Re: Polemics for longevity

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Sat Jan 22 2000 - 19:39:40 MST

On Saturday, January 22, 2000 6:17 PM Robert Bradbury wrote:
> > Ecological disruption is, to a large extent, caused by government
> > protections and subsidization of unprofitable economic development.
> Huh??? I would say the fundamental cause for ecological disruption
> is a failure to account in an economic sense (meaning in the
> accounting and tax laws) for "theft" from the global commons.
> The solution to this is not "less" government regulation, but "more".

I would disagree completely. The problem is that these things are viewed as
global commons, which results in the Tragedy of the Commons. The solution
to this tragedy is to redefine the commons so that individuals own pieces of

Of course, in the particular examples I cited -- the American Southwest,
e.g. -- the problem was not so much that various people were polluting a
commons. Instead, the government came in with electrification and
irrigation projects which then changed a basically unprofitable area to
farm, do business, and live in into one which a lot of people now have
incentives to farm, work, and live in. The free market didn't build those
dams. To this day, most of these projects are kept viable by massive
influxes of government [i.e., tax, i.e., stolen] money. Sans government,
the Southwest would most likely still be its wild state.

This also goes for lumber concerns in the Pacific Northwest. The government
builds the roads, else it would be unprofitable to take lumber from that
area. Also, the government gives very cheap prices on leases for the land.
All of this sets of an infrastructure for environmental destruction -- all
while subsidizing, in typical welfare state fashion, one group of people
(lumber interests) at the expense of everyone else (especially taxpayers).
This is hardly the free market in action. Sans government, this would,
again, most likely not happen.

> Now, perhaps you are saying this, but it seems indirect.

I most certainly am NOT saying what Robert says or believes.

> The
> government could be *totally* uninvolved and developers might
> still develop land in ways that polluted streams and damaged
> salmon habitats. Until the developers have to "account" for that
> damage in some way (ultimately passing the costs onto the
> land/housing purchasers), you will have environmental degradation.

The wya ot do this is to assign and strictly enforce property rights. If
someone pollutes my well and I can sue, then few people will pollute my
well, right?

> The same applies to the pollution produced by your automobile,
> sewer wastes, farm fertilizer runoff, electrical power plant, etc.
> If you are in any way "changing" the environment and you do not
> have an accounting line item to deal with those "free inputs"
> and associated "costs", then you are a bandit. This isn't a
> government problem it is an accounting problem.

The problems Robert mentions are, again, tainted by government involvement.
Since road building and ownership and sewage treatment are government
concerns, and since the government subsidizes farming in myriad ways and
regulates, susidizes, and, in some cases, own electrification, all of these
are areas of government involvement. Finally, governments have basically
encouraged pollution and habitat desctruction through laws which forbid,
e.g., class action suits against polluters.

> Now, this is in no way to say that governments don't contribute
> to the problem. The decline in fisheries around the globe is
> due in large part to the "hands off" approach to regulation as
> well as a promotion of the industry through subsidies aimed
> at producing more and increasingly efficient sea-produce harvesters.

Then why not get rid of those subsidies?

> > Face it, the free market on its own would not invest in the Amazon,
> > the American Southwest, or Nigeria. Those places are either unsafe,
> > don't provide skilled labor, don't have the infrastructure (roads,
> > housing, etc.), or lacking in resources. Also, what resources there are
> > are already owned -- in the Lockean sense of the world, even if the
> > governments don't recognize such ownership -- by the locals.
> Huh? I'm not sure where this came from, but it depends entirely on
> what type of "investment" you are discussing. We are lossing millions
> of acres of rain-forest annually because the "land" and clearing costs
> are cheap enough and the returns on cattle production profitable enough
> to justify that activity in the Amazon. What is missing is an accounting
> for the environmental degradation that results from those activities.

Robert is wrong about cattle production in the Amazon being profitable.
It's profitable only in the sense that the Brazilian government subsidizes
cattle ranching. Without those subsidies and other subsidies for
deforestation there, cattle ranching would not be profitable there. (Also,
since I don't eat animals, I'm not helping this process along.:) Again, we
don't have the free market here munching up the Amazon, but cattle ranchers
who have friends in the Brazilian government basically using their clout to
get a free ride of the backs of the Brazilian taxpayer (and the American
taxpayer too, since the IMF has outstanding loans on Brazil).

> Now, with regard to NY, I would agree that you have a messed up
> system derived from some collusion between the politicians and the
> building industry. Removing rent control would simply result
> in creating a highly exclusive enclave in Manhatten. Whether
> that is good or bad is IMO a social issue.

This is not so. What would happen is rents would rise in some areas of NYC,
but this would increase the production of new housing there at all levels of
price. The long run effect would be that new housing would eventually
compete and drive the price down. Right now, new housing does get created
in NYC, though almost exclusively at very high price levels given the
unprofitability of creating lower income housing.

The regulations on buildings and on new construction, including rules on
what companies can build and zoning laws, all collude to price all but the
most expensive housing out of the market in NYC. This, again, is not the
free market in action, but various groups and people using government to
keep the free market from functioning properly.

Finally, rent control does not specifically benefit the low income. A lot
of people living in rent controlled apartments who I know are doing quite
well -- making $60K or more per year. They can afford higher prices, but
argue stenuously to keep rent control. Why do you think they do this?
Because they really want to help out their fellow New Yorkers? Or is it
more likely because they want to spend more of their disposable income on
having a good time?


Daniel Ust

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