As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a simple argument, consistent with hard-core deontological, self-ownership libertarian principles, that gets you to the conclusion it’s at least permissible for the government to issue environmental regulations.
Here it is, in a more straightforward form:
1. Start with minimal state libertarianism: Government may and should protect rights, when it can at a reasonable cost.
2. Make a claim about rights: Pollution and many other kinds of activities that damage the environment impose externalities upon others and in doing so violate their (negative) rights to life, health, and property.
3. Make a claim about government efficacy: Government regulation is at least some times pretty effective at protecting these rights, and it does a better job than using courts.
This gets us pretty close to the conclusion that the government should be empowered to issue environmental regulations to protect the very rights libertarians claim we have. Yet, here are some objections:
A. The Mission Creep/Abuse Objection: Though 3 is true, if we give government the power to enforce the rights mentioned in 2 through environmental regulation, government will abuse and misuse this power. It will misuse/abuse it so much that it won’t be worth it. It’s better just to leave things to courts, and if that doesn’t work, just let people pollute.
B. The Cost-Benefit Objection: While government is sometimes effective at enforcing rights, cost-benefit analysis shows that the EPA and other such agencies, even when acting without abuse and in good faith, spend/cost far too much for every year of life saved. Against, it’s better just to leave things to courts or even just let people pollute.
C. Other Unintended Consequences Objection: Allowing government to try to solve the problem causes various other negative consequences, and isn’t worth the cost.
D. The Market Can Fix It Objection: There are some market-based (e.g., Coasian) means to solve these problems.
Having been thoroughly schooled in public choice and all the usual stuff, I see the point behind A-D. There’s significant truth behind each of these objections. However, if you’re one of those libertarians who believes the government should issue no environmental regulations (and many libertarians do believe this), you seem to me to be far too pessimistic about A-C and/or optimistic about D. Do the facts really turn out to imply that the optimal amount of government environmental regulation is none?