"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" "Clear-sighted" panic; the role of the corporation in the tragedy of the commons - TT's Lost in Tokyo

"Clear-sighted" panic; the role of the corporation in the tragedy of the commons

This is my fourth follow-up post to "Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro", where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks for understanding and addressing resource problems, in response to confusion in comments by others.

Here is my most recent comment:

Cyberfarer, thank you for your response [here], which is well-intentioned, but both perceptive and blind.

First, I see you`ve adopted a page from the climate "skeptics" playbook, by applying the sefl-deceptive ad hominem device of labelling those you disagree with as "true believers" in something.  This is a partisan tactic that lets you treat others as enemies, and spares you from the trouble of listening to them, trying to figure out what they`re saying and responding the them, as opposed to a black and white strawman that you`ve conjured up.  Congratulations on mirroring those whom you dislike most.

Second, with all of your clear thinking, like Mr. Sacks, you offer us no practical advice, just reasons for despair.  Lezlie, who follows you, at least provides an agenda.

Third, of course, you`ve got me all wrong; I`m not an ideologue, a "true believer" or even an apologist of any kind the status quo; I`m a concerned human being, a fellow traveller on Plante Earth and a pragmatist. You`ve been misreading me, and certainly have not troubled yourself to consider the very pragmatic analytical tools that I`ve offered to help you figure how to diagnose and attack the problems that you perceive.

And what have I offered? Nothing more or less than the rather obvious observations that resources that are not owned and managed - whether privately or by groups (including, obviously, by communities and native peoples) tend to be trashed, and that similar problems are experienced where resources are formally "owned" by governments but essentially used by elites for their own benefit. I have NOT argued that private property is the cure-all, nor have I condoned theft nor the manipulation of governments by elites. In fact, I have rather clearly pointed out that both theft and misuse of governemtn have been and remain very much a part of the problem.

Fourth, you continue to misunderstand the nature of our problems, and want to lay everything at the foot of "capitalism" and "markets", when the real problem is either the lack of ownership of resources or government fiat/theft.  Western capitalism is not responsible for extinctions and environmental devastation that preceded capitalism and markets, or that has taken place under state-directed economies. This gets old, but look at the prior extinctions, messes of the former USSR (and at the Aral Sea today), Hanford and Rocky Flats, Haiti, and China.

Sure, the consumer and industrial supply demands of markets (not merely in the West) continue to pull chains of destruction elsewhere in the world, but destruction only occurs with respect to resources that are not owned and protected (or where theft by those more pwerful occurs). Tofu and meat eaters alike are indirectly responsible for rainforest destruction, mainly because governments "own" most the rain forests and don`t prefer to protect native title wher it is recognized, so the conversion of such land into soybeans (or palm oil to feed government-mandated demands for biofuels) continues.

In any case, is it more effective to wail about the evilness of corporations that compete to provide us ever more cheaply things that we choose to buy, or to demand better property rights protection abroad, pay closer attention to where our food comes from and end domestic mandates that drive destruction? You`re welcome to your rants against true believers like me, but I`m personally more disposed towards trying to be practically effective.

Fifth, you are very right to criticize corporations; Mr. Sacks has had a history of doing that. Not only do I agree with much of his analysis (which he has not provided here), but I`ve devoted a fair amount of time to examining the entanglement of corporations and government: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=limited

Our state governments were wrong to get into competition with each other to grant corprate status to investor-owned enterprises, in exchange for fees and later taxes. Corporate status freed investors from down-side risk, by limiting liaibility to the amount of capital contributed. This incentivized: investors to encourage corproations to embark on risky activities that shifted costs to innocent third parties; the concentration of wealth in corporations; the corruption of the court system that once protected third parties from damages caused by others (by replacing strict liaibility with balancing tests); and the ensuing battle - that you noted - over legislatures to regulate corporations (and courts to enforce regulations). Is there a takeaway on this. other than continuing to fight political battles to block legislative sweet deals and theft, including working to revise our corporate order?

Anyway, I wish you well in your tirades.

Published Mon, Aug 31 2009 3:00 AM by TokyoTom