Green Libertarianism: Ecology vs Economics?
Jim Blair

Is there a connection/conflict between being green and liberal or conservative. Or to say it differently, is there a conflict between ecology and economics?

First, I consider myself to be a "green libertarian" which sounds to some to be an oxymoron. After all, greens are tree huggers who want to destroy jobs to save owls and snail darters. And libertarians want big companies to be free to loot and pollute the environment in order to exploit the public and make obscene profits. How can these positions be reconciled?

First, do no harm

For starters, it would help if the government would stop subsidizing programs which are environmentally destructive: the logging of national forests, the sugar policy which costs the consumer and pays for the pollution of the Everglades, etc. This is not a new problem.

The REA was started in the 1930's as a "liberal" program to bring electricity to rural America (when it was not profitable for power companies to string lines out to the scattered farms). Liberals saw themselves as helping the little farmer who would otherwise be neglected by the Big Power Business. The practical result was to cause the use of solar and wind energy to be replaced by electricity, mostly from coal and produced at remote power plants. Remember all the old windmills that used to dot the rural country side in the 1930's? FDR did them in!

And it is true that this investment in electric power did increase agricultural productivity, this was just as over production was becoming the biggest "farm problem": the government was soon buying the surplus grain and cheese to store. And the REA continues today, long after its mission to bring electric power to rural America was completed.

There are many other obvious examples. The policy (federal, state and local) of externalizing the cost of cars is the cause of some or our most harmful environmental problems.

Water & The Economics of Green

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal Thursday, Feb 15 1996 that is ofinterest to anyone concerned about the environment & the economy. In the economy section, the title is "Water Rights to Be Traded Electronically." It reports that next month the Westlands Water District (the nation's largest water agency, located in California's Central Valley) will begin trading water rights in a market manner.

They will do this "electronically" (what ever that means), but the important change is that market supply/demand will replace the system of federally subsidized water allocation, mostly to wealthy farmers. This system of favoritism has resulted in both wasted water, government handouts to the rich, and ecological havoc. This could be an important step in reviving the "Green Scissors" movement.

See the essay "Price and Pollution" on my web page for the basis of this idea. While there will be much disagreement about how to draw the balance when exploiting the environment produces both a profit and benefits for the great mass of people, we should be able to get much better agreement on stopping programs which require government subsidies to degrade the environment for the benefit of a few of the politically connected wealthy.

But not 100% Libertarian

From the above, you can see that I have a Libertarian orientation: but I am not a "pure Libertarian". At the extreme end, Libertarian merges into a kind of anarchist philosophy I have seen only on the extreme Left. See "Terrorism: Right, Left & Religous".

Before the 1992 election I listened to (and talked with) the Libertarian candidate Andre Marrou. And this year I head Harry Browne speak in Madison. Before the fall of the USSR, I would not have considered voting Libertarian since their foreign policy/national defence position was completely unrealistic. Now, the Libertarian platform comes closer to being reasonable. But there are still some things they just don't get.

Andre Morrou was clear (of Libertarians): We are the other guys. The Democrats want to be your mother, the Republicans want to be your father, but Libertarians want to be your friend. The Left wants to make you do good (or at least have the government tax your money so they can do goods). The Right wants to make you be good. Libertarians say just be yourself, and do your own thing (but follow a few simple rules), etc.

They are not "on the Left" or "on the Right", but "above" (in another plane), etc.

In practice, they draw on many who have quit the conventional left and right. But there did seem to be more "former Republicans" (unhappy over abortion, the Christian Right, or the War on Drugs) than "former Democrats" (unhappy over high taxes, special interest groups, or the War on Drugs).

But as for "Goldwater Conservative", recall that Barry was (and is) pro-choice on abortion, pro-gays in the military, etc. He was denounced as "far Right", but what does that mean?

Andre Marrou is a very sharp guy. I suggested (1992, remember) that since the former Soviet Republics were both desperate for money and food and had many nuclear weapons, the US should offer to buy their warheads. (See "How you can save the world" on my web page). Marrou replied that this was a great idea, and if he is elected president he will appoint me to negotiate the deal. Well he lost (as you may have heard) so nothing was done in that department.

The safety of others?

Marrou also explained that he likes to stunt fly in his small airplane. It is his life at risk, and so that is his business. Fine with me. But I think he has an obligation (and the law should require) that he not do this over densely populated cities. This illustrates the major flaw in doctrinaire Libertarian thinking (now that there is no foreign threat). Prevention is better than treatment, or don't wait until a bad thing happens if it can be prevented. Planes do crash, and why put the lives on people on the ground in danger?

The same idea applies to speed limits for cars and gun control. Official Libertarian doctrine opposes both. But common sense calls for both, to some degree. To me, this is a matter of judgment, not doctrine. It would be too restrictive to prohibit all stunt flying just because a crash over the desert or a corn field might kill a farmer or hiker, or damage some of the crops. Insurance could cover that. But stunting over a populated area is too dangerous.

Speed limits were abused (in my opinion) when they were lowered to 55 mph to "save oil". Safety should be the only basis of a speed limit. Want to "save oil"? Easy, make the driver pay the full price for the driving they do.

And as for guns, well, see "Guns and Pizza"...

Essays on related topics...

Title Author
A Basic Argument For The Left Thomas Ash
Green Libertarianism: Ecology vs Economics? Jim Blair
Response to Mike Huben's Critiques of Libertarianism David Friedman [off site]
A Non-Libertarian FAQ Mike Huben [off site]
Taxation Is Not Theft Steve Kangas [off site]
Civil Disobedience Henry David Thoreau

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