Libertarianism and Pollution

Over at, my latest post discusses the implications of Rothbardian-style libertarianism for the issue of pollution. Short version: if libertarianism means adhering to an absolutist version of the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), then all pollution is impermissible, and life as we know it as over.

To me, that seems like a pretty good reason to reject the absolutist version of NAP. But I’ll have more to say about that next week.

(Note: we’ve discussed the pollution issue here before with reference to a draft of philosopher David Sobel’s paper on the topic.)

Published on:
Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • ThaomasH

    With anthropomorphic climate change such a big issue, maybe it would be time for a discussion of libertarians’ differeing ideas on dealing with the problem.

    • Sean II

      I second that motion. There’s a very good reason why anti-libertarians like the issue of climate change so much.

      Short of a Ganymede-sized trolley car hurtling toward us across the solar system, they’ve never had a better excuse to demand a blank cheque on behalf of the state.

      You can totally tell they know it, too. People who otherwise show no thought for the future beyond two, four, and six year election cycles, people whose idea of long-term strategy is a temporary spending bill spanning three months, people who never read a scientific paper in their entire lives…when people like that suddenly start talking in terms of 100 year planning horizons, when people like that suddenly start to develop a deep respect for empiricism, it’s time to start paying attention.

      • matt b

        The scientific consensus is pretty overwhelming in favor of the idea that climate change is happening, that humans are playing some sort of role, and that the impact is likely not to be so good. People like Creg Mankiw and Jeffrey Miron, hardly statists I think you would agree, have said we should deal with this through some sort of carbon tax and I completely agree. It’s not anti-libertarian to believe that externalities must be addressed through state action as Friedman and Hayek and countless others argued throughout the history of these types of debates.

        • Sean II

          I understand what you’re saying here, but it’s non-responsive to me.

          My claim is: non-libertarians sure are gaga for global warming.

          That claim does not contain the premise that global warming isn’t happening*, nor that libertarians can’t believe in global warming, nor that Jeffrey Miron is anything less than a true Scotsman, nor that externalities should be ignored, etc.

          I simply point out that non-libertarians show all-too-obvious glee when it comes to flogging the AGW issue, and further they show some very uncharacteristic behavior while doing it (i.e., the same people who wanted to mint a trillion dollar coin just to keep the stimulus flowing are also the people talking about boldly sacrificing present consumption for the sake of a better future. If that doesn’t make you deeply suspicious, then rush out and see an endocrinologist, because your suspicion glands are in pre-failure.)

          * Though an entirely separate issue from the above, the scientific consensus is NOT overwhelming. Consensuses…consensi…are not eligible to be overwhelming, because they are not a form of evidence.

          • I think the thing is that many on the left see “climate change” as a blanket excuse for implementing all sorts of economic controls that really have nothing to do with climate change.
            The real give away for me is their continued opposition to nuclear power. If you are really just interested in reducing CO2 emissions, then nuclear power is the obvious way to go. Fears about radiation from nuclear accidents are vastly overinflated, which even the Fukushima accident proves.
            But instead of advocating a vast program to replace all our coal power with nuclear, they insist on wind and solar, which couldn’t possibly supply a modern industrial economy. To which they give away the game by replying that what we really need is to “change our lifestyles”. It’s ultimately an excuse to embark on a vast socio-economic restructuring project.

          • matt b

            Your post gets a lot right but I think we should be careful not to conflate the Naomi Klein style back to the farm anti-progress far left illiberal environmentalism with the reasonable concerns of people who on the center-left (not to mention those on the center-right and libertarians). Indeed, a number of liberals have defended nuclear power and the Obama administration has supported it. I also think words like “excuse” makes it seem like the left is just making up this whole climate catastrophe thing. In reality, when you look at these people they have the terror in their eyes. I think wrongly but they do.

          • Sean II

            Theresa – I’ve posted this same comment like three different times, but I think it’s worth repeating. The thing we know as “climate change” unfolds into four distinct questions:

            1) Is the climate changing?
            2) If so, what’s causing it?
            3) Is it bad and how bad is it?
            4) What should be done?

            The first question is plausibly within reach of present science, though even here one must be on the lookout for confirmation bias and for studies of the “you fund it, we find it” variety. The second is only within reach of scientific speculation, and I’m afraid that also puts it within reach of unscientific speculation. The third is one step further removed from that.

            The fourth item is not a question of science at all, but rather a moral and economic issue, including complicated questions about whether the cure is worse than the disease, etc.

            Anyone who treats “climate change” as one question is full of shit. Anyone who talks about the “scientific consensus” as if it answers all four questions equally and at once, is completely full of shit. You’ll notice most greenos do exactly that, eliding from 1) to 4) as if the empirical evidence for 1) clearly and unambiguously removed all doubts about 4).


          In Sean’s words, the “consensi” is unravelling fast: As did the consensi favoring the “mal-vapors” theory of infectious disease, Newtonian physics, the terrible threat posed by DDT, peak oil, the inevitability of mass starvation from over-population, etc.

          • matt b


            I’m not a climatologist and neither are you but I would say that we should be especially wary of confirmation bias here. Sean is right that assorted lefty tree huggers rush to embrace AGB beause it validates their worldview. But many a libertarian has tried to deny that there is any sign of any sort of problem because AGB would undermine their confidence in pure market mechanisms. Reason’s great Ron Bailey has acknowledged this and actually supports a carbon tax (the prosperity hater!) And there was no consensus in favour of the threat posed by DDT, peak oil, or mass starvation. The right wing likes to say there was to discredit concerns over climate change but in reality you were not dealing with the majority, let alone the vast majority, of scientists but rather a crazed band of apocalyptic alarmists. With that being said, I don’t buy the Al Gore the world is going to hell view. Still, I do think the evidence suggests reductions in carbon emissions is desirable. I also find it bizarre that libertarians can’t just admit that there is a need for air safety regulation. No one owns the air so you can’t have property rights in the air. Friedman knew that, Hayek knew that, contemporary libertarians like Matt Welch and John Stossel know it so there’s nothing horribly statist about admitting the facts there.

          • les kyle Nearhood

            The problem I have is one of trust. I simply do not trust the scientific community anymore. In my own lifetime I have witnessed several scares; Population bomb, silent spring, ozone hole, acid rain, the hot zone, the China syndrome, killer bees, dead bees, Y2K, etc.(I am sure I am forgetting some) and they all ended up being much less than advertised. I think there is a part of the enviromentalist movement which for whatever reasons are very alarmist.

            The big problem is that even if I agree that the trend is bad, there is nothing in the carbon tax scheme which will work. It will not result in lower emissions it will instead merely push more industrial production to the nations which will not agree with the scheme.

          • Sean II

            Very true. The proposed solutions don’t even pretend to scale to the causes described.

            Imagine you have a friend who smokes and you want to stop her getting lung cancer. So you hold an annual meeting of all friends and relatives where it is solemnly agreed that she will reduce her tobacco intake by 1.5 packs per year over the next 3 years, so that in year 4 she’s only smoking 360.5 packs instead of the usual 365 per year.

            I’m exaggerating a little, but only just.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Yeah, and meanwhile the Chinese consume an additional 3000000 packs a year, and their second-hand smoke overwhelms the effect of your friend’s reduction on her lungs.

          • Sean II

            Umm…wait, did we just craft an analogy that commits us to taking second-hand smoke seriously?

            Shit. That’s un-libertarian as hell. That’s what externalities do. They spawn on you and they swarm and then before you know it, you’re defending a medium security prison from an army of dead people.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN


          • matt b

            Man oh man it seems like everyone on here gets their science information from FOX News and Rush Limbaugh. Yes those were scares, baseless ones, supported by the loony environmentalist left but not the majority of scientists.

          • Sean II

            Check yo self, Matt B. That “Fox News and Limbaugh” remark was beneath you and frankly, well beneath standards for the board. Don’t make me be a jerk and point out that you’re certainly NOT getting your science information from primary sources, because none of us are.

            The whole rest of the politically active internet is given over to the reverse authority fallacy name wars: “I’ll see your MSNBC, Van Jones and George Soros, and raise you one Koch brother plus a retired Dick Cheney guest-appearing on FOX Business at Night. Whaddya got, sucka? Shit, a secret Hitler card! Why didn’t I play that first? Why would I ever play anything else?”

            This is just about the last place left on the whole wide web where that doesn’t happen. Let’s keep it that way…please.

            Returning to the point at hand: Please read my response to Theresa below, on the question of climate change and science.

            Let me put it this way: If BHL ever created a “best of comments” panel where we each got to submit three of our own comments for consideration, I’d submit that one twice.

          • matt b

            Man oh man, from the responses I received it seems like I implied that you guys get your science information from Stromfront or something. I don’t think FOX and Limbaugh are that bad. Hell, sometimes they rightly hit back against anti-science lunacy. But really I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out that many of the statements made sound exactly like what Hannity and Limbaugh have said for years where they point to various scares drummed up by the far left environmentalist movement and go “And a majority of scientists believed in those things too” when they never did. I don’t see pointing that out as a breach of the high standards of BHL which, I too, appreciate as a breath of fresh air in an increasingly vitriolic blogosphere where indignation, insults, and idiocy are rewarded so long as your batting for the right team.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Since you’re not a climatologist, perhaps you should be less forthcoming with sweeping, unsourced statements like: “The scientific consensus is pretty overwhelming in favor of the idea that climate change is happening, that humans are playing some sort of role, and that the impact is likely not to be so good.” There was a consensus that DDT was harmful, which is how it got legally banned, leading to many thousands of death from TB in the 3rd world []; ditto for the great scare about the pesticide alar (for apple infestation). I forgot ethanol, for which there was a consensus, and this explains why there is a federal legal mandate to use the dreadful stuff to this day. See also the consensi mentioned by les kyle.

          • matt b

            If I said “There is a scientific consensus that is overwhelming in favor of the idea that GM foods are safe” or something like that- which is also true- I don’t think you’d counsel against sweeping statements. And you’re just wrong on the facts here. You, like everyone who has commented on this entry, seem to get your environmental news from FOX News and Rush Limbaugh. There was no consensus that DDT was harmful. This was a view promoted by Rachel Carson and the environmentalist far left and not every last scientist by any means and yes I knew about it as every good libertarian does but unlike a lot of libertarians I’m not so consumed by confirmation bias that I adopt an a priori repudiation of all environmental regulation. And again on ethanol that was a political consensus, not a scientific one.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Well, of course it is easy to say “I am right on the facts…without again citing any evidence. And, fyi, the link I provided to regarding AGB was discussing an article in “The Economist” magazine, hardly FOX news. Did you even bother to read it?

          • matt b


            It wasn’t meant to be an insult, towards you or anybody else. It was an observation. For example, you claimed that ” There was a consensus that DDT was harmful, which is how it got legally banned, leading to many tens of thousands of death from malaria in the 3rd world” You also went on to say that there was a scientific consensus asserting that other things were harmful which turned out to be overblown. I simply asserted that while many activists and, yes, some scientists rang the alarm bell at 3 a.m. on those issues, there was no scientific consensus. The reason I said FOX and Limbaugh is that you often hear those sources claim that there was a consensus asserting that the majority of scientists believe X,Y,Z were harmful when no consensus existed. They do that because it makes it easier to dismiss concerns over climate change where the claims and evidence are much stronger and widespread. Now let be clear.
            (1) There is considerable uncertainty about how much humans contribute.
            (2) There is considerable uncertainty about the effects of the change in question
            (3) Gore type apocalyptic pronouncements and solutions are wildly overstated
            (4) Articles like the one you posted are good ones which remind us of the importance of never being too certain and being open to facts which seem out of step with previously accepted verities.
            (5) While all of the above is true, there are still good reasons to be concerned about climate change and libertarians sometimes dismiss the legitimacy of those concerns because of confirmation bias and a fear that admitting that markets cannot deal with every problems puts them in a car, nay high speed rail, on the road to serfdom.
            (6) I very much enjoy your contribution and I sorry if you felt insulted. It was not intended as such, not even intended to be particularly polemical.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I don’t find argument of the form “I am right on the facts because…I am right on the facts” very persuasive. I find equally unpersusive an argument of the form “I am right on the facts because you get your news from FOX (especially when your interlocutor has just cited a piece from “The Economist”). And if I continue to encounter them from anyone, I will simply ignore that person.

          • matt b


            Please allow me an additional opportunity to make myself clear. When I made the FOX News comment I was referring to the fact that some people were saying “Look there was a scientific consensus asserting this crazy thing that never happened was going to happen and ruin us all and it never did so…” and what I was saying is that, in those instances, there was not a majority of scientists, let alone a consensus, that predicted doom. The reason I identified that position with FOX is that it has falsely associated popular panics- overpopulation and so on and so forth- that were promoted by the enviro-extremist far left with most scientists in the context of discussing climate science. I certainly didn’t say that the Economist piece you sent was in this category. But, you know, it really is hard to prove that the majority of scientists didn’t lend credence to those panics since any negative statement is hard to prove but I would think you would agree that the burden of proof falls on those asserting that the majority- vast majority scientists were saying “Ah yes, these are huge problems.” Anyway, you seemed to interpret my response as an instance of intellectual bad manners that misrepresented you and or your position and that was not my intention.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, let’s both try in the future not to give the impression that we have some privileged access to “the facts.”

          • matt b

            Fair enough, in fact I would say that resorts to “the facts” has become a form of intellectual bullying. I’ve had leftists who think they’re really clever tell me “Oh yes libertarians, the only problem is you guys don’t believe in facts.”

          • ThaomasH

            Was the science linking DDT to specific environmental damage incorrect (and has since been corrected), or was the failure to properly value the advantages of DDT use? Was ANY attempt made to do a cost-benefit analyis of the alar ban? What scientific consensus backed an ethanol mandate? I do not see any of these as problems arising from a mistaken scientific consensus.

        • Sean II

          “It’s not anti-libertarian to believe that externalities must be addressed through state action.”

          Okay, but it is very libertarian to ask this question: given a post public choice understanding of how the state really operates, why should we suppose it’s very good at dealing with externalities?

          Doesn’t the record very clearly indicate this pattern:

          A) “Hey, look, an externality called Y! Better give us some power so we can deal with it.”

          B) “Gee, thanks! It happens by a funny coincidence that we found a couple other uses for that power you just gave us.”

          C) “Citizens, don’t be fooled by the appearance that we are in bed with the producers of Y. It’s just that the agency needs the unique skill set of former and future Y industry producing executives, that’s all.”

          D) “The Y initiative is in its 10th year. While it’s true that Y persists and is in some respects a more serious problem than ever, the cause is 1) insufficient power on the part of the regulators 2) continuing greed among business interests, and 3) a culture of material striving that makes people want too much, too soon.”

          How is that not the way the story usually goes?

          • matt b

            You raise some very good points. However, such an argument could be applied to anything. Should we have a military? Oh probably not because it can be used to have unjust wars. Should we have courts? No because they have been used to uphold aspects of state privilege backed arrangements. Should we have cops? No because that makes the drug war easier to enforce. I mean you can go down to the list and find problems with everything government does. However, just as the benefits of military, courts, and police exceed the costs in state cronyism, incompetence, and injustice, there is good reason to believe that some environmental regulation, despite the potential for capture, is worth it because the costs of runaway pollution really are severe. That’s why Milton Friedman thought it was legitimate for government to set emissions standards and why Mr. Declaration of Independents Matt Welch has championed California laws forcing smokestack operators to install a device which leads to less air pollution.

          • Sean II

            “However, such an argument could be applied to anything. Should we have a military? Oh probably not because…Should we have courts? No because…Should we have cops? No because…”

            Don’t worry. I’ll stop you when I disagree. So far, not necessary.

          • matt b

            Ah I didn’t know you were an anarchist, Sean. Okay so I picked more minarchist friendly examples. But you can think of lots of other examples of things that have risks and costs but where the benefits exceed them. Whether environmental regulation falls into that category is obviously an empirical question. I would just reiterate that support for environmental regulation is very much within the mainstream of the libertarian intellectual tradition with, I believe, even public choicers like James Buchanan supportive.

      • Sergio Méndez

        True. But then we can say the same of libertarians, especially of the more economic kind. When the talk is about global warming, suddenly science, numbers, empirical data and long term planning become irrelevant, or even worse, a matter of conspiracy. I think there are libertarian answers to ecological problems (and the State is a big part of that problem), but it also true that things like pollution pose a great problem to libertarians in some areas

        For example, I haven´t yet seen a libertarian answer to pollution caused by cars. Since the problem is the aggregate numbers of small polluters, individual car owners, the solution cannot spring from property rights defense (since small polluters individually don´t violate the rights of other people).

        • Sean II

          Why do you say “…even worse, a matter of conspiracy”?

          I don’t get the idea that calling something a “conspiracy theory” is supposed to be a decisive rebuttal of that thing. Conspiracies are a constant fact of life. The Iraq War and the PPACA are perfect examples of recent successful conspiracies. Both were hatched in the minds of a few hundred people, then foisted on hundreds of millions under cover of elaborate and deliberate deceptions. The WMD thing was not a misunderstanding. The lie that Obama was “battling” insurance firms which were in fact closely cooperating with him, was not an accidental illusion. There is a word that describes these things perfectly, but somehow I’m not supposed to use that word on penalty of being labeled a kook. I don’t get it.

          Just look at the “science” on marijuana over the years. There it is, walking like an empirical duck, quacking like an empirical duck, with charts and graphs and regression and impressive-sounding attempts to “control” for this or that, with scary conclusions about psychosis, brain damage, lung cancer, gateways, amotivational syndrome, etc…and yet we all know that it’s complete and utter crap, bought and paid for and loudly advertised by a government that even now refuses to admit it was wrong at any point along the way.

          What word do you use to describe a process like that, if not “conspiracy”?

          • Sergio Méndez

            I agree that calling something a conspiracy theory is a rebuttal of an argument. And I agree that conspiracies exist in the world and that some ought to be taken very seriously (I don´t think, anyways, the Iraq war is a good example of a conspiracy…the lies were so transparent that it does not qualify). In the case of global warming I think it is pretty absurd to talk about it order of a conspiracy…like hundreds of thousends of scientists in the world making part of a big conspiracy to expand the role of the state? And is not the first time libertarians get into insane conspiracy theories (as for example with the issue of central banking).

          • Sean II

            Global warming (or whatever they call it these days) isn’t suitable for the label of conspiracy in any traditional sense, mostly because it’s too big for that. But…it sure as hell is begging for suspicion about a possible conspiracy of incentives.

            If you’re a young scientist looking for a career path, you go where the grad school spots are. When you get there, you find a way to be interested in whatever your PI likes. And when it’s time to seek funding on your own, you make yourself agreeable to the grantors, of which by far the biggest is you know who.

            Now, if you don’t think any of that matters, then we are down to two possibilites:

            1) Libertarians (and economists, come to that) are wrong about the power of incentives, or

            2) Scientists represent a unique exception to the rule, because alone among categories of people, they are not susceptible to incentive-led behavior and they always follow the simple dictates of evidence and conscience.

            I submit that anyone who say “I’m just following the science” is implicitly endorsing 2), and I submit that 2) is ridiculous.

          • Sergio Méndez


            I don´t deny the issue of incentives. But then, it applies in both sides. Many libertarians have incentives too, to deny global warming in various levels:

            1) For pure ideological reasons, that I think, are more than discussed here.

            2) Cause many libertarians work as economists and are tied to organizations that have interests in denying global warming.

            3) For personal gain. Many libertarians (note that I say many, not all) have economic personal interests on denying global warming. and that goes regarding socio economic status. From more poor ones who see their lifestyle treatened by the consequences of policies regarding global wraming (for example, being forced to for the gas on their car or more taxes to sustain pro enviromental policies) to richer ones, who invest in companies or are big part of those companies who have a lot to lose if Global Warming happens to be tue.

          • Sean II

            I don’t deny that. My whole point in whatever comment I wrote first was to say: “Hey there global warming, you really are catnip to our enemies, and kryptonite to us.” So of course I acknowledge the problems posed to libertarians by the unlimited and unfalsifiable externality known as climate change.

            I think your 2) and 3) are basically the same point, which in principle I do not deny.

            I’d just like to remind you that there is far more money, power, and prestige on the climate change side than there has ever been on the skeptic side.

          • matt b

            Conspiracies have occurred and are occurring and it’s not Oliver Stone crazy to point that out. So right on for that. However, the relationship between health insurers and the Obama administration is more complicated than your post allows. From Forbes:

            “According to the National Journal’s Influence Alley, at the very same time the American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)—the health insurance industry super lobby—was cutting a deal with the White House leading to its stated support of the proposed Obamacare legislation, they were secretly funneling huge amounts money to the Chamber of Commerce to be spent on advertising designed to convince the public that the legislation should be defeated. How much money? A stunning $102.4 million spent over just 15 months.”

            And while I have mixed feelings on Iraq, conspiracy is not the right term. There was certainly overstatement and hyperbole on the part of the administration but the fact is that intelligence agencies from ours to Israel’s to China’s to Russia’s to Britain’s to France’s thought Hussein had WMD. Hell, his own generals did. And the idea that Hussein should be removed was widely shared. For example, the vast majority of Senators voted for the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 which made it U.S. policy to remove Hussein and this policy was supported by everybody from the WSJ to the NYT to John Kerry to John McCain. Now you can say warfare- welfare state alliance at it again. But even a number of libertarians were sympathetic to this goal and supported the war or at least thought it was not totally illegitimate.

      • ThaomasH

        I see you are consistent in questioning the motives of people you disagree with, here called “anti-libertarians.”

        • Sean II

          Damn right. The issue of motives is important, because it is motives that tend to turn up and yell “surprise” when we advance into the revealed preference phase of the game.

          If the climate change movement is, say, 30% sincere innocents, 20% bandwagon riders, 30% ex-communists & socialists, 10% sworn enemies of modernity, and 10% political opportunists and rent profiteers…that mix will ultimately determine the kind of policies and initiatives the movement favors.

          Just as in the other thread, you are putting forward the truly strange idea that I should presume good faith because its nice to do that and then judge the movement only by its best exemplars, because…why? You think it’s bad rhetorical strategy to call bullshit when I see it, and you think it’s your place to give me advice on rhetorical strategy for an idea you don’t even share?


          • ThaomasH

            I’m not sure which ideas we do not share. Mine is to reduce the long
            term damage being done by the increase in atmospheric CO2 in the lowest cost in dollars and freedom as possible. I don’t think that speculating that 30% of some “movement” are ex-communists and socialists is helpful in either promoting or refuting that idea.

          • Sean II

            The ideas we don’t share are as follows

            1) I’m not convinced of the “damage being done by atmospheric CO2”, but you evidently are.

            2) You propose to limit the cost in dollars and freedom by paying them up front. In opposition I note that government programs grow bigger and more menacing over time, so the sooner we start empowering them, the less limited will be the scope and the costs. I definitely don’t want anything to do with 2) until I’m satisfied about 1).

            3) You have some really weird beliefs about what is “helpful” in promoting ideas. I think ideas are the best way to promote ideas. You seem to think it’s better to encase them in some sort of courtly politeness. I think that’s bullshit.

            4) Finally, my 30% former communists and socialists…that’s not something I made up. Look at the green movement in Europe, and you’ll see that’s easily a conservative estimate. You think that fact doesn’t matter (and is somehow rude to point out). I think it is very important indeed.

          • ThaomasH

            Fine.  We differ on whether CO2 emissions are or will be harming anyone.  If there is none, there should definitely NOT be any public expenditure or regulation to discourage it.
            Apparently we also disagree about how to combat ideas with which we disagree.  I prefer to take them on directly without speculating about the motivation of the person who has the opposing idea.

          • Sean II

            “Apparently we also disagree about how to combat ideas with which we disagree.”

            Yep. When people are wholly or partly full of shit, I prefer to point that out. I guess your preference is to let them get away with it out of chivalry or something. Seems pretty ridiculous.

            “I prefer to take them on directly without speculating about the motivation of the person who has the opposing idea.”

            Again, just ridiculous. Sometimes “take them on directly” entails questioning the motives of other people…unless you categorically deny that human beings act from ulterior motives.

            You don’t mean to deny that, do you? And if not, then why do you favor a categorical rule against questioning motives?

            Am I supposed to just guilelessly concede that everyone really did believe there were WMDs in Iraq? That public school teachers really do care more about kids than anyone else? That porn producers don’t fight censorship to protect their income but instead because they’re worried about keeping Henry Miller on the shelves of the public library? That most lawyers supported the PPACA because, heck, they just call it like they see it and they saw that as wise policy?

            Wouldn’t you rather say “Sean, I think you’re wrong about this particular motive with this particular group” and leave it at that?

            You sure it makes sense to stake out a general position against motive questioning so drawn that no one could possibly follow it in real life?

          • ThaomasH

            Thanks. This is helpful.

            I agree with you that it is fair to point to self interest or other known source of potential bias which the person you are arguing with (and anyone listening) may not be aware of and which should take into account. I see it as somewhat different to question the evidence on the damage from CO2 accumulation brought by say an executive of a coal mining/green energy company [legit] and that brought by a “libertarian”/”anti-libertarians,” mutatis mutandis, [not legit.]

    • Have you seen Danny Shahar’s piece from the Independent Review?

    • Guest

      It will be time when we’re shown it’s actually anthropomorphic.

      • ThaomasH

        The effects that anthropogenic CO2 emissions have on climate is a scientific matter, so this is not the place to have that discussion.

  • HD

    I see that you considered Rothbard’s “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution,” which is only proper, but find that your omission of Rothbard’s case for Easement Rights as a solution for noise (and possibly light and radio wave) pollution to be disappointing. This is not to say Rothbardian-style libertarianism is correct, but that a proper response would need to consider the concept of easement rights.

  • I think there are two solutions to pollution problems. First, Coasian bargaining, and second some form of liability and compensation, possibly coupled with liability insurance.
    The second would probably violate an absoluteist NAP, but I don’t see why Coasian bargaining for pollution rights necessarily would. At least the potential to reach some sort of agreement means that you can’t say that “all pollution is impermissible”.

  • jdkolassa

    “But while Rothbard’s attempt to grapple with the issue of pollution in a
    principled way was admirable, he appears not to have grasped the full,
    radical implications of his own argument. If air pollution is aggression
    because it “sends unwanted and unbidden pollutants…into the lungs of
    innocent victims,” then could not the same be said about a vast range of
    non-industrial, purely personal activity? Don’t I emit unbidden
    pollutants into other people’s lungs whenever I drive my car to work? Or
    whenever the fire in my home or in my yard sends smoke, unbidden, into
    the air you breathe?”

    You neglected the best example: farting in an elevator.

    • les kyle Nearhood

      That view has already been accepted in the form of anti-smoking legislation

      • jdkolassa

        Good point.

    • Sean II

      If you improve the fart by joking about it, and the joke creates value, what kind of homesteading rights would you end up with?

  • martinbrock

    I reject various versions of the NAP for countless reasons, particularly when the object of “aggression” is not a person (as in a parcel of land) or is a person (as in a slave). I understand no sense of “aggression” in which threatening to harm someone for crossing a line around a parcel title “Martin’s property” is not aggressive. Maybe this aggression is useful and defensible, but don’t tell me it’s “not aggressive”, because the words only confuse me in this context.

    Some pollution can be confined to a limited area, and Rothbardian property can cope with pollution of this sort. Other pollution, like some forms of air pollution, challenge the assumptions of Rothbardian property.

    • jdkolassa

      Wait, “as in a slave”? You better explain that before people claim you’re an apologist for human slavery.

      • martinbrock

        I reject slavery in general, including the idea that someone can sell himself into perpetual slavery. Contracts exist only while the parties remain willing.

        The NAP usually asserts that one may not aggress against a person or his property, but this formulation raises a question without an obvious answer. What is property?

  • les kyle Nearhood

    I have no problem with the IDEA of a government policing pollution within it’s jurisdiction, what I have a problem with is that this is an area where extremists can easily cause a lot of damage, and where mission creep is a real problem. The truth is that the average person is not scientifically knowledgeable enough to determine the wisdom of many of these regulatory schemes, Actually neither are attorneys and judges. This gives power both to those in the corporate world and to the regulators as well because few are competent enough to question their reasoning’s.

  • Sean II

    At this point, sir, might’nt be easier just to list the absolutist moral principles that don’t suck?

  • Air pollution being cast as a violation of the NAP in its pure Rothbardian radical sense is still not a justification for State action in the matter. The NAP prescribes that certain actions are immoral. It does not tell us how to *deal* with actual violations of the NAP.

    Personally, I like Walter Block’s work on how free market environmentalism could work. I definitely believe there are some issues where the NAP gets fuzzy. Issues related to the rights of children and environmental pollution are the most obvious examples. (Rothbard’s terrible on children’s rights, in my opinion, but I still consider myself Rothbardian.)

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