Thursday, March 15, 2012

Machinery of Freedom: Pollution

Give David Friedman a little credit for at least addressing pollution, an extremely difficult issue for Laissez-Faire capitalists. It reminds me of my days as an evangelical Christian. I was comfortable making certain arguments for Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus or the existence of God. One area where I was quite uncomfortable was evolution. The Christian rebuttals didn't sit well. They seemed convoluted. Looking back I can see that I found excuses for avoiding the issue. The same I think is true of conservatives and pollution. What can they possibly say? I found it was usually a quick reference to property rights and then try to change the subject. If you are conservative and trying to understand it you're left scratching your head a bit. I read Bjorn Lomborg's "The Skeptical Environmentalist" which is an enormous book that kind of re-assures the conservative. 600 pages to tell us "Don't worry about it." Sounds great. And now let's move on.

Friedman does offer the old "property rights" defense. "Just sue the polluters for the damages and recoup the costs." Ask the indigenous people of Ecuador how that's working out against Chevron. Enough said.

At the end of the section though Friedman does offer some plausible sounding mitigation. Let the government set a price for pollutants and just charge people. The more destruction the more you pay. Presumably you pay the amount required to reverse the damage. Sounds OK. We do this with cars. Your car causes damage to the roads, but that's not a cost that's reflected in the price you pay. It's an externality. So what do you do? You have a gas tax. Use that to reverse the damage. You know what I found interesting about that though is how similar that sounds to Al Gore and his supposedly evil carbon credits.

When conservatives talk about Al Gore and how he stands to profit from global warming legislation this is the first proof offered for why global warming "alarmism" is misplaced. "Global warming? That's just a scam so Al Gore can make money." Why the sudden skepticism about the pursuit of profits? Is there something wrong with making money?

Watch a BP commercial. They have this little green flower logo. In fact the whole company is associated with the color green. The commercials include lush rolling hills, fresh clean water, and smiling people. They are trying to give you the impression that they are all about helping the environment. Which of course is absurd. But it serves their profit motive. BP works with the American Petroleum Institute and Chamber of Commerce on propaganda campaigns to give you the impression that global warming is a liberal hoax. The reason they do that is obvious. Profits. This is blatant deception and an effort to appeal to your irrational tendencies to maximize profits. Right wingers never object to those efforts to pursue profits. It's only Al Gore. But Gore is offering a market based solution. You're supposed to not care if he's pursuing profits. If he gets a profit that's supposed to be his just reward for providing a service. Why do conservatives suddenly become so skeptical of the profit motive when it comes to helping the environment? This is David Friedman's solution for crying out loud.

It's kind of like the Heritage Foundation's health care solution back in the 90's. It's the foundation for Romney Care. Which is pretty much the same as Obama Care. Right wing solutions are fine. Until they are adopted by the left. Then they are awful.


David Friedman said...

You might, or might not, be interested in a recent talk I gave, in part on the global warming issue. It's the first link at:

For the more general question of whether markets (or other institutions) can deal with that sort of problem, see the final chapter of my Future Imperfect, webbed at:

Jon said...

Thanks David, I will check that out.

HispanicPundit said...

I don't know where you get that pollution is hard for conservatives. Maybe to Rush Limbaugh type conservatives, what I call populists, or pundits, but not to the thinkers of the right.

Read any Thomas Sowell book, even his Basic Economics, or Milton Friedman book, and they will all say that government has a role to play with pollution. The whole negative externality thing. Maybe libertarians have a tough time with pollution, but not conservatives.

Btw, I think it's cool that you got David Friedman to comment on your blog (AFAIK, this is the second time, right?).

Jon said...

I think we're saying the same thing. Liberterians (i.e. Laissez-Faire capitalists) have a tough time. Ron Paul would never suggest a carbon tax. He goes to property rights. That's an unworkable solution. Also it says "Deal with it after the damage has been done, which is usually more difficult, rather then being proactive."

Yes, DF's second comment. But he only came before because I dropped a link at his website and he was good enough to follow it. I'm not exactly a top search result with Google. But it's all good, eh?

HispanicPundit said...

He's never visited my site. :-(