Why Libertarians Must Deny the Effects of Pollution

George Monbiot. Photo: SlimVirgin (CC)

George Monbiot. Photo: SlimVirgin (CC)

Matt Bruenig writes on his blog:

George Monbiot had an article in the Guardian on Monday about bastardised libertarianism and its inability to understand the real freedoms being fought for by environmentalists and social justice advocates. However, Monbiot’s treatment of environmentalism’s threat to libertarianism was a bit sloppy. He got sucked into the negative freedom and positive freedom debate, and although he worked his way to the correct conclusion ultimately, I felt like the clarity was lacking.

So I want to explain more clearly just how much environmentalists stick in the side of libertarian ideology. First, consider what libertarians of the sort Monbiot criticizes are really about philosophically: they favor a procedural justice account of the world based heavily on property rights. This is the newest face of libertarianism. Gone is the appeal to utility and desert. The modern libertarians try to prop up their political ideas almost solely through a rigid formalism of property rights.

I have written before about the problem with the procedural accounts of property rights, but here I want to just accept the libertarian property rights premise. Somehow individuals can grab up pieces of the world and exclude those pieces from everyone else forever. Once those individuals become owners of their respective property, nobody else can touch that property or do anything whatsoever to that property without their consent. Coming onto my property without my consent is a form of trespass under this picture. Doing anything to my property — whether it be painting it, dumping stuff on it, or causing some other harm to it — is totally off limits.

So environmentalists point out that carbon emissions are warming the planet, one consequence of which is that harm will be done to the property of others. Most environmentalists — being the leftists that they generally are — do not make too much of the property rights issues, but one certainly could…

Read more here.

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  • Anonymous

    The Market will sort it out. Have faith.

  • Anonymous

    The Market will sort it out. Have faith.

  • MrSta

    The Market will sort it out. Have faith.

  • MrSta

    The Market will sort it out. Have faith.

  • herzmeister

    I’m not exactly libertarian either (but I like to ponder about the concept of centralization and question the state), but this is another classical case of the strawman:Who is responsible for global warming in the first place?Who prohibits the cultivation of hemp as an effective alternative for plastic and oil, and which would also help against deforestation and favor localization?Who created today’s mess of inequality in global markets that is rooted in imperialistic and violent colonizations in the past?

  • herzmeister

    I’m not exactly libertarian either (but I like to ponder about the concept of centralization and question the state), but this is another classical case of the strawman:Who is responsible for global warming in the first place?Who prohibits the cultivation of hemp as an effective alternative for plastic and oil, and which would also help against deforestation and favor localization?Who created today’s mess of inequality in global markets that is rooted in imperialistic and violent colonizations in the past?

  • herzmeister

    I’m not exactly libertarian either (but I like to ponder about the concept of centralization and question the state), but this is another classical case of the strawman:Who is responsible for global warming in the first place?Who prohibits the cultivation of hemp as an effective alternative for plastic and oil, and which would also help against deforestation and favor localization?Who created today’s mess of inequality in global markets that is rooted in imperialistic and violent colonizations in the past?

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.bonanno666 John Bonanno

    Libertarians operate under fallacious reasoning. The property rights dogma assumes the individual has the power of a king. But the power of a king only is possible with the subjugation of a country of individuals. No man has this power. Each man’s liberty and freedom is only possible with the cooperation of society. 

  • http://johnnyb93.blogspot.com/ johnbonanno

    Libertarians operate under fallacious reasoning. The property rights dogma assumes the individual has the power of a king. But the power of a king only is possible with the subjugation of a country of individuals. No man has this power. Each man’s liberty and freedom is only possible with the cooperation of society. 

  • http://johnnyb93.blogspot.com/ johnbonanno

    Libertarians operate under fallacious reasoning. The property rights dogma assumes the individual has the power of a king. But the power of a king only is possible with the subjugation of a country of individuals. No man has this power. Each man’s liberty and freedom is only possible with the cooperation of society. 

  • Matt Smith

    This is like titling an article “Christians no longer believe in God” and then qualifying that it’s only “bastardized Christians” or “Christians of the sort I’m describing.”  The actual libertarian position is that we want to allow people to sue polluters for damages.  Unlike the EPA, which “regulates” pollution.  We also point out that almost all pollution occurs in public spaces and in poorer nations. 

  • Matt Smith

    This is like titling an article “Christians no longer believe in God” and then qualifying that it’s only “bastardized Christians” or “Christians of the sort I’m describing.”  The actual libertarian position is that we want to allow people to sue polluters for damages.  Unlike the EPA, which “regulates” pollution.  We also point out that almost all pollution occurs in public spaces and in poorer nations. 

    • Jin The Ninja

      Both of those two last statements are an out in out lie, or at the very least mis-characterised with the intent to subvert the article.

      in so-called ‘poor’ nations whom is doing the polluting? multi nationals or state-private ‘partnerships on which land whether state, public, or private cannot be considered ‘the commons’ because of lengths these entities go to protect their resource exploitation.

      • Matt Smith

        Jin, both the statements you are referring to are true… since you provide no argument, it sounds like you are unwilling to consider these positions, perhaps because they conflict with your pre-established opinions. 

        It is incontrovertible that most pollution occurs in public spaces… environmentalists even have a name for it, “the tragedy of the commons”.  Since this question has been addressed by researchers, it’s not one we need to debate here.  I was able to find some relevant scholarly work on this with little effort, and I’m sure you will want to look into the question on your own before accusing anyone of lying about this issue.

        The link between wealth of nations and environmentalism is not quite as overwhelming, but it is still an accurate generalization.  You are correct that multinational corporations operating out of wealthy countries often operate in such a manner that the third world is polluted.  And I don’t mean to excuse that.  But the bigger picture is that wealthy nations are the only ones who have adopted strict standards on environmental contamination. This is especially true in terms of toxic chemicals… while it may be argued that some less wealthy nations aren’t using so much oils, what industry they have tend to just dump toxic waste into the air and water. 

        Feel free to have the last word.

  • Matt Smith

    This is like titling an article “Christians no longer believe in God” and then qualifying that it’s only “bastardized Christians” or “Christians of the sort I’m describing.”  The actual libertarian position is that we want to allow people to sue polluters for damages.  Unlike the EPA, which “regulates” pollution.  We also point out that almost all pollution occurs in public spaces and in poorer nations. 

  • Jin (仁)

    Both of those two last statements are an out in out lie, or at the very least mis-characterised with the intent to subvert the article.

    in so-called ‘poor’ nations whom is doing the polluting? multi nationals or state-private ‘partnerships on which land whether state, public, or private cannot be considered ‘the commons’ because of lengths these entities go to protect their resource exploitation.

  • Jin The Ninja

    what these faux libertarians fail to understand…oh wait, what they FAIL to understand, is just about everything…

    property is theft, but no one’s coming to take away your house. however, the earth is THE COMMONS, and as people, we have the right to access nature, but not exploit it.

    i am sure that is much too much abstract for them.

    • Mr Willow

      faux libertarians

      I read somewhere that right-libertarians should have the alternative name of Propertarian, since one’s freedom, under right (or faux)-libertarian theory would be measured by the amount of property one owns. 

      Perfectly apt, I think.

      • Jin The Ninja

        ‘proper’ i’d say;)

      • herzmeister

        without a state, the more property one claims they own, the more costly will it be to protect.

        • Mr Willow

          Which is why it is imperative that ‘property’ be commonly owned. 

          http://struggle.ws/ws/priv49.html

          • herzmeister

            no one hinders a group of people to set up a collaborative in Mondragon-style.

            But you can’t *enforce* people to work in collaboration. You’d need a totalitarian regime for that.

            Similarly, you can’t *enforce* everyone to respect your property. But without property, no privacy, so I’d say there is at least some kind of “natural” property (your clothes, your house or at least your bedroom) that people will respect and accept. Anything someone claims beyond that they will have a good reason so.

            People are different. Some are individualist by nature, some are collectivist, we need a world where everyone can prosper.

            Would there be conflict in such a heterogeneous world? Probably. The rate of conflict will measure directly how much humanity has or has not matured.

          • Mr Willow

            Did you read the link I provided?

            Property does not mean your house (or clothes, or other belongings), it means any place of production (factories, big farms, and means of distributing products, such as railways, airlines, and road haulage fleets *from the article*), as well as the land. It’s fine to have a yard, but not a giant tract of land for your own benefit, like people who own four or five miles of wilderness for their own purpose of hunting the deer. 

            But you can’t *enforce* people to work in collaboration. You’d need a totalitarian regime for that.

            Let me guess, like in the Soviet Union. Except they were not working in collaboration, they were all working for the selfish desires of one man, who ordered them, with the threat of death, to do the same tasks to achieve an end that satisfied him, not those that toiled to make it happen. 

            People today work in the same manner, except they work for their own selfish end to get money, to buy something, to feel as though they have accomplished something—because wealth equals happiness, and the amount of stuff you have measure your wealth—while their souls are slowly being snuffed out. 

            Real collaboration is about enjoying your work, because you approach it on your own terms, because you get to make something you wish to see made. 

  • Jin (仁)

    what these faux libertarians fail to understand…oh wait, what they FAIL to understand, is just about everything…

    property is theft, but no one’s coming to take away your house. however, the earth is THE COMMONS, and as people, we have the right to access nature, but not exploit it.

    i am sure that is much too much abstract for them.

  • Mr Willow

    faux libertarians

    I read somewhere that right-libertarians should have the alternative name of Propertarian, since one’s freedom, under right (or faux)-libertarian theory would be measured by the amount of property one owns. 

    Perfectly apt, I think.

  • Jin (仁)

    ‘proper’ i’d say;)

  • Rooti

    It never ceases to amaze me how ‘environmentalists’ fall back to the unproven anthropogenic global warming theory as gospel. Aside from the Climate Gate emails that pointed to intentional manipulation of data there is the fact that we have not seen any appreciable warming in the past decade. And there has been no appreciable rise in sea level either. So stick to real pollution environmentalists and stop wasting my time with CO2. CO2, by the way, is not a major greenhouse constituent insofar as it only comprises 0.035% of the atmosphere. 

  • Rooti

    It never ceases to amaze me how ‘environmentalists’ fall back to the unproven anthropogenic global warming theory as gospel. Aside from the Climate Gate emails that pointed to intentional manipulation of data there is the fact that we have not seen any appreciable warming in the past decade. And there has been no appreciable rise in sea level either. So stick to real pollution environmentalists and stop wasting my time with CO2. CO2, by the way, is not a major greenhouse constituent insofar as it only comprises 0.035% of the atmosphere. 

    • Calypso_1

       Thermal emission effects and atmospheric lifetime.  You didn’t want to address them before – want to try it again or are you going to go back and play with brown gas and cold fusion.    Here’s your chance not to be just another scientifically illiterate schill.  By the way – ‘gospel’ (god spell) good news, glad tidings – the scientific community does not take it as such.

  • herzmeister

    without a state, the more property one claims they own, the more costly will it be to protect.

  • Mr Willow

    Which is why it is imperative that ‘property’ be commonly owned. 

    http://struggle.ws/ws/priv49.html

  • Frogboy

    I love how people set up a single strawman argument and then attempt to rip down an entire ideology.  Does anyone really believe (libertarian or not) that if you own a piece of land that someone else, even if it’s the government, has a right to dump trash or toxic waste on your land and not be held accountable?  And if you’re dumping something nasty enough on your own land, it’s probably going to end up effecting someone else’s or get into the water supply or something.  Again, you’re accountable for that.  I don’t understand why you’d have to deny the effects of pollution if you’re a libertarian.

  • Frogboy

    I love how people set up a single strawman argument and then attempt to rip down an entire ideology.  Does anyone really believe (libertarian or not) that if you own a piece of land that someone else, even if it’s the government, has a right to dump trash or toxic waste on your land and not be held accountable?  And if you’re dumping something nasty enough on your own land, it’s probably going to end up effecting someone else’s or get into the water supply or something.  Again, you’re accountable for that.  I don’t understand why you’d have to deny the effects of pollution if you’re a libertarian.

  • Prose Stylist

    Um yeah, that’s why there’s Coase Theorem and Tort Law.  

    Rational libertarians except externalities as a real problem, they just have different ideas about how to manage them.   

  • Prose Stylist

    Um yeah, that’s why there’s Coase Theorem and Tort Law.  

    Rational libertarians except externalities as a real problem, they just have different ideas about how to manage them.   

  • herzmeister

    no one hinders a group of people to set up a collaborative in Mondragon-style.

    But you can’t *enforce* people to work in collaboration. You’d need a totalitarian regime for that.

    Similarly, you can’t *enforce* everyone to respect your property. But without property, no privacy, so I’d say there is at least some kind of “natural” property (your clothes, your house or at least your bedroom) that people will respect and accept. Anything someone claims beyond that they will have a good reason so.

    People are different. Some are individualist by nature, some are collectivist, we need a world where everyone can prosper.

    Would there be conflict in such a heterogeneous world? Probably. The rate of conflict will measure directly how much humanity has or has not matured.

  • Matt Smith

    Jin, both the statements you are referring to are true… since you provide no argument, it sounds like you are unwilling to consider these positions, perhaps because they conflict with your pre-established opinions. 

    It is incontrovertible that most pollution occurs in public spaces… environmentalists even have a name for it, “the tragedy of the commons”.  Since this question has been addressed by researchers, it’s not one we need to debate here.  I was able to find some relevant scholarly work on this with little effort, and I’m sure you will want to look into the question on your own before accusing anyone of lying about this issue.

    The link between wealth of nations and environmentalism is not quite as overwhelming, but it is still an accurate generalization.  You are correct that multinational corporations operating out of wealthy countries often operate in such a manner that the third world is polluted.  And I don’t mean to excuse that.  But the bigger picture is that wealthy nations are the only ones who have adopted strict standards on environmental contamination. This is especially true in terms of toxic chemicals… while it may be argued that some less wealthy nations aren’t using so much oils, what industry they have tend to just dump toxic waste into the air and water. 

    Feel free to have the last word.

  • Mr Willow

    Did you read the link I provided?

    Property does not mean your house (or clothes, or other belongings), it means any place of production (factories, big farms, and means of distributing products, such as railways, airlines, and road haulage fleets *from the article*), as well as the land. It’s fine to have a yard, but not a giant tract of land for your own benefit, like people who own four or five miles of wilderness for their own purpose of hunting the deer. 

    But you can’t *enforce* people to work in collaboration. You’d need a totalitarian regime for that.

    Let me guess, like in the Soviet Union. Except they were not working in collaboration, they were all working for the selfish desires of one man, who ordered them, with the threat of death, to do the same tasks to achieve an end that satisfied him, not those that toiled to make it happen. 

    People today work in the same manner, except they work for their own selfish end to get money, to buy something, to feel as though they have accomplished something—because wealth equals happiness, and the amount of stuff you have measure your wealth—while their souls are slowly being snuffed out. 

    Real collaboration is about enjoying your work, because you approach it on your own terms, because you get to make something you wish to see made. 

  • Anonymous

     Thermal emission effects and atmospheric lifetime.  You didn’t want to address them before – want to try it again or are you going to go back and play with brown gas and cold fusion.    Here’s your chance not to be just another scientifically illiterate schill.  By the way – ‘gospel’ (god spell) good news, glad tidings – the scientific community does not take it as such.

  • herzmeister

    I read the link yes, but there surely *are* “anarchists” out there who are much more radical. I also merely wanted to show up that property is a fundamental part of human nature. Another aspect would be cultivating food: between seeding and harvesting an individual or group has to own this land and protect it if they don’t want to get betrayed of their fruit.

    Now this should show up that there is no straight line between “small” and “large” ownership, it’s a smooth transition.

    As said, the deer hunter may have a hard time to protect his property if there are many who do not agree with him about it.

    “Like the Soviet Union”? Maybe. A central totalitarian state is just a logical consequence whenever people are forced to act against their nature and told what to do. Declaring your personal views as somewhat universal and forcing your rules upon people of how to set up their sites of production is not anarchist, it’s authoritarian.

    Now I’m anti-consumerist too and I wouldn’t want to live in a soul-sucking commercial-driven environment either.  But I also concede it seems we’re just human and need kicks in the butt sometimes. So ideally there’d be many small local communities that each balance their sets of values differently and would thus cater to the different natures of people. Time will tell which produce good standards of living and which do not. Oppressive structures without the protection of the state and certain laws would quite automagically have a hard time to keep their workforce together if there are much better alternatives out there.

    Also I suspect this whole discussion will become redundant in the near future anyway the more workforce can be replaced by automation (where people in an ideal world still will have the free choice if they want to own the computers, robots and other means of production and service individually or collectively).

  • Jin The Ninja

    I never refuted the claim that ‘tragedy of the commons’ exists- rather i dispute that ‘the commons’, as a category, of public space, exists as the hold of the common citizen. I maintain that in most cases of resource extraction- either state or corporate bodies (or their collusion) claim some or all portions of these ‘public’ lands for their own use and go to extreme lengths to protect them. Nice job though, subverting what i said.

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