Thursday, August 14, 2008

So why are libertarians such socialists about the atmosphere?

Why do libertarians seem to demand that there be private property, and well-defined, tradeable rights in each and every resource in existence ... except the atmosphere?

Sure, global warming alarmism could be complete B/S. Fine. But there could one day be an atmospheric global tort whose harm profile is isomorphic to that of greenhouse gas emission (as claimed by the climate science community). Shouldn't a consistent, coherent philosophy have a clear answer, directly implied from the principles its proponents claim to hold? So why does the only existing answer seem to be

NEVER, NEVER should there be private property in atmosphere, and I will do whatever it takes to rationalize why this resource should forever remain an abused, unowned tragedy.

I have the right, the inalienable right, to cheap oil, and if you thought libertarianism was supposed to be about principled, private property rights, you can just wake up from your goddamn fantasy and get with the program!

Of course, there is the the Pigou Club, whose attitude is only a bit less excusable:

Are you getting victimized by greenhouse gases? Aww, you poor thing! Hey! Polluters! Give me money! Oh, what you lookin' at me like that for? Better move to high land, bro, you ain't gettin' no bling.

EDIT: some goofs.


macsnafu said...

Probably the main reason is because they, too, have problems understanding how the atmosphere could be privatized. I'm all for privatizing it, but the best we seem to be able to do, for now, anyway, is to link specific causes to specific harms. Time and the market, if allowed to work, will eventually point us in the right direction.

Of course, there are certainly limited ways that we've privatized the atmosphere, or ways that would be obviously better off privatized. Air's free, for example, but you need the services of an air pump to put that air into your tires. If you have a space station or a colony on the moon, air is scarce, not infinite like it is on the Earth, and thus is subject to the same supply and demand as any other good, as it would come from highly-controlled sources.

Silas Barta said...

Thanks for your comment, macsnafu.

they, too, have problems understanding how the atmosphere could be privatized.

Yes, that's a tough problem, and I don't criticize libertarians for lacking a comprehensive theory. However, like with Bob, their goal seems to be, "hey, let's ridicule anyone who tries to actually define rights" instead of "let's take this issue seriously". Therein lies the problem.

While obvious answers are hard to come by, we have lots of helpful clues of the constraints the answer must meet, some of which I listed in the initial scuffle with Bob:

"On the one hand, [a global free market] obviously couldn't just ban CO2 emissions outright, or even just of fossil fuels. On the other hand, it couldn't allow unbounded CO2 emissions, if most were convinced that doing so would terminate humanity (or cause apocalyptic conditions). On the third hand (limb), each and every person, whenever this free world realizes it needs to assign rights, would have already performed a valid "homesteading" of certain easements in the atmosphere, such as for breathing."

Extreme Wisdom said...

Because a lot of libertarians are twits?

Not to be mean here. I like most libertarian ideas about the economy and all, but at the end of the day, a good number of them are merely the same as the rest of humanity suffering from the human condition...

"It would be better for me....."

If I didn't have to pay that tax.

On a more serious tack, too many libertarians really honestly look for ways to privatize everything, and discussing the privatization of the atmosphere is merely icing on the cake.

We've all read "tragedy of the commons". The idea that this concept PROVES (Proooooves, I tell you!!!) that we MUST ABOLISH THE STATE really doesn't hold water.

The air is a resource. It is nearly impossible to put a fence around it or 'privatize' it (not that the intellectual exercise isn't useful). It's a "common" good in every sense of the word.

Leave it alone, and tax the crap out of people who pollute the good.

Cut property and income taxes.

I don't have time for a huge debate, but you get the idea.