primary identity is NOT as consumers, but now you inform us that the whole “purpose” of the American economy is to produce more consumer goods.

In any event, any Austrian should disagree with you: the “American economy” has NO purpose whatsoever; rather, only individuals, acting alone and in groups, have purposes. Such purposes may necessitate purchases of goods and services, but I would wager that no one has a purpose of simply consuming consumer goods.

10. “Our national happiness peaked in the 1950s, the same time that this consumption mania exploded. Hmmm. Interesting coincidence,” Leonard says

Leonard hasn’t offered a conclusion, but simply offered a rather pedestrian suggestion that consumerism may adversely affect personal happiness – a viewpoint that is widely echoed by religious leaders and psychologists. I don’t believe that Austrians disagree axiomatically here – did I miss something?


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Mises The Enviro on BP (and ConocoPhillips)

August 19th, 2010 No comments

I just ran across an old post quoting Mises, and some of it seemed quite relevant to my posts on BP (including my post yesterday regading a statement by the CEO of ConocoPhillips that they would not drill in the Gulf of Mexico if Congress eliminated statutory liaibility limits for pollution), particularly with regard to ownership by government, lack of ownership  by BP, and the absence of any rights in favor of fishermen or other non-petroleum resource users.

Here’s the quote (emphasis added):

Property rights as they are circumscribed by laws and protected by courts and the police, are the outgrowth of an age-long evolution.The legal concepts of property do not fully take account of the social function of private property. There are certain inadequacies and incongruities which are reflected in the determination of the market phenomena.

Carried through consistently, the right of property would entitle the proprietor to claim all the advantages which the good’s employment may generate on the one hand and would burden him with all the disadvantages resulting from its employment on the other hand. Then the proprietor alone would be fully responsible for the outcome. In dealing with his property he would take into account all the expected results of his action, those considered favorable as well as those considered unfavorable. But if some of the consequences of his action are outside of the sphere of the benefits he is entitled to reap and of the drawbacks that are put to his debit, he will not bother in his planning about all the effects of his action. He will disregard those benefits which do not increase his own satisfaction and those costs which do not burden him. His conduct will deviate from the line which it would have followed if the laws were better adjusted to the economic objectives of private ownership. He will embark upon certain projects only because the laws release him from responsibility for some of the costs incurred. He will abstain from other projects merely because the laws prevent him from harvesting all the advantages derivable.

The laws concerning liability and indemnification for damages caused were and still are in some respects deficient. By and large the principle is accepted that everybody is liable to damages which his actions have inflicted upon other people. But there were loopholes left which the legislators were slow to fill. In some cases this tardiness was intentional because the imperfections agreed with the plans of the authorities. When in the past in many countries the owners of factories and railroads were not held liable for the damages which the conduct of their enterprises inflicted on the property and health of neighbors, patrons, employees, and other people through smoke, soot, noise, water pollution, and accidents caused by defective or inappropriate equipment, the idea was that one should not undermine the progress of industrialization and the development of transportation facilities. The same doctrines which prompted and still are prompting many governments to encourage investment in factories and railroads through subsidies, tax exemption, tariffs, and cheap credit were at work in the emergence of a legal state of affairs in which the liability of such enterprises was either formally or practically abated.”

Whether the proprietor’s relief from responsibility for some of the disadvantages resulting from his conduct of affairs is the outcome of a deliberate policy on the part of governments and legislators or whether it is an unintentional effect of the traditional working of laws, it is at any rate a datum which the actors must take into account. They are faced with the problem of external costs. Then some people choose certain modes of want-satisfaction merely on account of the fact that a part of the costs incurred are debited not to them but to other people.

The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man’s property referred to above. If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting. Those who are in a position to appropriate to themselves the returns–lumber and game of the forests, fish of the water areas, and mineral deposits of the subsoil–do not bother about the later effects of their mode of exploitation. For them the erosion of the soil, the depletion of the exhaustible resources and other impairments of the future utilization are external costs not entering into their calculation of input and output. They cut down the trees without any regard for fresh shoots or reforestation. In hunting and fishing they do not shrink from methods preventing the repopulation of the hunting and fishing grounds. In the early days of human civilization, when soil of a quality not inferior to that of the utilized pieces was still abundant, people did not find any fault with such predatory methods. When their effects appeared in a decrease in the net returns, the ploughman abandoned his farm and moved to another place. It was only when a country was more densely settled and unoccupied first class land was no longer available for appropriation, that people began to consider such predatory methods wasteful. At that time they consolidated the institution of private property in land. They started with arable land and then, step by step, included pastures, forests, and fisheries. The newly settled colonial countries overseas, especially the vast spaces of the United States, whose marvelous agricultural potentialities were almost untouched when the first colonists from Europe arrived, passed through the same stages. Until the last decades of the nineteenth century there was always a geographic zone open to newcomers–the frontier. Neither the existence of the frontier nor its passing was peculiar to America. What characterizes American conditions is the fact that at the time the frontier disappeared ideological and institutional factors impeded the adjustment of the methods of land utilization to the change in the data. …

It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.



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A few thoughts from Japan on unowned/common resources, governments and whale PR wars

July 23rd, 2010 8 comments

 I left this comment on a post at Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth/NYT blog about the January run-in between the Sea Shepherd organization and the Japanese whaling fleet (emphasis added):

January 11th, 2010
3:50 pm
Andy, this dispute is in some ways very similar to the range wars between ranchers, shepherds and farmers, with all sides fighting over a resource that the federal government recognized no one as owning.

Laws re the high seas, whaling and trade in endangered species likewise prevent resource management by those interested, and encourage the use of violence, PR and politics to settle disputes.

The Sea Shepherd and others have just as much claim to protect whales as the whalers have to catch them. Too bad both sides are invested in this dispute, instead of focusing on the common goal of building sustainable fisheries worldwide.

One irony/compounding factor that many overlook is that here [in Japan] whaling fleet is involved. The private whalers have all left the business, which the Japanese government now owns and runs at a loss, cutting off its own nose to spite the enviros. Ego (and group pride)  [and political grandstanding] so often wins out over long-term interest!

I note that I’ve commented on whaling and fishery issues (including salmon and tuna) any number of times.
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Fun with "libertarian" caricatures

June 30th, 2010 No comments

I ran into a blog post by biologist PZ Myers, consisting mainly of a cartoon presenting a “taxonomy” lampooning “libertarians“. Some of the funning might hit close to home, but it is apparent that libertarians are more than a little misunerstood.

I left the following comment, and am cross-posting here because I fear the number of links may trigger a spam filter:

PZ, what’s a libertarian? One might say they are are guys like Glenn Greenwald, not always self-identified as libertarian but fighting to keep both so-called “conservatives” and “liberals” honest.

But they are still an inconsistent bunch – as the range of caricatures illustrates but fails to wholly capture – and are as prone to stereotyping and tribal perceptions/reactions as you and others here are.

I now consider myself libertarian, but have been butting heads with libertarians (and conservatives/liberals) for years, particularly over environmental issues and the negative roles played by corporations and government.

Here’s a taste of what is still libertarian, but rather rare:

 Maybe that’s too much of a taste for most of you, but since there is some obvious curiosity I thought I offer an introduction.

Sincerely, TT

Posted by: TokyoTomSr | June 30, 2010 3:09 AM

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The Eve of Destruction: Excellent post on how Government and statist corporations like BP are stifling community responses to the unfolding Gulf disaster

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post! Another Avatar post, too!

Following a trail of crumbs, I have just chanced upon an insightful post at the “On ALLiance” group blog of left libertarians. The post, a reader submission on June 13 by “Keith” is entitled “BPUSA” and hits squarely on the head a couple of nails that have been bothering me. I cross-post it in it entirety below (emphasis added).

I would note that while I agree that we face very serious problems, I would not attribute the weakened state of our communities to deliberate acts of scheming individuals – but rather, individuals in many institutions acting in accordance with the incentives that they face within their respective institutions. Nevertheless, I agree with and strongly support the call to action.


By Keith

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil gusher demonstrates the necessity of building civil society within American communities.  In fact if anything it demonstrates how community agency, the capacity to act for collective purposes, has been eroded due to a persistent effort to erode civil society and create dependency upon state and corporate actors.  This is done through a number of mechanisms: (1) subsuming mutual aid and not-for-profit actors into government welfare; (2) slowly chipping away at the capacity of welfare and social service agencies through diminished funding, increased bureaucracy, and enhanced regulation that undermines the core mission of the agency and; (3) finally by transferring such services over to corporate actors who seek to maximize profit by distributing material (not social) goods that fail to offer a semblance of empowerment nor promises to build individual capacity for transformative change. The purposeful erosion of civil society leaves communities extremely vulnerable in times of crises, as the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates.

Gulf coastal communities were assured by BP and the United States government that the effects of the spill were being mitigated through public-private partnerships without actively engaging the local level communities or regional working groups.  As a recent Rolling Stone article notes, these actors are attempting to protect their own interests to the detriment of an entire ecosystem. BP, the criminal perpetrator, is in essence being empowered to act as judge, jury, and I dare say executioner.

When the Deepwater Horizon originally sank, BP, with support from the Obama Administration, low-balled the estimated flow rate gushing from the well.  Initially the flow was placed at 1000 barrels a day; it is now looking more like 100,000 barrels of oil per day, equivalent to an Exxon-Valdez oil spill every 8 days [actually this is every three days] , a shocking figure by anyone’s standards – it should also be noted that little attention has been paid to the nitrogen-rich liquid natural gas leaking into the deep ocean waters which may be even worse than the oil itself.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated the worst from the very start; their own models planned for the worst.  But why then did the Obama Administration actively seek to keep these estimates tamped down.  There can only be two reasons for this.  First, the Obama Administration desired to limit the political fall out.  Perhaps this means they did not want to worry the Gulf residents (unlikely), or perhaps they wanted to play it safe and attempt to reduce media interest in an attempt to craft the initial message that would (hopefully) dominate the media discourse.  Second, the Obama Administration, a major benefactor of BP political campaign contributions, is going to bat for BP. [Also, Obama was trying to craft a climate deal that required support by big oil, in exchange for expanded offshore drilling.]

Either which way, by limiting the information flow to the media and then to the Gulf communities, they severely reduced the capacity for communities to understand the problem, mobilize resources relative to the catastrophe, and become actively engaged side by side with the government and BP to save their communities.  BP themselves bragged about their ability to detect flow rates in an in-house magazine they produce. It is criminal that communities were, in essence, denied their rightful opportunity to prepare far in advance of the oil coming ashore.

But it is critical to understand that this is how these two entities are currently structured. BP is tasked with maximizing profit and ensuring a solid return on investment to their shareholders (brown pelicans and rural fishermen be damned, they don’t own BP stock).  From a community empowerment perspective, the U.S. government, itself a top-down, hierarchical organization much like BP, also seeks to demonstrate a return on investment to its shareholders (campaign financiers, the businesses they regulate, and the businesses government officials hope will cut them a fat salary when they exit public life to enter the private sector in a cyclical process known as the revolving door).  What’s worse is that the opposition Republicans, instead of feeling the pain wrought by irresponsible regulation, subsidy, liability caps, and corporate malfeasance, has called for a federal bailout, increased oil drilling, and unfettered access to the even riskier drilling ventures; in other words, we have no good option in terms of political representation.  We get a choice of two parties, each representing the same interest, but one being far more crass in its support of destructive business practices.

[Quick aside. What would happen if you killed a large number of endangered animals? Do you think BP faces similar penalties? Who then do these legal processes protect?]

We are seeing a massive failure of state-centralized governance before our very eyes.  This is what happens when we put all of our collective eggs in a solitary basket, and don’t build multiple institutions of governance for collective action. Communities have been trained to rely on singular institutions for their critical goods and services. Should the singular entity (the state-corporate partners know as BPUSA) fail, we have no other choice because, well… these profit-seeking actors diminished our choices and community capacity to address crises have thusly been destroyed. Communities simply need more options.

It is obvious that the elite-led mentality of our governance structure has inhibited community’s capacity to provide for themselves when both the titans of industry and the government has failed them.  State governments in the Gulf have been further hamstrung not because of capacity to prepare for the spill, but to give the illusion that the federal government was not “granting them permits,” for example, to perform immediate stop gap measures, never mind you these “conservative” government’s supposed belief in “states’ rights” which should have prodded them to take their Confederate rebel mentality to buck the federales and win over the hearts and minds of their people; when politics comes into the fray, the vast majority of politicians will let their constituencies suffer gravely in order to further their own political ambitions.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal skillfully demonstrated his destructive political acumen, pleaded desperately with the media to have the Obama Administration sign off on permits to allow the state to dump sand berms at the entryways to fragile wetlands. Why, if Jindal knew his cause was just and time was of the essence, did he not use his executive authority and his Confederate-derived states’ rights mentality to not only demonstrate his adept handling of the situation to save his people, but to also give Obama a nice political jab?  Because in the end, for Jindal, he wants to build a narrative of the destructive, oppressive, federal government through demonstrable evidence, forgetting that in this instance federal actions were more about ineptitude than oppressiveness.  But we cannot fault Jindal for living up to the rhetorical standards of the American right: incoherence and inconsistency reign king.

By the way, Jindal had the resources for the sand berms at his immediate disposal. Jindal simply decided he “needed” to wait on the Obama Administration. Odd that Jindal would trust in the process considering Jindal has long criticized the Obama-led government as inept.

Then there is the governor of Mississippi.  Governor Haley Barbour, in an effort to save the state’s tourism industry (I know you are asking “Mississippi has a tourism industry?!”) downplayed the oil coming ashore as “natural.” For Barbour, tar balls are just a trivial side effect of offshore oil drilling – again, never mind a tacit acknowledgement of the destructive side of our economic system where tar balls become a natural feature of our landscape.  Barbour would rather protect the special interest of the notoriously anti working class tourist industry than mobilize the working class themselves to save the local ecosystem.

See a pattern?

Instead of preparing Mississippi citizens for the worst, in order to engage and activate the civic infrastructure, Barbour is hamstringing civilian response efforts by essentially telling people to carry on as they normally would.  God forbid Barbour truly lead and ask the citizens of Mississippi to march to the coast, assist in clean up efforts, and prepare to pitchfork BP executives until they open their fat wallets and liquidate their assets to the people of the great state of Mississippi.

You see, civic engagement is simply not in the best interest of the status quo, even if it means disaster. Political hacks want communities to come to them for their critical needs in order to reinforce their importance.

And the feds, being the good community actors they are, have decided they better make sure that the scant BP financed clean-up crews don’t have any “illegal” immigrants in their midst. Clearly the government believes they must both be choosy, and are duty-led to drum up further anti-immigrant fervor in a crisis situation.  A political two-fer!

Then there is the Coast Guard, supposedly tasked to protect American assets (”our” assets) on the open seas.  The Coast Guard has limited civilian and media access to areas in the Gulf impacted by the Deepwater Horizon gusher.  People wish to see the damage with their own eyes, and damned if in the face of the looming catastrophe they shouldn’t have that right to do so.  But the Obama Administration, which is supposedly seeking someone’s ass to kick at BP, has decided to throw their executive weight behind preventing investigative journalism and civil protest as opposed to forcing BP to shift the bulk of it’s operations to the Gulf response effort.  Read this article posted on HuffingtonPost:

What this has done is rightfully created mistrust in both the government and business.  The state has created the corporation through state charter.  With the corporate-state partnership, the corporation now receives the rights of a human being with virtually none of the risk or liabilities; the state is all too willing to proliferate this relationship too. Again, the opposition political party’s own minority leader, John Boehner, stood side by side with the president of the Chamber of Commerce, expressing their shared sense of outrage that BP might be liable, and that the government should be on the hook for the cleanup costs.

And here we were told by the Chamber that they wanted government OUT of the business of business.  Read more here:

On one hand, when people cry out for critical social services – their only avenue being the government due to restrictive regulations preventing mutual aid type agencies – they are told that now is not the time due to severe economic situations (or the Democratic supermajority is not “super” enough).  On the other, when the government wants to bail out the banks, launch trillion dollar wars, or use our tax dollars to clean up after BP (who makes tens of billions in profits a year), all of a sudden the government can marshal its forces to meet these challenges.  The more reasonable amongst us are labeled as unreasonable or irrational when we point out that this spending orgy – resulting in irresponsible business practices and, worst of all, the death of millions of innocents – could simply be redirected toward crumbling U.S. infrastructure or, and I might sound crazy here, putting a massive collective effort toward stopping an impending, unprecedented environmental disaster.  No, you see, we have to find some guy in a cave and build a nation or two, modeled off this nation’s likeness (good luck with that Afghanistan!).

Have no doubt that we are facing critical times.  Government, which demands to be the end arbiter for rapid-response efforts, is failing us time and time again.  Corporations stand behind government to shield themselves from liability while profiting along the way (Naomi Klein wrote about this process in her book The Shock Doctrine). Government then downplays all disasters to protect the corporate interests while also downplaying the necessity to deploy the resources necessary to protect communities from catastrophic events.  Communities are then ill equipped to wage effective disaster responses or stop the absentee corporate business practices that cause the disasters in the first place.  This is a cycle that is increasingly playing out with global climate change, state-centralization of police power, and the growth of the corporate-state partnership. Communities, particularly rural and resource-constrained types, are suffering most and will continue to do so, so long as elite brokers have something to gain.

The state and corporate titans have done their fair share to blind local and regional communities to the realities of their destructive practices for the sake of the all-mighty dollar.  In doing so, it has now become common practice for communities, even in disaster situations, to have to vet their response efforts through cumbersome bureaucracies that are detached from the ground-level realities.  More troubling still is that local level communities seem to acquiesce to these power structures, presuming that it is in their best interest or that they could get punished for breaking the chain of command. In disaster scenarios, we know that a rapid response is the best remedy to ensure that chaos is mitigated, order restored, and peoples’ livelihoods are saved; time is of the essence.  We must engage communities to work collectively on the critical issues of our time, lest we face repeats of the Katrina, Haiti, and Gulf crises.

Don’t get me wrong, here. This disaster and the results are not solely the government’s blame. In the end, the criminal is BP. But the resulting disaster response should be simple and accountability should be clear. The problem is that reactions are slow, people are being lied to, authorities are dominating the response (and badly) and the government has led us to the position that we can’t do much about it.

Communities must work to build active capacity.  Communities must

challenge the rights of corporate and state actors over local autonomy.  We must have multiple institutions of governance for just such instances where the “patriarchs” fail us.  There is no valid reason, as NPR reported the other day, why the Coast Guard should prevent inland fisheries from setting up their own booms to prevent the flow of BP’s oil into their bays.  Not only should communities challenge the Coast Guard’s order, but they should, figuratively, deploy the booms when reason seems to dictate it is in their best interest. This is where civil disobedience is needed most.

Communities should not acquiesce when it means destruction.  It is long past time we challenge these obviously destructive state-corporate partnerships and build our own local capacity to work collectively.  Indeed it may be a necessity for communities to thrive.  The all too real and disturbing question to me is will we be allowed to do so, and will communities be willing to challenge such impediments?

h/t suburnanarchist 11:42 pm

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On ocean drilling, it's time for Ron Bailey, oil flack (and other libertarians), to meet Ron Bailey, "tragedy of the commons" guru and to stand up for the Oil Serfs

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post!

I was a bit critical in my last post of Ron Bailey’s suggestion that a gross “cost-benefit” analysis was a sufficient basis for supporting risky ocean drilling activities, without regard to the institutional structure (a government-managed commons) and incentives at play (profits accruing only to oil firms and royalties to government, but resource users facing downside risks with no rights to disapprove or exercise oversight).

Now I’m puzzled, because in a June 8 post at Reason Online Ron specifically acknowledges the very important research of Nobel Prizing winning political economist Elinor Ostrom (see my posts on the relevance of her work here) on the ability of communities of users to effectively manage commons resources and so to dodge the “tragedy of the commons” outlined by Garrett Hardin. Ron’s post makes particular note of the possibility of effective cooperative management of fisheries, in contrast to the tragically counterproductive  mismanagement by governments of collapsing fisheries and refers to an excellent study by libertarian law prof Jon Adler that is very relevant to the mismanagement by the federal government of marine resources in the Gulf. Here’s the salient port of Ron’s post (emphasis added):

The good news is that research shows that just talking can make Hardin’s logic of ruin anything but inevitable. In fact, historical research shows that Hardin’s overgrazed meadows are rare. For example, the tragedy of the commons didn’t occur in Medieval England because local herdsmen negotiated a set of rules (communication) and established enforcement mechanisms (punishment) to allocate access to scarce pasturage among themselves.

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues have repeatedly found the same thing in their field work. All over the world, local people talked among themselves and worked out serviceable rules for protecting and benefiting from common pool resources, like streams, forests, and fisheries. Take the famous case of the harbor gangs among lobster fishers in Maine. Although the state government says that anyone is legally permitted to catch lobsters commercially, the harbor gangs restrict access by outsiders by cutting the buoy lines to the traps set by interlopers. This informal management results in a more sustainable fishery and boosts the incomes of the local fishers. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last fall found that local communities are much better at managing forest commons than are governments. In contrast to government management, local communal ownership boosted incomes and forest sustainability.

Ostrom previously noted that large studies from “around the world challenge the presumption that governments always do a better job than users in organizing and protecting important resources.” In fact, a 2002 study correctly noted, “The overall state of the world’s fisheries is much worse today than 45 years ago, even though most fisheries have come under government regulation in this period.” By preventing local people from talking among themselves, it is often the case that governments actually create prisoner’s dilemmas over resources that result in the tragedy of the commons.

Here’s to hoping that Ron and other libertarians start recognizing and elucidating  the very negative role that the government has played in the Gulf crisis, by preventing fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and the like from exercising control over the resources that sustain them, but has instead very tragically favored – and ineptly/corruptly overseen – oil companies, thereby skewing incentives, frustrating management between fishers and oil companies, and setting up directly the presently unfolding tragedy of the commons.

The problem that we see in the Gulf and other offshore drilling is very much akin to the “Avatar”-like problems of mineral exploitation elsewhere around the world: oil or other mineral extraction companies operate without extensive property rights but on the basis of government approvals, with the companies and governments/elites  reaping the rewards, but with non-consenting natives bearing all of the downside risks. Gulf coast fishermen and residents, meet the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, Nigeria, and New Guinea.

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Oil-Serfs-R-Us or the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons: the puny Lousianna "Shrimp King" humbled by BP & the Feds

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post!

The Guardian ran a story last weeks that illustrated some of the human costs of BP’s oil debacle. Lew Rockwell and Stephan Kinsella insist  that the legal fiction known as “BP” is the largest “victim”, but I find their moral clarity rather obtuse, if not perverted.

As men live and work in communities and make their livelihoods in coordinated activities, I’m not sure I agree with Stephan Kinsella’s insistence (in responding to my arguments that state-grants of limited liability to shareholders are unjustifiable and have significant pernicious consequences) that our focus in measuring responsibility must always be on individuals; I do, however, agree that such an examination may be quite helpful – even as I note how Lew, Stephan and others ignore their own prescription when rushing to defend massive, faceless organizations like “BP”, or when fulminating about evil, man-hating  (and corporate-funded) “enviro-fascists”.

With that in mind, I ran across the following article in The Guardian last week that presents human face of what “BP” (and its dirty partnership with the federal and state governments who have deprived users of natural resources of any rights to control such resources) has wrought in the Gulf (my emphasis):

BP oil spill ruined my life, says Louisiana shrimp king; Dean Blanchard’s firm used to account for 11% of the US shrimp supply. Now, he is reduced to supplying fuel and water to BP clean-up crews

(Susan Goldenberg, June 11)

Of all the folks in Louisiana spoiling for a fight with Tony Hayward, none perhaps brings more gusto to the challenge than Dean Blanchard, the local shrimp king.

The outer walls of the trailer office of his seafood empire are plastered with homemade signs reading “BP=Bayou Polluter” and “President Obama: BP took my business and my money.”

The frontroom is painted shrimp pink, and Blanchard is working himself up imagining what he would like to do to the BP chief executive if he ever got the chance: fist fight, public wrestling match, jail time?

“He took away everything I love most in the world. I am going to hunt that son of a bitch down like a ‘coon,” he said. “He wants his life back after all he has done to us? The hell with him.”

Then he speculates about peeing in the Queen’s water fountain. “What do you think would happen to me? I’d go to jail for that, and it would be relatively minor environmental damage.”

He may not immediately look the part in his faded shorts and blue vest and the jumble of buildings around the docks, but in the shrimp world, Blanchard is Hayward.

BP ranks in the top three oil companies; Blanchard says his are the third biggest shrimp docks in the world, with some 6,000 fishermen bringing him their catch. His company accounts for about 11% of the US shrimp supply.

In the pre-spill era, that would have put Hayward and Blanchard on near equal footing, he reckons. Oil and shrimp were the two poles of existence in this part of Louisiana. Offshore rigs and refinery tanks are as ubiquitous as fishing trawlers.

Blanchard had a foot in both worlds. One grandfather got rich on shrimp, establishing the business he now operates near BP’s local command centre. The other grandfather got rich from oil.

Now, with the gusher on the ocean floor and fishing banned in much of the Gulf, there is just oil clean-up. At the Sand Dollar marina, redeployed fishermen and shrimpers, hauling containment boom through the water instead of nets, share space with the coastguard and national guard.

The money is only a fraction of what it would be for a successful shrimp season and 2010 was shaping up to be a banner year.

“Every 10 years, when you get a cold winter, you get a really good shrimp crop,” Blanchard said. “We were licking our chops.”

On a good run, a big shrimp boat could earn $1m (£686,000) a day. The going rate for fishing for oil is $3,000, less for smaller boats – not a lot once divided among captain and crew. Several of the men say they have yet to be paid.

Blanchard says his losses are on a far grander scale. “I’ve lost $15m worth of sales in the last 50 days. That would have been $1m in my pocket,” he said.

A few of the big freezer boats are still going out, but Blanchard says he is reduced to selling BP fuel and water for its contract clean-up crews, and renting out dock space. By his terms, it’s a pittance and he has no idea when he will get back to work.

“What I make off of BP I could make in eight hours,” he said.

He is equally scathing of BP’s oil clean-up strategy. “I could take two 32oz Big Gulp cups from the 7-Eleven and do more than what they are doing,” he said.

Blanchard is far from the only angry man in town. The mayor, David Camardelle, was in Washington this week to testify before Congress. He nearly broke down. “The shrimp died. It’s a ghost town. The boom doesn’t work,” he said.

Around the corner from his operations, a family has erected 101 simple white crosses memorialising what has been lost to the spill.

There is sea food industry, with crosses for tuna, shrimp and oyster catches, but also “beach sunrises”, “seafood gumbo”, “redfish rodeo”, “family time”, “porch sitting” and “dog on beach”.

And for all his bluster, Blanchard is overwhelmed by the loss.

“I think I did everything right, and here this idiot came and didn’t know how to run his business and put me out of my business. People used to respect me in this town. Now I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what to do.”

I’ve yet to run across an LvMI post at all sympathetic to people to like Dean Blanchard, much less one in which a poster bothered to put a thinking cap on to make any useful suggestions, such as an insistence on rolling out “catch rights” for fishermen, and rights to veto or monitor petroleum exploration and development.

I note that I have already posted extensively on oceans/fisheries management; for interested readers here are links to some of those posts:

More later.

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More useful discussion by Carson, both on BP’s fate in a free market, and on the inept, feckless and captured regulatory state

June 9th, 2010 3 comments

Another BP post!

Both of Kevin Carson’s most recent posts at Center for a Stateless Society are worth a read.

BP’s Fate in a Free Market, Part Two

How’s All That Progressive Regulatory Stuff Workin’ Out For Ya?

In particular, Kevin’s “Part 2” post – and the comments to it and posts by others whom he references – are quite thoughtful. Below are some points that I think deserve particular attention (emphasis mine):

Shawn Wilbur, a leading scholar in the history of the individualist/mutualist tradition in addition to being an anarchist himself, agrees that oil companies like BP would be far less able to externalize costs on the public in a free market order, absent such privileges as caps on liability.  But he goes on to raise the issue of the “many kinds of value and interest” that are not adequately represented by markets:

“After all, sea turtles and brown pelicans don’t get any more of a vote in the market than they do in elections or campaign contributions. Private property conventions tend to establish a separation of interests not reflected in, or respected by, the circulatory systems of the biosphere …”

Gary Chartier, a market anarchist professor at La Sierra University, commented that since sea turtles lack any means of effectively asserting or defending rights on their own behalf, their interests in any system — whether under statism, market anarchy, or any other kind of anarchy — depend entirely on the existence of human beings who identify those interests with their own.

I would add that the present system includes many structural barriers that prevent humans who value the interests of other species or of the ecosystem from expressing that valuation in the marketplace.  For example, federal lease auctions allow only companies from the relevant industry (lumber, mining, etc.) to bid on access to federal land.  That means conservationists who value holding land out of use are banned from the bidding process, that the winning bid is hence lower than it likely would otherwise have been, and that resource extraction is artificially profitable.  Federal preemption of vacant land means, likewise, that the privileged access granted by the federal government is uncontested by other previous claimants.

Were vacant land not preempted by the state and then granted on a privileged basis, then the oil, mining and lumber companies could establish legitimate homestead rights only over the land that they were capable of effectively developing and fully prepared to economically exploit at any given time.  In the meantime, other groups might have homesteaded significant parcels of land with the intention of conserving  it.  As Wilbur himself states in the comments under his post, “active conservation” — like “a wildlife corridor, or critical wetland, or scenic area” — is “pretty obviously a use.”  In a free market regime with open homesteading, lumber and other extractive industries would have to buy out such competition at whatever price the latter demanded, if they were willing to sell at all.

As I mentioned in another post, one reason the ecosystem in West Virginia has had so little protection against mountaintop removal, is that the property rights of small owners had so little protection against expropriation, and the surrounding communities had been robbed of so much of their common law protection against tortious action by the mining companies against their air and water.  As chronicled in the movie “Matewan,” the first white homesteaders in West Virginia — who mostly lacked formal title to their land, having settled when government was still quite irregular — were later expropriated by the mining companies, who could afford to buy both good lawyers and bad legislators.

I would observe that Austrians at LvMI routinely discount – if are not actively hostile to – the preferences that non-industrial users (and destested “enviros”) have regarding common or publicly-owned resources. This is clearly inconsistent with Austrian principles. Further, Austrians also generally – and wrongly – treat with scorn even the notion that there are commons assets – such as “ecosystems”  that are important and valuable. Austrians are wrong to have their thumb on the scale in the way that they do when determining how government favor should be bestowed; this tendency amounts to fairly consistent support for/defense of statist corporations.

Kevin is entirely correct that “the present system includes many structural barriers that prevent humans who value the interests of other species or of the ecosystem from expressing that valuation in the marketplace.” So let me connect a link that somehow Kevin has overlooked in the context of the BP oilwell blowout and spill: the chief structural barrier here is the US government, which “owns” and “manages” the Gulf out to the 200 mile limit (there is moderate state control out a few miles), and which prevents indigenous and commercial fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and conservationists from actually owning or directly managing any of the resources or ecosytems on which their livelihoods depend or that they otherwise value, and which is favors and is financially beholden to the oil industry.

See, for example:

I think Kevin that is also correct about mountaintop removal, which involves a frequently flagrantly corrupt use of the state to subvert common-law protections, as I have commented a number of times.

I also highly recommend the post by Shawn Wilbur that Kevin references; I may comment separately on it.

And the following comment on the state grant of limited liability to corporate shareholders is consistent with points I have made any number of times:

Brian Cantin on Jun 7, 2010, 9:53 pm: [I hope Brian does not object]

Without the government, a limited liability corporation would not have the protections they enjoy today. The corporation could gain limited liability if it is obtained via contract. Why anyone would sign a contract allowing a corporation limited liability is another question.

However, in the case of a tort, the owners of offending corporation would not only be possibly liable for the all of the assets of the corporation, they could also be personally liable down to their last farthing.

Strict liability is a great inducement to careful practices.

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Kevin Carson says, "In a Truly Free Market, BP Would Be Toast"

June 9th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post!

I copy below some comments I left on the above-entitled post by Kevin Carson (slightly tweaked, with emphasis & links added):

TokyoTom on Jun 9, 2010, 1:39 am:

Kevin, good post. I imagine that the $75 million liability cap affected decion-making by BP managers in any number of ways, but let me note that the cap doesn’t apply (1) to claims by state and local governments and (2) if BP is determined to have been grossly negligent (since this cannot be determined in advance of final judical decision, a potentially much larger sword was hanging over BP’s head, even if it was discounted to zero by BP). Still, I agree with you about oversight by insurers, but one wonders whether BP actually insured any of its risk here. They certainly have been more likely to do so if there was no liability cap whatsoever.

You fail to note some other, more basic government interventions, particularly the grant of zero liability to shareholders, which perversely both (i) incentivizes shareolders to look the other way at corporate activities that profitably shift risks to third parties and (ii) generates agency problems which leave shareholders vulnerable to poor decision-making by executives.

Finally, you and celocelo1 miss another way for society to force oil cos like BP to internalize more of their costs – expand and formalize “catch rights” programs that empower fishermen and other resource users (including when and where oil/gas is developed), and would give direct rights to sue polluters, and end the current system, where fishermen are both trapped in a tragedy of the commons and beholden to government for protection of the resources and for some recompense in the case of damages suffered. I discuss catch rights over at my blog.



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