Defending Libertarianism


The Combine Conservative-Liberal Assault on Libertarianism
I’ve increasingly found myself defending libertarianism not just from those who think it’s a misguided approach, but from those who insist that libertarianism has become just a form of reactionary conservatism, due to the (very limited, I would say) success of the Tea Party movement and the influence of the Koch brothers. Now I know almost nothing about the Koch brothers, and frankly am not interested in knowing much about them. They may be a) libertarians in good standing* who have a handful of anti-government views that liberals find so horrific that they thereby define the Kochs and libertarianism as a whole as reactionary, b) guys who mostly hold libertarian values but on a couple of issues hold reactionary conservative views that liberals find so horrific they use those couple of issues as the complete definition of the Kochs and libertarianism, or c) guys who are very reactionary but for some reason style themselves as libertarian. I don’t really know, and I don’t care enough to study them to find out. What does interest me is the determined insistence of some liberals in using those people to define libertarianism. I think that’s intellectually dishonest. And while those liberals make a show of commiserating with us non-reactionary libertarians over the tarnishing of the name,** they won’t actually help us out by defending the distinction between libertarianism and reactionary conservatism, but eagerly engage in reifing the alleged (not proven, just repeatedly alleged) distinction between the two.

These liberals make a show of being supportive of us “good” libertarians while actually undermining our efforts to defend the name from its use by right-wingers. They claim to “share our pain” (having been a conservative before that came to mean being a fan of Glenn Beck, or having been a communist trying to distance oneself from Stalinism). This “commiseration” drips with condescension. “I learned my lesson, why don’t you learn yours,” is the message. Let the bad people take the name instead of fighting to redeem it. Let them retroactively defile every thinker and every piece of writing from the past half century that is self-identified as libertarian, is what they are counseling.

Sure, we may yet lose the war, but they’re counseling us to surrender in the first battle. And even as they claim to recognize that there is a libertarianism that is not consonant with right-wingerism, they refuse to help us defend that libertarianism, and actively work against us by publicly accepting the right-wingers’ claims to the label. With friends like these, etc., etc. I can’t help but think there’s an element of self-servingness in their actions–if they manage to persuade us to abandon the word “libertarian” to the right wingers, they can congratulate themselves that they were right all along about libertarianism actually being just a form of conservatism.

There are conservatives who have always focused on libertarianism’s opposition to social welfare programs and support for competitive markets*** as proving that libertarianism is conservative. I think there is a sort of silent agreement between liberals and conservatives to play up that idea, which allows each side to not actually take libertarianism seriously. That’s an intellectual cop-out, of course. It doesn’t surprise me that people arguing politics engage in intellectual cop-outs, but that doesn’t mean I won’t pause to point it out when they do. Both sides conveniently ignore libertarianism’s liberal aspects–support for free speech, freedom of religion, an end to the drug war, an end to America’s military adventurism, etc. Liberals pretend it has nothing really to do with “real” libertarianism, or go so far as to claim that libertarians actually hold views opposite to that of liberals on those issue,**** while conservatives encourage libertarians to give up those silly wayward thoughts and return to the conservative plantation.

It is true that to a large extent the libertarian label has been tarnished from its use by people who are more accurately defined as conservative. But there are two conclusions that often seem to be implicit that do not in fact actually follow from that. One is that the ideas of libertarianism have somehow changed. The libertarians I know, and with whom I associate and communicate, have not changed their ideas one iota as a consequence of this cooptation of the libertarian label. The ideas that have been promulgated under the label of libertarianism over the past half century remain the same ideas with the same meaning and the same policy implications. The other conclusion that does not follow is that liberals are simply responding to a fait accompli. In fact they are energetically–even if not always purposefully–helping to create the distortion of the label. When my friends say they are only pointing out how the right-wingers who call themselves libertarians have become so prominent and how it’s important to publicize how terrible such people are, I am now asking why they aren’t at the same time pointing out that those people are proposing ideas that aren’t actually very libertarian at all. But there is a notable reluctance of my liberal friends to accept any responsibility for the role they play in this. They seem eager to insist that they are only reacting to, not helping to create, the conflation of libertarianism and conservatism. Of course that is in notable contradiction to their general attitude toward the media when it is repeating certain political catchphrases–they don’t let the media get away with claiming to only be reacting to terms already made popular; no, they insist that the media is helping to create the misperceptions. Double standards are common, but no less ugly for their distressing frequency.

Hanley’s Take on Libertarianism
I’ve been criticized for not “trying to reform” libertarianism. That was a surprising criticism, given that I’ve consistently defended a particular approach to libertarianism that distinctly does not entail acceptance of reactionary conservatism; given that I’ve consistently criticized reactionary conservatives; and given that I’ve repeatedly emphasized that those people, despite using the same identifying label that I use, are not my people. I’m not sure just what is expected of me. I’m not wealthy like the Koch brothers, so I can’t found my own “true” libertarian thinktank. And as it turns out, whatever the Koch brothers may be, the vast majority of the stuff churned out by the thinktank they fund–the Cato Institute–is “standard” libertarianism, not right-winger stuff. If some of it is right-winger stuff, well, I’m sure that many conservatives hate that left-winger civil liberties stuff put out by Radley Balko at the Reason Foundation, which is also funded by the Koch brothers. If only a small portion of Cato’s publications can be fairly defined as reactionary***** then all we can really conclude is that libertarianism is not so bounded that it doesn’t include some reactionary elements at its margin, just as it includes some very leftish elements at its other margin. That concept seems exceptionally hard for some people to grasp. I don’t know why. Take a staunch neo-conservative like Dick Cheney, for example, who also supports same-sex marriage. That view at the margin of his general set of beliefs does not thereby define him as a liberal. Yet there are those who are insistent that the views at the margin of libertarianism–but only at one of its margins, and not the other–define the ideology. Double-standards abound.

I emphasize that I accept–although I dislike it–that among those who can fairly call themselves libertarians there include those who hold some beliefs that can be fairly classified as reactionary, even though reactionariism in general is anti-libertarian. Let’s be honest and recognize that few people are perfectly consistent in all their beliefs. So I’m very hesitant to make a claim about “what libertarianism is,” for fear of treading into the No True Scotsman fallacy. But let me make a general statement about how I see libertarianism, in its core and in its breadth–a general statement that holds true to the beliefs roughly shared by me and most of those who would be classified as “intellectuals” in the libertarian realm, regardless of what corruptions may be committed by those who claim the label.

I begin with Jason Kuznicki’s attempt to define “mere libertarianism,” (i.e., libertarianism’s common core):

1. Individuals are generally far more competent at running their own lives than they are at running the lives of others. This insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.

2. When coercion is used, it should be considered either a failure or a last resort. Likewise, this insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.

Notice that this core makes no references to Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, or any other controversial thinker who may plausibly be defined as libertarian. You don’t have to agree with Rothbard’s views on money or Ayn Rand’s praise of self-interestedness to be a libertarian. Premise 1 just recognizes human limitations, and premise 2 just notes that voluntary arrangements are preferable to coercive ones if they can be achieved.******

For myself, I emphasize a concept that is in perfect harmony with both of these premises: an abiding skepticism about regulation. Notice I say “skepticism,” rather than “absolute rejection of.” I try, for my own part, to be pragmatic. If humans are generally lousy at running other people’s lives, much of our regulatory system–which is geared directly to that purpose–is ill-conceived. And since all regulation is coercive, all regulation reflects a failure to solve problems short of coercion. This means a libertarian should continually be asking the following questions:

  1. Is there in fact a problem here that requires a solution? (Moral disapproval of certain actions does not equate to a problem that needs to be solved; people suffering the consequences of their own mistakes at least arguably does not equate to a problem that needs to be solved; people engaging in theft from others is a problem that needs to be solved; the destruction of a common pool resource is a problem that needs to be solved; etc.)
  2. If there is in fact a problem that requires a solution, does it require a coercive (regulatory) solution? (Some problems do, some do not. Too many people are too quick to assume that each problem requires a regulatory solution.*******)
  3. If the problem does in fact require a coercive (regulatory) solution, does this particular regulation actually a) function as advertised, and b) involve no more coercion than necessary? (Too many regulations are poorly designed, because it’s just not that easy to design regulations that don’t create perverse incentives, and too many regulations are more restrictive and coercive than is actually justified by the need to solve the problem.)

Within that framework, there is plenty of room for disagreement about each particular alleged problem and policy. Libertarians can disagree all over the place, but if they hold something approaching that framework, I think they’re fairly called libertarian. Roughly, I would say we could place libertarians on the following continuum.

All Regs are Illegitimate———————————————————–Many Regs, while Imperfect, are Legitimate

Notice that this says nothing about being more liberal or more conservative. I think that simple left-right dichotomy isn’t the relevant issue with libertarianism. The real issue is how far one goes in accepting the validity of regulations. If one eagerly promotes regulatory structures, whether from a more liberal or a more conservative perspective, then one cannot with much legitimacy claim to be libertarian. So those right-wingers who oppose same-sex marriage, insist on English-only laws, support the imprisonment of drug users, are ardent advocates of military interventions abroad, want to limit caps on civil suit awards to protect businesses, etc., are not plausibly called libertarians. If a person is mostly skeptical of regulation, but supports one or two of those issues, they are plausibly libertarians of a non-pure sort, much like myself (although I would disagree with them on just which regulations are legitimate). I’m probably somewhere in the middle of that range, slightly toward the “Imperfect, but Legitimate” side.

The question that ought to be raised at this point is, “what about when the absence of regulation allows one person to harm another?” I.e., when a company imposes costs on others against their will by polluting, a.k.a., externalities. That’s actually quite simple, and I emphasized the simplicity by phrasing the issue correctly–one party harming another; one party imposing on another against their will. For libertarian thought, coercion and imposition are prima facie justifications for regulation. There are a group of anti-libertarian liberals out there whom I will uncharitably call morons, who seem to think that libertarianism requires allowing people to harm each other willy nilly without any limitations. Libertarians oppose coercion, whether private or governmental. They don’t only oppose it when done by government, and they often see it as the only thing that makes government potentially legitimate (and then legitimate only if it essentially confines itself to preventing and punishing coercion, a view that is slightly more “pure” than my own). A government that allows the oil change shop next door to dump used motor oil in my yard is no more legitimate than a government that allows my neighbor to break into my house and rob me. And poisoning the air or water we breathe is not fundamentally different than dumping used motor oil on my lawn.

Libertarians do differ in what they think the best response to such issues is. Some argue that the best solution is not bureaucratic regulation, but the common law approach of trespass. Some argue that to the extent possible we should eliminate the problem of destroying common pool resources by privatizing them. And some argue that in such cases, as with rape, murder, robbery, etc., bureaucratic regulation may be an inevitable necessity. All of those views can fit within the general framework of regulatory skepticism. But someone who argues that “polluters should be allowed to pollute unhindered because regulation is bad” is not in fact making an argument that is very consonant with libertarianism because they are arguing in favor of allowing private coercion..

In fact it’s a bit idiotic to allow that to define libertarianism, because it directly violates the very core of libertarianism–Kuznicki’s premise #2, that coercion should be seen as a failure. (I know, someone is thinking Kuznicki only indicts government coercion. All I can say is, go ask him.) No serious libertarian that I know of argues that private coercion is good and ought to be tolerated, and that the victims of it should have no recompense. Anyone who holds that belief and calls him/herself a libertarian is either a misguided fool or a bald-faced liar. Any liberal who claims that’s what libertarians believe is also either a fool or a liar.

What more can I say to those who insist on defining libertarianism by the very type of coercion that libertarianism has always opposed? As long as these non-libertarians–both liberals and conservatives–insist that libertarianism means what they say it means, rather than what those who most closely reflect what it has always meant say it means, it’s hard to have a meaningful discussion. My liberal friends seem to insist those are the only legitimate grounds on which to have the discussion. That is, they insist that the only legitimate grounds are the ones which just so happen to be conducive to their preferred outcome, which is avoiding having to take libertarian ideas seriously.

I refuse to play their game. I refuse to let them arbitrarily set the rules for debate. And if they want to fall back on their standard criticism that “my” type of libertarianism isn’t the one that has real political influence, all I can say is that influence has no bearing on the validity of ideas, so they’re pitching a real strawman argument. We both agree that the right-wingers are the problem, and yet instead of seeking common ground with libertarians who also oppose the right wing, they insist upon alienating us by saying that we must either reject the libertarian name or be labeled right-wingers ourselves. To hell with that. That’s a dishonest framing of the alternatives, a false dichotomy. The intellectual dishonesty of the liberal critique of libertarianism seems to be all-pervasive, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it.

____________________________________________________________
*Not that there’s any libertarian authority who gets to make such determinations.
**See, generally, here @64, and @71.
***I used to use the phrase “free markets,” but I find that provokes too much of a knee-jerk reaction, ranging from those who just mindlessly repeat “there’s no such thing as free markets,” to those who believe it is a euphemism for “pro corporate monopolies that are free to commit fraud on consumers.” “Competitive markets” tends to undercut those responses, at least to some degree. Were there a similar substitute word for libertarianism, I might just give up the fight and adopt it, but as of yet I don’t know of any such term.
See the link from ** @58. Of course my liberal friends now understand libertarianism well enough, from my constant badgering, that they can be pressured to say, “Oh, of course I recognize that libertarians side with liberals on certain issues,” but then they seem to inevitably return to the “but libertarianism is now defined by conservatives” claim. It’s astounding to me that people whose intelligence I respect can commit such flagrant intellectual fouls. That’s the power of ideology and over-identification with politics, I guess.
****I’m not sure how much, if any, is. Mostly I’ve just heard criticism of anti-AGW stuff coming out of Cato. That’s arguably reactionary, in the sense of being anti-science, but it’s not necessarily an indicator of a general favorability to conservative beliefs. If the AGW people are pro-same sex marriage, in favor of legalization of marijuana, pro-choice, pro-competitive markets, etc.–and I don’t know if they are or are not–then their anti-scientism, however scurrilous and despicable we may think it is, is not actually evidence of a general reactionariism. It’s popular, and easy, to assume an anti-AGW view necessarily indicates a whole set of conservative beliefs, or that it’s motivated only by a desire to protect corporations’ ability to keep polluting, but neither of those is necessarily true. And my interlocutors have not yet demonstrated that either of those is true. It’s easier for them to just make the assumptions and the accusations and leave it at that. But without evidence, I remain agnostic, neither defending nor condemning those who have earned their wrath. I am, of course, open to persuasion, with some actual evidence.
******I demonstrated this latter just this past week in both my American Government and my environmental politics classes, when I had the students play collective action problem simulations, one about multiple countries trying to work together to support a road system for trade and defend against pirate attacks, the other about trying to collectively manage a common pool resource without destroying it. If they can manage to create institutions for collective management through voluntary agreement, they don’t need to resort to coercion. If they can’t, coercion becomes necessary and legitimate, but it nevertheless represents a failure.
*******For example, when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, each fall the rains would begin just after the leaves had fallen, and inevitably would end up clogging storm drains. When the storm drain just down the street from my house clogged, my neighbor complained that “the city should do something about that.” My initial instinct was the same, but fortunately a friend of mind had recently noted that the simple solution was to grab a rake and go clean it up. So I put on my boots, grabbed my rake, and solved the problem in less time than it would have taken to find the proper municipal office in the phone book and make a call.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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51 Responses to Defending Libertarianism

  1. Matty says:

    I have trouble thinking of myself as a liberarian but can’t see anything in your defence that I disagree with. Are there any free gifts for joining or would that count as coercing libertarians to give stuff away?

  2. James Hanley says:

    Matty,

    You’re clearly more sympathetic to libertarianism than some people (I say, based on past discussions with you), but you can certainly be that without self-identifying as a libertarian. The two relevant factors, I think, are a) the degree of skepticism/willingness to define something as a problem justifying regulation, and b) whether there’s a bias in your skepticism so that you’re more skeptical about certain types of issues (e.g., more skeptical about lifestyle issues than economic ones). If you agree with the general framework, but aren’t personally very skeptical–that is, if you are, in general, much more willing to define an issue as a problem justifying regulation than am I, then you’re probably not “truly” libertarian. And if you’re generally less skeptical about lifestyle issues needing regulation than economic issues, then you’re probably more liberal than libertarian. But all these ideologies overlap to some extent, and there’s no bright clear lines between them.

    But I do want to emphasize that libertarianism isn’t something that is sharply distinct and uniquely different than other political ideologies. In some respects it’s rather mundane, just a consistent application of skepticism about government across all policy domains. And that’s really why I’ve never understood all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that some people (not meaning you) engage in in response to it.

  3. James K says:

    The three principles you outlined are very similar to ones I was taught at university – not associated with libertarianism, but rather simply with good policy formation.

    Admittedly, the focus was more on distortionary policy rather than coercion, but there’s a big overlap between those two ideas.

  4. Lance says:

    That was an excellent essay differentiating the core libertarian tenets from the peripheral baggage that is thrust upon the label from the “left” and the “right”.

    It doesn’t help that the Libertarian Party has been hijacked of late by reactionary conservatives, as you call them, like Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root. The latter actually endorsed compulsory school prayer for Christ sake!

    However, I don’t think your (late) attempt to fend off the “No True Scotsman” attack was completely successful. Your definition was succinct but I doubt that it is complete. Although fairly nuanced it seemed a bit simplistic and could probably be amended or addend-ed (not a word?) without violating the two conditions you state.

    As to your ****,

    ****I’m not sure how much, if any, is. Mostly I’ve just heard criticism of anti-AGW stuff coming out of Cato. That’s arguably reactionary, in the sense of being anti-science, but it’s not necessarily an indicator of a general favorability to conservative beliefs. If the AGW people are pro-same sex marriage, in favor of legalization of marijuana, pro-choice, pro-competitive markets, etc.–and I don’t know if they are or are not–then their anti-scientism, however scurrilous and despicable we may think it is, is not actually evidence of a general reactionariism. It’s popular, and easy, to assume an anti-AGW view necessarily indicates a whole set of conservative beliefs, or that it’s motivated only by a desire to protect corporations’ ability to keep polluting, but neither of those is necessarily true. And my interlocutors have not yet demonstrated that either of those is true. It’s easier for them to just make the assumptions and the accusations and leave it at that. But without evidence, I remain agnostic, neither defending nor condemning those who have earned their wrath. I am, of course, open to persuasion, with some actual evidence.

    I am “…pro-same sex marriage, in favor of legalization of marijuana, pro-choice, pro-competitive markets….” and I find no retort to be more personally insulting and inflammatory than being called “anti-science” since I have dedicated the largest part of my life to practicing and teaching science. I especially bristle when these accusations are hurled by people with no formal scientific training. It is doubly infuriating when these same people seem to have little or no interest in any other scientific topic and have demonstrated an affinity for government regulation as a first recourse for a variety of other “problems”.

    Putting the scientific validity of the hypothesis aside for a moment, AGW is an issue custom tailored for abuse by those seeking to impose sweeping regulation and taxation. It carries the modern equivalent of papal sanction, being dubbed “science”, and in addition the consequences or,”externalities” if you like, are alleged to be “catastrophic” but are of course predicted to occur decades or even centuries distant.

    It’s the ultimate pay me now or you’ll REALLY be sorry later proposition.

    When arguing with these people the “tell” is often an appeal to statements like “What’s the big deal? If we’re wrong we will just have made the world abetter place?”

    Of course to these folks greater government control of the energy and transportation sectors and increased taxation is, in and of itself, a “good” thing.

    These people generally can’t separate the political arguments from the scientific issues, nor do they want to. That is why identifying oneself as a libertarian and critic of Catastrophic Global Warming theory is an invitation for savage personal attack.

  5. Lance says:

    Oops “two conditions you state” should of course read “three conditions you state”.

  6. D. C. Sessions says:

    Great going, Lance. You weren’t reading very carefully regarding pollution, were you?

    Dr. Hanley and I disagree about the salvaging of the word, “libertarian,” which IMHO has been redefined in popular use much as the words “liberal,” “gay,” “conservative,” etc. have. That’s in rather a different dimension from trying to create our own reality (which is what many of the well-known “libertarians” seem to be doing, each in his or her own way.)

  7. James Hanley says:

    Dr. Hanley and I disagree about the salvaging of the word, “libertarian,”

    Which is fair enough. I might be happier to just abandon it if there was a good substitute that wouldn’t just add more confusion.

    Curiously, though, I’ve also been encouraged to abandon the very principles of my kind of libertarianism. Some seem to think the co-optation by conservatives has not only tarnished the brand, but has undermined those principles themselves, or proven the principles wrong. That logic, of course, doesn’t follow at all.

  8. D. C. Sessions says:

    Curiously, though, I’ve also been encouraged to abandon the very principles of my kind of libertarianism.

    Yeah, and an awful lot of people will tell you that Gabriel Giffords’ survival is proof of God, too. Vox populi, vox dei takes on a different meaning to the non-religious.

    Some seem to think the co-optation by conservatives has not only tarnished the brand, but has undermined those principles themselves, or proven the principles wrong. That logic, of course, doesn’t follow at all.

    The word of the day is “understatement.”

    You and I can have some lovely arguments regarding implementation of the principles you state above, but as a starting point we’re on the same page. In fact, I suspect that most people [1] would have a hard time disagreeing with them as stated, it’s the messy details that get to be problematic.

    If I have a quibble with the first principle, it’s with the weasel words (notably “generally more competent.”) I’d add what I will modestly call Sessions’ Corollary: that those who feel that they are the exception are more likely than not examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect instead.

    If I have a quibble with the second principle, it’s with the (possibly straw man) interpretation that it demands a liberum veto at the community level (whatever community may be involved.) I think we are in agreement (although I don’t believe we’ve ever discussed it) that that way lies madness.

    [1] OK, I might have to except the profoundly religious, since at least most Christian doctrines don’t grant the “I know what’s best for me” premise; religions without serious prospect of power (e.g. Buddhism) may not agree that we know best but concede it as a practical constraint anyway.

  9. D. C. Sessions says:

    Oh, and BTW:

    I might be happier to just abandon it if there was a good substitute that wouldn’t just add more confusion.

    The trouble with picking a new term is that it, too, would be savaged (I tried to use strike tags to relate the two terms but failed.) Like all of the terms used in the last couple of centuries for the melanin-enhanced portion of our species: black, negro (shortened to “nigger”), “colored,” etc. — each started out as a new euphemism, but since the social objection was to the referent rather than the reference per se the negative social valence just transferred to the new term.

    As a society we have a lot invested in the left/right political axis, and whatever you call the positions at right angles to it on the usual compass end up disparaged. “Authoritarian” is pretty well established and since nobody wants to own up to being one there’s no move I’m aware of to euphemise it; “Libertarian” is a pretty good antonym with the only serious drawback of being under fire from three directions: the authoritarians on the Left, the authoritarians on the Right, and the prominent self-described “Libertarians” that the rest don’t want to be associated with.

  10. Lance says:

    D.C. Sessions,

    “Great going, Lance. You weren’t reading very carefully regarding pollution, were you?”

    Well a word search for “pollution” on this page returns only one hit, the time you used it. So maybe your reading skills could use a bit of remedial attention. Nice attempt to conflate CO2 with “pollution” though.

    Your snide tone aside, those that have claimed an existential threat from anthropogenic CO2 emissions are attempting to create a “reality” that suites their political ambitions. I prefer the word empirical and the only observable data shows that while atmospheric CO2 concentration increased by nearly 40% the average global temperature has increased less than one degree and since the infra red absorption of CO2 varies logarithmically this doesn’t add up to much of a threat.

    The only way to make it scary is to postulate a positive feedback system and use computer models to gin up temps that have yet to be empirically verified.

    Being skeptical of hyperbolic predictions based on computer models that have proven of very limited accuracy hardly qualifies as crating ones own “reality”.

    But feel free to populate your own fantasy world, just don’t expect to tax me based on your Chicken Little delusions.

  11. Lance says:

    D.C. Sessions you should re-read James’ questions.

    The very first sentence in the first one is “Is there in fact a problem here that requires a solution?”.

    Here is what John Christy climatologist and former IPCC lead author has to say.

    You dare not be thought of as “one who does not know”; hence we may succumb to the pressure to be perceived as “one who knows”. This leads, in my opinion, to an overstatement of confidence in the published findings and to a ready acceptance of the views of anointed authorities. Scepticism, a hallmark of science, is frowned upon. I suspect the IPCC bureaucracy cringes whenever I’m identified as an IPCC Lead Author.

    The noxious idea that skepticism of scientific hypotheses is “anti-science” is perverse., especially one as tenuous as AGW.

  12. Matty says:

    “Great going, Lance. You weren’t reading very carefully regarding pollution, were you?”

    Well a word search for “pollution” on this page returns only one hit, the time you used it.

    The relevant section uses polluting instead of pollution and it is fairly clear what is being discussed.

    The question that ought to be raised at this point is, “what about when the absence of regulation allows one person to harm another?” I.e., when a company imposes costs on others against their will by polluting, a.k.a., externalities.

    Now the debate becomes does the emission of CO2 impose costs on people against their will and if so what (if anything) should be done. The answers are linked to but not identical to the question of whether AGW is happening and if so how severe. I’m genuinely interested in your response on this rather than repeating the debates about the science.

    1. Do you accept that there are any costs as a result of CO2 emissions from human activity?

    2. If you do accept that such costs exist who do you think should pay them? If you answered no to question 1 you can of course skip this.

    Sorry to James for taking this discussion off point.

  13. James K says:

    BTW James, as an alternative to “free markets”, you might consider a term from economics – The Discipline of the Market. That’s what we call the effect competition has on firm behavior. I think it distances the user from the pro-corporate side, and highlights the part of markets that really matter.

  14. James Hanley says:

    James K, as a libertine* I have an inherent aversion to anything phrase with the word “discipline” in it.
    (*Which is philosophically quite distinct from my libertarianism.)

    D.C., I don’t know that I’m so worried about my label being savaged, say by the left, as by it being co-opted by those with whom I have such fundamental disagreements. I’m not sure a new term would prove attractive enough, in my lifetime, to staunch right-leaners, so I’d probably avoid that issue.

    As to quibbling about the application of the ideas, absolutely. And I have no problem with that. From my own perspective, not to speak for any other self-identified libertarians, I take as a starting point that all issues are debatable in the policy space, and just because I might adamantly think someone else is wrong to propose a regulatory solution does not mean their advocacy of such a solution is inherently wrong or illegitimate. There are a few things I’d put out of bounds for legitimate debate, but they’re pretty much the same mundane things that get the agreement of 95% of the population as being out of bounds (if you can call euthanizing and eating babies “mundane”).

    As to the liberum veto, I think it would be a strawman if you insisted it was the necessary interpretation, but as a notation of possible interpretation, it’s just a decent warning. My solution to it is to allow free exit from the relevant community–your veto is to vote with your feet (a feeto?), and the harder it is to exit that community, the less authority I’d be willing to grant them.

    Lance, I remain mostly agnostic on the AGW issue. I fully admit to not knowing the science, as I have not devoted the necessary time to it. But assuming for the sake of argument that a temperature increase of, say, 9 degrees centigrade, is likely to occur, and that Bangladesh and some Pacific Islands will be inundated, I’d still say that adaptation rather than prevention/mitigation is a legitimate policy proposal. Those who argue that we have no choice are wrong on the facts (we do have a choice, even if ultimately only one made any real sense) and quite possibly normatively wrong (we may have two comparable options to choose between). And the existence of humanity clearly is not threatened. So I am in some substantial agreement with you.

    More controversially, I also agree that there is almost a ban on skepticism and expressions of doubt. I’m not a denialist (again, I’m openly scientifically ignorant, and I’m sure as hell not going to take a denialist position based on an ignorance that I recognize), so I think I’m actually fairly objective, and I am actually pretty familiar with the literature on science policy (having taught it once, and having prepared a wholly new course to teach it again, which unfortunately had to be bumped to a later date). And what the science policy lit tells me is in part how to spot scientists who have abandoned some of their scientific principles to become more effective policy advocates. There are, I agree, climate scientists who are doing this, and pointing it out is a good way to be ostracized.

    But of course that in itself says nothing about the actual scientific validity of their claims. So I inevitably find them not wholly trustworthy, but neither do I find their opponents trustworthy, so…

  15. AMW says:

    Now I know almost nothing about the Koch brothers…

    I have a smidgen of experience with one of them. He seemed pretty solid to me.

  16. D. C. Sessions says:

    My solution to it is to allow free exit from the relevant community–your veto is to vote with your feet (a feeto?),

    I like it :-)

    and the harder it is to exit that community, the less authority I’d be willing to grant them.

    I’d extend that to “the more I would constrain the exercise of coercion in it.” One example is the charming little community of Colorado City.

  17. James Hanley says:

    I’d extend that to “the more I would constrain the exercise of coercion in it.”

    That’s effectively what I meant. If my hometown of 1,000 people wanted to establish a commune, I’d allow them the necessary coercion to do so, provided that coercion didn’t prevent exit, which in most other ways is quite easy. If my state wanted to do that, I’d want to deny them the necessary coercive powers. That also allows me to reconcile my antipathy for religious establishments with support for the existence of religiously exclusive communities like the Hutterites. I won’t pretend I’m sure just where I’d draw the line, though.

    AMW, by “pretty solid,” do you mean a mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging anti-science paleo-conservative, but friendly enough anyway?

  18. D. C. Sessions says:

    That’s effectively what I meant. If my hometown of 1,000 people wanted to establish a commune, I’d allow them the necessary coercion to do so, provided that coercion didn’t prevent exit, which in most other ways is quite easy.

    That’s a rather Aristotelian formulation.

    How much of a charge for leaving would you be willing to pay? A modest fee, your real estate, your family? (Assuming for the moment that the “your family” didn’t involve use of force against adults above the age of consent.)

    The “real estate” condition, for instance, is not altogether hypothetical. A deed restriction which was once common required that anyone wishing to sell first offer the property to other members of the community at the original purchase price. Over decades of appreciation, that makes quite a barrier to exit.

  19. James Hanley says:

    D.C.,

    I’m generally opposed to barriers to entry (the one beef I have with the Hutterites, as well as the Druze), but I’m even more opposed to barriers to exit (my beef with the Jehova’s Witnesses and Amish). That is, no fee should be imposed as a condition of leaving. If I incur costs related to my sunk costs, I’d say that’s unfortunate–and I won’t deny the hindering effects on free exit–but if no one’s forcing that fee on you I’d say it’s your problem. There is never choice without cost (opportunity cost at the very least), so we can’t get too worked up about the mere fact that my choice may be costly to me.

    The deed restriction question is a good one to quibble over. For the sake of argument (I.e., I haven’t thought too deeply about it yet), I’ll take a contractarian approach. You voluntarily agreed to that deed restriction. If you made a bad wager on the future, it’s on your shoulders, just as if you bought stock in a company that later failed. Others don’t have a responsibility to compensate you for your bad predictions about the future. (But of course if they voluntarily choose to do so, that’s ok, too.)

  20. D. C. Sessions says:

    For the sake of argument (I.e., I haven’t thought too deeply about it yet), I’ll take a contractarian approach.

    And yet I think you’d agree that there are contracts with unconscionable terms. So now, to borrow a phrase, we’re just haggling over price.

  21. James Hanley says:

    D.C.,

    While I will take for granted the theoretical possibility of contracts with unconscionable terms, I’ve never seen a concrete example of one. It seems to me that people avoid unconscionable terms when signing contracts, and can nearly always do so because they are signing voluntarily (coercion into signing is, of course, sufficient grounds for nullification of the contract).

    So I don’t think there’s any problem with making general statements about rules, then adding the caveat that in truly exceptionable cases, exceptions may be made.

    For example, I’m working on a draft proposal for a new academic integrity policy. I want to make it so that there’s an automatic sanction, relieving an ill-positioned administrator of the responsibility for making a risky choice to impose a sanction. But because I recognize that an automatic process fails to account for exceptional cases, I’m building in a two-stage appeals process, with reviewers who can (if it is appealed to them) consider if there are exceptional circumstances justifying an exception to the rules.

    To me, planning for the normal case while allowing for the special consideration of the unusual case is just good institutional design.

  22. D. C. Sessions says:

    Unconscionable terms? How about selling yourself into slavery. It’s not theoretical, it’s historical. In fact, it’s Biblical. (This indirectly leads into the question of information disparity when entering into a contract, but leave that for another subthread.)

  23. AMW says:

    AMW, by “pretty solid,” do you mean a mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging anti-science paleo-conservative, but friendly enough anyway?

    No, I’d say pretty much a straightforward libertarian although, like you, I’m not sure he uses that description of himself. At any rate, he employs a number of libertarians even within Koch Industries, not just in the non-profits.

  24. James Hanley says:

    D.C.,

    Biblical slavery was time-limited. I don’t know that I have a problem with that, although I doubt I’d encourage many people to do it. I doubt I’d support enforcement of a “slavery for life” contract, because it would violate the free exit clause. (Sure, temporary slavery does, too, but it’s not a permanent bar to exist.)

    Would I sell myself into temporary slavery if the contract was written in such a way that I could live with its terms and get a satisfactory compensation? I think it could be a rational choice. I just doubt such terms would often be offered.

    Of course from a Marxist perspective, we’re all selling ourselves into wage slavery anyway.

  25. D. C. Sessions says:

    Biblical slavery was time-limited.

    As were all debts. Pretty heavy regulation.
    You can also list some pretty serious regulations restricting the terms of “slavery,” which seriously limit the applicability of Biblical servitude to any modern (as in, last couple of millennia) “slavery.”

    However, the distinction between time-limited and “for life” is of dubious weight. It’s like the difference between consecutive 99-year sentences and a life sentence: both end with you going out feet first.

    Of course we can discuss whether in the normal course of events you would ever agree to such a contract, but the usual qualifiers apply. Notably, in sufficiently extreme circumstances most of us would. For instance, if you’re stranded at sea and a ship comes by offering to save you and your family on condition of slavery. You can always hope another ship will come by with a better offer, but that’s what’s bid. (Feel free to substitute starvation, cold, thirst, medical emergency, whatever.)

  26. James Hanley says:

    Please understand that I’m not a utopian libertarian. I believe that perfectly just systems not only don’t exist and can’t be successfully created by humans, but that they’re not even theoretically possible.

  27. Lance says:

    Matty,

    I’m genuinely interested in your response on this rather than repeating the debates about the science.

    Great, I will be glad to answer so long as it doesn’t hijack this thread to badly.

    1. Do you accept that there are any costs as a result of CO2 emissions from human activity?

    Well “any costs” is a pretty low threshold. To date there are no verifiable costs due to the effects of AGW, while there has been substantial amounts of money
    (in the billions of dollars) spent to investigate and allegedly “mitigate” its future effects.

    Is there a possibility that increases in CO2 will cause increases in warming that will have associated costs? Sure, but the probability that such costs will be greater than the cost of mitigation are low (in my opinion). Even the IPCC has problems stating the economic costs and associated probabilities, let alone rationally and verifiably calculating these quantities and their associated statistical random and systematic errors.

    To put it simply I don’t see any rational reason to change the energy infrastructure of the world based on what has been demonstrated to this point. Any energy strategies that are adopted by governments should be implemented based on their associated merits independent of whether they reduce CO2 emissions. Although, it should be added that I don’t think government “energy policies” have proven to be particularly beneficial in the past.

    2. If you do accept that such costs exist who do you think should pay them? If you answered no to question 1 you can of course skip this.

    Well, since I answered a qualified “yes” to the first I will give an answer to this one as well.

    This is a thorny issue. If you could actually assign costs to CO2 emissions, a dubious task in my opinion, how exactly do you apportion payments for these associated costs? Also if the effect is cumulative do these costs have to be applied retro-actively? And since CO2 doesn’t respect borders or nationalities by what framework can theses costs be apportioned once calculated.

    A colorless, odorless gas that is an essential trace element in the atmosphere is suddenly cast as an “externality”. So basically you have a dynamic where even the breath of individuals contributes to the “problem” and there is no appreciable beginning date to assign blame and there is no applicable framework to apportion costs. Good luck with that.

    Most plans, such as cap and trade schemes, are thinly veiled attempts to control and manipulate markets with all the usual opportunities for distortion and corruption of those markets by rent seekers and speculators.

    It’s hardly a coincidence that, before its spectacular demise, Enron was keenly interested in carbon trading.

  28. Lance says:

    James Hanley,

    I remain mostly agnostic on the AGW issue.

    That statement and self identifying as a “libertarian” would probably be enough to trigger a flurry of personal attacks on most of the sites on ScienceBlogs. Your well earned reputation as a reasonable and intelligent commenter at Dispatches would probably immunize you from attack by the “regulars” but if your “agnosticism” persisted, or God forbid turned to outright skepticism, all bets would be off.

    I fully admit to not knowing the science, as I have not devoted the necessary time to it.

    I have spent the better part of ten years investigating the issue. I spent a fair amount of time at Chris Mooney’s site, The Intersection. It was there that I first felt that science was being whored for the benefit of political ideology. The fact that healthy skepticism triggered vicious personal attacks was the first indication that the issue was highly politicized and that participants, admittedly on both sides of the issue, were in it for reasons that had little to do with the science.

    But assuming for the sake of argument that a temperature increase of, say, 9 degrees centigrade, is likely to occur, and that Bangladesh and some Pacific Islands will be inundated, I’d still say that adaptation rather than prevention/mitigation is a legitimate policy proposal.

    Agreed, although recent evidence shows that Bangladesh is adding land, not loosing it and the pacific islands that are loosing land are doing so due to subsidence and not sea level increase.

    Those who argue that we have no choice are wrong on the facts (we do have a choice, even if ultimately only one made any real sense) and quite possibly normatively wrong (we may have two comparable options to choose between). And the existence of humanity clearly is not threatened. So I am in some substantial agreement with you.

    Don’t tell this to RagingBee or SLC! Or to the majority of posters at Dispatches for that matter.

    More controversially, I also agree that there is almost a ban on skepticism and expressions of doubt. I’m not a denialist (again, I’m openly scientifically ignorant, and I’m sure as hell not going to take a denialist position based on an ignorance that I recognize), so I think I’m actually fairly objective, and I am actually pretty familiar with the literature on science policy (having taught it once, and having prepared a wholly new course to teach it again, which unfortunately had to be bumped to a later date). And what the science policy lit tells me is in part how to spot scientists who have abandoned some of their scientific principles to become more effective policy advocates. There are, I agree, climate scientists who are doing this, and pointing it out is a good way to be ostracized.

    Unfortunately there has been a great deal of pressure applied lately by “progressives” for scientists to “push the envelope” and increase their advocacy volume. Even at the IUPUI School of Science where I teach there is a palpable tension when the subject of AGW is raised. Scientists that normally relish the chance to discuss the very laws that bound our universe are hesitant to enter the fray, knowing the political fall out that may await them.

    But of course that in itself says nothing about the actual scientific validity of their claims. So I inevitably find them not wholly trustworthy, but neither do I find their opponents trustworthy, so…

    I am not trying to coerce anyone into AGW “Skepticism”. That said I think your predisposition for libertarian principles will have you cringing at the not so subtle motives of progressive”believers”.

  29. D. C. Sessions says:

    I believe that perfectly just systems not only don’t exist and can’t be successfully created by humans, but that they’re not even theoretically possible.

    Variously phrased as Mencken’s corollary to Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, or “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

  30. James K says:

    James Hanley:

    You could always pretend the “discipline” part referred to S&M :)

  31. James Hanley says:

    James K–It all depends on who’s giving and who’s receiving the discipline.

    D.C.–Precisely.

    Lance–If you have time, you might find Pielke’s The Honest Broker worthwhile (also good, although a bit dated now, is Nelkin’s Selling Science). Pielke distinguishes between different roles scientists can play in the policy process. He likes the “honest broker” (the one who just provides the scientific results and explains them clearly, while not directly trying to advocate) the best, and accepts those who are open issue advocates, so long as they distinguish between the science and the advocacy. But he criticizes the “stealth issue advocates” who pretend they’re only engaged in a scientific debate when in fact they are arguing politics (i.e., values). That brings him in for a bashing by some folks in the AGW camp, who mistakenly take that as an argument against global warming. Others, however, recognize that Pielke’s analysis is not about the validity of the research but about the way scientists behave in the policy arena.

  32. A Bear says:

    James; As a “true libertarian” do you support public education? Also, where do you draw the line at public pool resources and privately owned resources? If a private individual owns a lake does he own the water too or do the people living on the river downstream have rights to it?

  33. Matty says:

    Lance,

    Thank you, believe it or not that does give me a much clearer picture of your position and I’m happy to leave it there.

  34. James Hanley says:

    A Bear,

    All fair questions, but not easy ones.

    First let me say that while I think of myself as truly a libertarian, I’m aware that I am not a “pure” libertarian. One of guiding principles, for good or ill, is whether Adam Smith would approve of something. If he would have approved of it, I can be relatively sure it’s neither an egregiously rent-seeking position, nor a too terribly liberal one. And he supported some forms of public education. But also, it’s frequently noted that libertarianism has difficulties in dealing with children–it’s an approach designed around the assumption of mentally competent adults. And so I’m willing to relax my constraints for the benefit of children. A child can’t make his/her own choice about education, and it’s arguably unjust for a parent to deny his/her child an education, so I think it can be justified. However all my normal economist’s concerns about monopolies apply, plus one of my mentors taught me the importance of the distinction between provision and production–government can provide for something, but that doesn’t mean they actually have to produce it. My city, for example, provides for trash pickup, but it’s a private company that actually produces the act of picking up my trash. I think the same applies to education, and we’ll do better with more private production of it, even while we keep government playing an important role in its provision.

    As to the lake/river question, I have to say it all depends on the relevant community and its political arrangements. I don’t believe in natural rights–I’m a positivist who believes all rights, particularly things like property rights, are human created. So it depends on what rules the relevant society puts in place. I think it’s best if the rights are determined through contractual agreements, but of course sometimes they’re determined by a more political process. And as Hayek would probably note, the institution of rights that has come down to us over time will not be the product of anyone’s intentional design, but of evolution over time.

    But I wouldn’t say that either the lake owner or the riverine users have any “natural” right to the water. And as Coase showed, if we could keep transaction costs low enough, the initial distribution of rights wouldn’t matter–control of the resource would flow to its highest valued user through the purchase of rights.

    More generally speaking about common pool resources (I assume that’s what you mean by “public pool”) vs. private ownership, some common pool resources are better off, from a management perspective, when privatized. But in other cases, as Elinor Ostrom and her research associates have shown, collective ownership and self-governance can manage them quite well, even over periods of multiple centuries. And as a libertarian, I certainly think people ought to have the right to make communal arrangements–if it would take coercion to force them to surrender those arrangements, I can hardly condone that. The real problem comes from common pool resources that are too large and complex to either effectively privatize or manage through stakeholder self-governance. The only choices then may be destruction of the resource or top-down regulation (which too frequently imposes a poor regulatory structure, leading to the destruction, or at least severe degradation, of the resource anyway).

  35. D. C. Sessions says:

    The real problem comes from common pool resources that are too large and complex to either effectively privatize or manage through stakeholder self-governance. The only choices then may be destruction of the resource or top-down regulation (which too frequently imposes a poor regulatory structure, leading to the destruction, or at least severe degradation, of the resource anyway).

    Which brings us right back around to pollution, doesn’t it? Hard to come up with a better example of “too large” than the whole planet’s atmosphere (and the oceans, too.)

    FWIW, I have a three-pronged view of the carbon economy (peak oil, AGW, and acidification) each of which strongly suggest the prudence of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Oddly enough, the ocean acidification aspect doesn’t seem to get nearly the attention that warming does, even though in many ways it’s the clearest threat.

  36. James Hanley says:

    D.C.,

    Not directed at you, but your mention of peak oil brings it to mind…I have a number of friends who are frantic about both peak oil and global warming. But it seems to me that people who are really worried about global warming should be on their knees praying that we’re actually at or past the peak oil point, so that oil becomes increasingly expensive, making more earth-friendly energy sources more cost-competitive.

    Of course there’s still the problem of wildly abundant coal reserves…

  37. D. C. Sessions says:

    Most of the literature I’ve seen indicates that peak oil isn’t going to head off the carbon problems — but it will make for a really ugly economic situation if we don’t get ahead of it. The oil dependence of the United States was a known problem forty years ago, and since then we’ve just made it worse.

    It’s (slowly) becoming a problem that the military treats as a national security threat. (Big surprise — our foreign policy has been captive to oil longer than most of the Americans now alive.) I see peak oil as an economic threat to the country my (hypothetical) grandchildren will grow up in because of both the direct economic costs and the tendency it will have to drive us deeper down the imperial rathole we’re already in.

    The worst-case AGW threat is actually the “venus case” — it really could wipe out all life on Earth. Not likely, but barring “apre moi, l’deluge” and some religious nutters you might actually get everyone to agree that that one isn’t in anyone’s interest.

    Which leaves oceanic acidification. Note that we’re already losing coral reefs and quite a bit of aquatic habitat. Ask an oceanographer or marine biologist for details, but my understanding is that it’s more of a near-term threat than climate change — although it also drives climate change by making the oceans less hospitable to photosynthetic flora.

  38. James Hanley says:

    I do worry about acidification of the oceans. And I’m really worried about the possible collapse of the North Atlantic Conveyor.

    But truthfully I don’t get worked up about the possibility of humanity being wiped out. I figure it’s just a matter of time anyway, and sooner or later doesn’t really matter except to humans. And since I doubt I’ll be here, or my kids, or even my grandkids, then it’s just hypothetical people we’re talking about.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything. I’m just saying that the plight of any generation more than a couple removed from me is no more meaningful to me than the plight of they hypothetical nth generation down the line when the sun burns out, and objectively humanity as a whole seems no more important than any other species.

    Of course I get a lot of grief for that attitude.

  39. Lance says:

    D.C.

    The worst-case AGW threat is actually the “venus case” — it really could wipe out all life on Earth.

    Oh, Pu-Leeze! There is exactly ZERO chance of anything like that happening EVER.

    Do a little research. Venus’ atmosphere is 90 times as dense as the earths and is 96.5% CO2 where as CO2 comprises a tiny 0.0383% of the earth’s atmosphere, often expressed as a whopping 380 parts per MILLION! There is also the little fact that Venus is 42 million miles closer to the sun.

    It’s this kind of sensationalized idiotic statement that makes my blood boil and illustrates just how the science has been distorted to meet political goals.

    There is also ZERO chance that the Atlantic conveyor is going to stop in the next ten thousand years or so.

    Ocean acidification is also a load of crap.

    These topics are used to scare or bully people into accepting “progressive” political “solutions” to problems that are being grossly exaggerated or flat out do not exist.

  40. Lance says:

    James Hanley,

    AGW is often sold on the basis of “Think of our grandchildren” hence the title of AGW nut-case James Hansen’s latest fairy tale/screed Storms of My Grandchildren -The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.

    Boy, as far as weaslie emotional language is concerned he is throwing in the kitchen sink on that one!

    I have learned that the last resort of a desperate demagogue is to “save the children”.

    This is the same James Hansen that predicted that “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water.” He said that it would happen “with in 20 or 30 years” and he said this in 1988. The water level has not changed measurably since that dire prediction and remains just as far from the highway as it was 23 years ago when the great prophet made this statement.

  41. D. C. Sessions says:

    Lance, your obsession aside: what does this have to do with the political principle being discussed? If you follow back up, it was originally explicit that the facts are assumed for purposes of exploring the principles involved.

    If you’d rather discuss this in terms of some other form of pollution, by all means substitute whatever you personally find globally objectionable.

  42. Lance says:

    D.C. Sessions,

    OK sorry, but I couldn’t let that Venus comment go. And I’m hardly obsessed with AGW. It was mentioned in this thread before I chimed in.

    But I’ll try to stay on the main topic. I do believe that government has a legitimate function when it comes to demonstrable pollution, like water pollution for example.

    Sadly this takes a back seat in most political discussions because you can’t scare people about the lives of their grandchildren by mentioning municipal sewage treatment or farm run off.

  43. D. C. Sessions says:

    Sadly this takes a back seat in most political discussions because you can’t scare people about the lives of their grandchildren by mentioning municipal sewage treatment or farm run off.

    Sure you can — the same people who worry about something other than this quarter’s profits or the current season in their favorite sport [1].

    Using your example, runoff (sort of) is killing the Mississippi Delta. In particular, it’s a fine example of the tragedy of the commons: each individual landowner benefits by having the Miss channeled and the bayous drained. Collectively that’s causing the Delta as a whole to erode around the edges, subside into the Gulf, and oh by the way the “brown plume” is killing sea life for hundreds of miles from the mouth of the river. Eventually it will render all of that investment (and much more) worthless.

    Our Gracious Host can no doubt draw dozens of interesting lessons involving Governmental roles. The Corps of Engineers for the drainage, the socialization of cleanup costs, perverse incentives, you name it.

    However, most people don’t think that far out to avoid the problem and when the problems do occur don’t accept the consequences of their lack of foresight [2].

    [1] Please note that I’m not asking anyone to “think of the grandchildren” — I state, however, that I, myself, am concerned regarding the world that my as-yet-hypothetical grandchildren will grow up in. It’s one of those self-indulgences that I imagine myself to have earned as I sneak up on 60 years of age with adult children.
    [2] I have family in the Delta, including some sort-of-inlaws. Some of whom took the cleanup money they got from FEMA to buy yet more land in the worst flood-prone areas. After all, why not?

  44. Lance says:

    D.C. Sessions,

    You may be surprised to hear that I agree with pretty much everything you just said. The Mississippi delta is a grand case of unintended consequences. Of course many of those consequences are the result of large government programs, but they could just have easily been the result of large corporate actions if the situation had evolved differently.

    While I agree that the “dead zone” is being exacerbated by the “improvements” to the river system it is also true that the natural erosion of large river systems can do this, to a lesser extent, without help from humans.

    That said I would be in favor of efforts to redirect that silt to the delta, where much of it was previously deposited, to form coastal wetlands and salt marshes. So long as it was done in a way that respected the property rights of those affected.

  45. James Hanley says:

    D.C.,

    The issues you mention are real. But Lance is right that you can’t scare people about those issues very effectively via reference to their grandchildren. That’s why those issues don’t have the same political salience.

    That’s not saying they ought not to have, just that as an empirical question about human emotional responses to those issues, Lance is on the money. At least so it seems to me.

  46. D. C. Sessions says:

    The issues you mention are real. But Lance is right that you can’t scare people about those issues very effectively via reference to their grandchildren.

    Not theirs, mine.

    Interesting that you should see it as a scare tactic. I use the same explanation of “where I’m coming from” when I discuss worries about the authoritarian and imperial directions I see the USA taking, and I don’t recall you objecting to those “scare tactics.”

  47. Lance says:

    D.C. Sessions,

    Interesting that you should see it as a scare tactic. I use the same explanation of “where I’m coming from” when I discuss worries about the authoritarian and imperial directions I see the USA taking, and I don’t recall you objecting to those “scare tactics.”

    The likelihood that the US could descend into an authoritarian “police state” is far more likely, given both the Bush and Obama administration’s actions to consolidate executive power and the ongoing militarization of even mundane federal bureaucracies like the Customs Department, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, than the earth’s atmosphere becoming Venus-like.

    Also the current spate of foreign military interventions is an extant fact.
    We needn’t drag anyone’s grandchildren into the equation to generate concern.

  48. James Hanley says:

    D.C.,

    Fair point. When is it a mere scare tactic and when is it a legitimate concern? So set aside my careless use of terminology–careless in that I’m not interested in going down the rabbit hole of defending it and making the necessary distinctions.

    So let me set aside the term “scare tactics,” and repeat my empirical claim–I don’t think the “think of the children” argument has equal motivational power for all issues.

  49. D. C. Sessions says:

    So let me set aside the term “scare tactics,” and repeat my empirical claim–I don’t think the “think of the children” argument has equal motivational power for all issues.

    Agreed.

    Arguably, it’s really only useful when preaching to the choir.

  50. James Hanley says:

    Or at least the not terribly thoughtful, who are easily persuaded to join the choir. (At least that’s how I as a teenager ended up, for a mercifully brief time, in our church choir.)

  51. Pingback: Global Warming: Bangladesh Land Gains/Losses | The Bawdy House Provisions

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