Re: Gov't Loves Gov't

Warrl kyree Tale'sedrin (
Thu, 22 Jan 1998 18:20:15 +0000

> From: Charlie Stross <>

> On Wed, Jan 21, 1998 at 09:39:26PM -0800, John K Clark wrote:
> >
> >>The day some libertarian thinker dreams up a non-coercive economic
> >>system that is not susceptive to the tragedy of the commons is the
> >>day I become a libertarian.
> >
> > You say that almost as if you think non libertarians have solved the problem.
> No; nobody has solved the problem. I assert, however, the libertarians
> _should_ be interested in the issues, because if they _can_ propose a
> workable solution they'll gain a lot of converts from among the (large!)
> body of people who agree that the current system ain't working, who
> don't like big government, but who don't think that an unrestricted
> free market is the ideal answer. Otherwise, all you're going to do is
> carry on preaching to the choir.

A complete and unrestricted free market with property rights IS a
solution to this.

However, there are a few potential practical problems in implementing
such a system. Those problems are mostly of the sort of "how do you
define, recognise, and enforce property rights to..."

A few examples:

* clean air -- which gets blown all over the place
* water -- which flows, in most cases eventually into the ocean
* wild creatures, most particularly mobile sea creatures (e.g. fish)

The development of economics generally has been a process of
internalizing costs and benefits -- that is, making sure that the
person who makes the decision reaps the benefits *and* pays the
consequences. The end of slavery (not just chattel slavery, but also
feudual serfdom) internalized the tradeoff between more leisure and
more labor, between taking it easy and working hard&smart. The
enclosure movement internalized the cost of damage to the land.
Every instance of a cost being internalized has been followed by a
general increase in prosperity. We haven't finished these increases
in prosperity, but we really do need to be internalizing the cost of
pollution (and right now, with current environmental laws, government
is the single biggest obstacle to that process).

I have the right to dump garbage on my land, as long as it doesn't
threaten or damage the neighbors. I should have an equal right to
dump garbage into the air over my land. At the same time, I don't
have the right to dump garbage on my neighbor's land, and I shouldn't
have the right to dump garbage into the air over my neighbor's

Right now, either I am punished for dumping garbage into the air over
my land, without regard to its impact on the neighbors (and the
neighbors get no compensation for any negative impact); or I am
granted the privilege of dumping garbage into the air over my
neighbor's land (with no compensation to the neighbors); and it is
the government that decides.

> >>Alternative: a political system that is not amenable to bribery,
> >>nepotism, or corruption and that follows the old dictum of kings that
> >>"he who rules best, rules least".
> >
> > Any political system will work perfectly in a population of brilliant saints,
> ... which I think we agree the real world is sadly lacking ...
> > the difference is that the Free Market will work, not perfectly, but pretty
> > damn well even with real flesh and blood human beings, probably intelligent
> > machines too.
> It works better than any of the known alternatives, I'll concede that
> much. Question: why the hell isn't anyone looking for new, hitherto-unknown,
> alternatives?

Look at what the relatively unsuccessful systems have in common:
concentration of political power, as compared to the successful

But if political power is not concentrated, what people actually do
is free-market capitalism.

You cannot ENFORCE any alternative to free-market capitalism, except
by means that are already known to be worse than free-market
capitalism. And if you don't enforce the alternative, you won't get
the alternative.

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