"He's a snake in the grass, I tell ya guys; he may look dumb but that's just a disguise; he's a mastermind in the ways of espionage." Charlie Daniels, "Uneasy Rider" Searching for common ground: In which I provide a partial defense of Ron Bailey`s "invisible hand of population control" thesis - TT's Lost in Tokyo

Searching for common ground: In which I provide a partial defense of Ron Bailey`s "invisible hand of population control" thesis

Michael Tobis, a blogging climate scientist, kindly alerted me to his criticisms of Ron Bailey`s recent Reason post.

Here is my response to Michael:

Michael, thanks for the link and for twitting it to my attention.

I`m not sure you really want to get me started, but I won`t let that get in the way.

First, of course, it`s regrettable that those on the left and right would both rather fight than think seriously. There`s alot of middle ground, but you can`t get there in war of words. I`ve criticized Ron for this, but he deserves credit for accepting climate science and expressly acknowledging and analyzing tragedy of the commons situations.

While I think you have found an infelicitly stated portion of his piece, clearly he`s trying to say that social collapse in the past might be attributable to tragedy of the commons situation (where "proper institutions for channeling individual striving into a process of economic growth which ultimately promotes the public interest" were not in place).

While there are other cause of collapse - wars, climate shifts, disasters - do you really disagree with Ron`s point that societies are vulnerable to collapse if they don`t establish institutions that prevent ruinous exploitation of resources?

While Ron focusses on economic freedom and rule of law (market institutions) as checks on tragedies of the commons, he is familiar with (and libertarians certainly accept) traditional, community-based property rights systems can work just fine, though increasing demand (and use by outsiders) might swamp them, or technology might make private property more efficient.

I think that Ron is perfectly correct to note that property rights and market institutions in free societies are serving to check population growth.

The chief problem, of course is that there are huge gaps outside individual Western countries: Where are the property rights in the atmosphere, the oceans, the tropical forests? As a result, we are steadily destroying whatever we can get out hands on.

The related problem is that corrupt and/or inept governments are often in the middle of these problems: e.g., the Newfoundland cod fishery was destroyed under Canadian government management, West coast salmon fisheries are similarly threatened, and tropical forests are being converted to soybeans and oil palm because governments don`t care to protect the rights of the natives who dwell in them.

(The way governments fail libertarians are rather attuned to; while it may grate to hear this after the gross mismanagement of the Bush/neocon/Republicans, perhaps even liberals can acknowledge that they have a point, even if they don`t want to listen to fear of "socialism" from the right.)

Finding institutions to end destructive exploitation and manage open-access commons is a real struggle; Bailey points in the right direction for some solutions, but he downplays the size of the task ahead and the need for those who care to work at solutions.

More of my thoughts here:

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

Using the State to solve common resource problems?

Mises on fixing externalities: progress along the Kuznets curve is not magic, but the result of institution-building

Regards,

Tom

Published Mon, Jun 22 2009 9:41 PM by TokyoTom