Re: COPY: Re: Stasism/Dynamism

Technotranscendence (
Sun, 5 Dec 1999 13:06:22 -0800

On Sunday, December 05, 1999 9:02 AM Robert J. Bradbury wrote:
> With regard to "market regulations", I don't think you can have this
> discussion without bringing into it the economic problem of common
> property. If you look at much government regulation it has taken
> the form of forcing corporations to pay attention to the costs of
> common property (e.g. air or water). Now you may not like how
> they implement the regulations (or taxes) to fix these problems
> but I don't think you can escape from the fact that these are
> problems that do require fixes. What is interesting to me is
> that while most people intially (back in the '60s & '70s) viewed
> these regulations as "bad", many, now that they seen the results have
> come to accept them as good. Can the "free market" people propose
> a solution for the problem that if India & China decide to burn
> their coal resources in the coming decades (their cheapest solution
> for power), *we* may pay the price for this in the form of increased
> pollution, shifts in weather patterns, crop losses, etc?

The "free market" or libertarian (or classical liberal) solution to the problem of pollution and other common goods problems is quite simple. This is to define and enforce property rights. Private ownership eliminates the common goods problem where it is practicable. That's been known since ancient times. With regard to pollution, if someone pollutes your property, you have the right to take action (in court or out) against that person. Since it's unlikely now or in the near future that a practical method of defining property rights in air will be found, the shift should be toward seeing air pollution as a tort and a nuisance and also as destructive of things which most people would agree on as privately owned, such as humans lungs (owned by the individuals themselves:).

The problem with going outside voluntary agreement and property rights to regulatory solutions is that such solutions become easily politicized and corrupt. Thus we see them used against people who have no connections (as many wetlands regulartions are now used) and in favor of those who do. Plus many regulatory agencies are free both from public scrutiny and accountability. This is because a lot of the positions in them are not elected. Finally, the fact that they do regulate invites regulatory capture -- viz., when the regulated industry starts to take over the regulatory agency by various means, such as promises of a career opportunities after retirement from the agency.

As for China and India, or the governments of them "decid[ing] to burn their coal resources in the coming decades" and this causing so much harm, this is part of the problem of having governments making such decisions. Surely, the pollution problems in both those nations has resulted in lots of local ill effects, which if a property rights regime were strictly enforced there would be ammenable to the above solution. (Which is what should have happened in Britain and the US during their industrializations last century. At the time, conservative judges in the courts decided the community's interest in industrialization was more important than the individual's right to property.)

Ergo, I do not see regulation as a good solution to the problem.


Daniel Ust