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Property Rights and the Environment

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sherpup Posted: Thu, Apr 19 2012 7:40 PM

This interview of Milton Friedman concerns Libertarism and for the beggining of it property rights and the Environment. One of the topics was that costs are imposed on others through air pollution. Milton friedman justified that  when the costs imposed on property owners are ambiguous there is a role for government to intervene. When considering pollution and CO2 emmision it is hard to apply normal property protection laws as in lawsuits to protect proper privacy. Could this justify cap and trade or a much less intrusive Carbon tax in the name of protecting property rights? Would this be a Libertarian program? What are your thoughts? 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUDV0YII6lk&context=G2e612baRVAAAAAAAABQ 

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Did you happen to catch the thread from a couple weeks ago with almost the same title as this one?

 

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sherpup replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 8:15 PM

Many of the instances discussed in that thread concerned violations of property rights when the perpatrator could easily be identified. For air pollution somebody cannot sue everyone with a car, would the only way for enforcing clean air standards would be mandating pollution requirements and standards for car manufactures.. if this did not occur why should I take the health and property loss because the government should not pass regulations. Lets say global warming is true (the debate about if it is true or what rate is the earth warming is still undecided), if no pollution regulations are passed is that unfair to the people who would bear the brunt of the costs? Of which the costs that can be attributed to global warming or normal weather patterns is unclear rendering normal property laws rather impractical..  

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sherpup:
Many of the instances discussed in that thread concerned violations of property rights when the perpatrator could easily be identified. For air pollution somebody cannot sue everyone with a car, would the only way for enforcing clean air standards would be mandating pollution requirements and standards for car manufactures..

I was largely referring to the very second post which contained a mountain of resources which do address this issue.  My guess is you, like the OP of that thread just don't care enough to investigate those resources to get the answer to your question.

If I'm wrong, and you are willing to put forth the minimal amount of effort in reading something or watching something which directly addresses your question (and many others which you will no doubt come up with) I would suggest you check out those resources.  In particular, this one.

 

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 8:37 PM

The question is a complex question fallacy because it assumes the government and its monopoly courts exist - the defining feature of a private law society would be the absence of a government or monopoly court system with which to impose things like environmental regulations.

To the extent that the specific cause (a particular car or particular factory) of pollution cannot be identified, no one should be held liable.

To the extent that the specific cause of pollution can be identified, liability is determined by the same kind of tort law by which any sort of damage is determined.

The single largest cause of economic waste is government; economic waste and physical waste (pollution) are manifestations of the same phenomenon, entropy. How does it make sense that expanding the cause of economic waste can lead to a reduction in physical waste?

The ethanol subsidy is a good example of this. Physicists have calculated that the net energy efficiency of ethanol is actually pretty low (much lower than petroleum) once you factor in all the energy which has to be epxended in planting, harvesting, transporting and processing. Yet the ethanol industry exists because the government has subsidized it for the express purpose of making it exist despite its low net energy efficiency (and, hence, cost-efficiency).

I don't have any easy answer to your question regarding how to stop global air pollution except to point out that a) pollution is not as global as it is made out to be - the largest sources of pollution are easily identifiable and most pollution does not travel far from its source and b) starting with local pollution and working our way up is clearly a more practical solution than trying to solve the world's problems "from the top-down."

If we scale back and ultimately remove the regulatory and legal structures that protect the big industrialists who are polluting cities, rivers, streams and local air regions, we will see such industrialists come under the discipline of unitary law, that is, law-without-special-privileges-for-the-politically-well-connected. The costs of being held legally accountable for their damage to the property of others will curb that pollution. As a consequence, the local effects of such pollution will be curbed and the costs imposed back onto their sources which will increase consumer prices of highly-polluting goods and services, which will decrease demand and balance the respective interests of consumers and residents. Global pollution is ultimately made up of many sources of local pollution and by curbing local pollution by holding polluters individually liable for their local, identifiable pollution, some portion of the global pollution will automatically be solved.

Clayotn -

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sherpup replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 8:44 PM

Thank you for your response. Before any action the government takes it must make sure that the costs of the action do not outweigh the benifits. Your answer explain most sources of pollution but what about things like cars? How would one deal with the pollution of cars  because so many people have them. One cannot sue everybody with a car for damages. 

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For the third time.

See here.

 

If you really want to get anywhere you're going to have to learn to help yourself at some point and grab the rafts people throw you.  Even if you may have to swim a little way to reach them.

 

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  • Thank you for your response. Before any action the government takes it must make sure that the costs of the action do not outweigh the benifits. Your answer explain most sources of pollution but what about things like cars? How would one deal with the pollution of cars  because so many people have them. One cannot sue everybody with a car for damages

 

‚ÄčOne quick possible answer: Cars are used on roadways, which have boundaries and owners.  The pollution from cars will be wafting onto the affected people from the roadways, and as such, will make the owners of those roads (whether private or state) liable for that material.  Presumably, the owners of the roads can set standards for the emissions and conditions of the vehicles allowed on the road.  Bingo jingo, you have regulation without the state.  Except it's far more flexible and the costs are incurred more directly to the actual sources of polution.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 9:14 PM

Your answer explain most sources of pollution but what about things like cars? How would one deal with the pollution of cars  because so many people have them. One cannot sue everybody with a car for damages.

There's a lot here that is simply being assumed - that car pollution needs to be "dealt with" and so on. There are an infinite number of potential solutions to real pollution problems created by automobiles or other sources (Rothbard mentions road privatization in combination with legal liability of road owners in the article linked above). But the statist has just one hammer - the State - and every problem always looks to him like a nail. There is no way to predict beforehand what the "right" solution is or what solution would emerge in a more rational social order. However, we can say that there is no reason to believe the State can solve the problem or would solve the problem even if it could.

The State redistributes; it remaps incentives and disincentives off of decision-makers and onto others. Hence, it "scrambles" the social order that would have otherwise obtained in its absence. This is as true of pollution as it is of anything else. Let's take your illustration of the global warming to the extreme... let's say that even a single automobile would generate enough pollution to cause catastrophic global warming virtually overnight. Clearly, anyone who drives an automobile can be sued by anyone who cares to sue them, since the driver is putting literally everyone at risk. Furthermore, let's say that no free-market technological measure - such as trapping and processing the exhaust - has been yet found by the market.

But let's say that it has been decided that automobiles are essential and the government determines that if it just regulated the pollution, then the problem would be corrected, that is, the pollution would be trapped and disposed in such a way as to prevent instant, catastrophic global warming. But in implementing this public policy, the government would be overthrowing the market order which had not found a profitable way to trap and dispose of automobile pollution. Hence, the government would be wasting economic resources and, ultimately, contributing to global warming. But since the decision-makers (drivers) would not feel all of the cost (it is passed on to taxpayers in the form of regulatory enabling of the concerned industries), they would go on driving despite the fact that it is unfairly redistributing resources from taxpayers to drivers. In this case, it's probably better that car pollution not be "dealt with" and cars left to die out.

The government is one of the most egregious polluters. During the 1950's and 1960's, the US government went hog wild detonating nuclear bombs - on the ground, in the ocean, in the upper atmosphere. The background radiation (radioactive pollution) of the upper atmosphere has been dramatically increased by these many tests and scientists can measure the radioactive signatures of each above-ground detonation the US government has performed.

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