Small government and environmentalism

November 30, 2007

Here’s a Reason link to Dr Paul on the environment. The important section:

When all forms of physical trespass, be that smoke, particulate matter, etc., are legally recognized for what they are — a physical trespass upon the property and rights of another — concerns about difficulty in suing the offending party will be largely diminished. When any such cases are known to be slam-dunk wins for the person whose property is being polluted, those doing the polluting will no longer persist in doing so. Against a backdrop of property rights actually enforced, contingency and class-action cases are additional legal mechanisms that resolve this concern.
To the extent property rights are strictly enforced against those who would pollute the land or air of another, the costs of any environmental harm associated with an energy source would be imposed upon the producer of that energy source, and, in so
doing, the cheap sources that pollute are not so cheap anymore.

My understanding of Rothbardian law policy in this area is that rights to pollute exist and can be bought and sold. So, while it’s true that at one time people whose physical property rights were invaded by pollution would have had legal remedy against the polluter, the case that current property owners have recourse would be much murkier from a Rothbardian perspective.

For example, suppose A lives next to a plant that starts polluting. At this time the government prohibits A from seeking redress through the courts. Consequently the value of A’s property falls from $100 to $80. Then say that B buys A’s property at this new value of $80. My understanding of Rothbardian law would suggest that B has no recourse against the plant. Instead the plant now, effectively has a right to pollute. The government screwed up, but there is no good way to rectify the screw up from a Rothbardian perspective that I can see.

Reader recommendations

November 30, 2007


Loan modification

November 30, 2007

Here is an Economist article on the subject. The problem as I see it is that mortgages, once originated, are sliced and diced in so many ways that someone will be made worse off if the government shoe-horns everyone into specific types of modifications. Most proposals also waive refinancing fees. Some investors have bought rights to these contractual refinancing fees. So, the government action will make certain investors worse off. Two groups that come to mind immediately, are purchases of origination fees and investors in the highest priority tranches of securitizations, who may consequently be repaid at a faster or slower rate than they were expecting. If the government initiates a program of loan modification, it seems to me it would have to compensate the holders of these securities for the takings.

The perils of robot warriors

November 30, 2007


"Hulls in the water"

November 30, 2007

I forgot to link to the Robert D. Kaplan piece in The Atlantic after I read it.

Barbarism and civilization

November 30, 2007

Mr Goldberg brings up the following quote:

“It is in the nature of civilization that it must be in constant conflict with barbarism. Very few empires have been the result of a deliberate ambition. They have grown, inevitably, because it has been found necessary to expand in order to preserve what is already held. The French had to annex Algiers because it was the only way in which the Mediterranean could be made safe from pirates. Empire moves in a series of ‘incidents,’ and these ‘incidents’ mean that it is impossible for a country to live in isolation. Barbarism means constant provocation.”

From “We Can Applaud Italy” (1935), in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh.

I don’t consider myself an “acolyte” for anyone, including Dr Paul, but here’s my response.

First, I agree wholeheartedly that civilization is an unstable equilibrium, and therefore its defenders must constantly fight off the forces of barbarism.

But, my reading on the downfall of civilizations leads me to believe that they fall not becuase they fail to keep fighting the good fight. Instead they fall through internal rot and decay, which in the end leaves them with nothing to fight for.

Moreover, I disagree that civilization necessarily needs to expand to be preserved. If ancient Rome had stayed within Augustus’s prescribed boundaries, it may have lasted a lot longer. Even to use Ms Waugh’s example, how well did that Algiers thing go for the French?

Finally, the act of defending one’s country from barbarism is a very different act than that of remaking an entire society through the use of force. Dr Paul takes a very pacifist approach that would be hard to defend against a policy of limited attacks that serve to minimize the threat posed by hostile barbaric regimes. However, defending his approach against a policy that says we need to turn any barbaric country that threatens us into a peaceful, stable and democratic society that respects western notions of private property and the rule of law is a lot easier.

Marriage freedom

November 30, 2007

Professor Tabarrok:

It’s no accident that the state began restricting and intervening in the marriage contract at the same time as it was restricting and intervening in economic contracts. . . .

I think it’s time to restore freedom of contract to marriage. Why should two men, for example, be denied the same rights to contract as are allowed to a man and a woman? Far from ending civilization the extension of the bourgeoisie concept of contract ever further is the epitome of civilization [emphasis mine]. . . .

The purpose of contract law is to give individual’s greater control over their lives [and therefore give government less control]. To make contract law a restraint on how people may govern themselves is a perversion of the social contract. To restrict people from accessing the tools of civilization on the basis of their sexual preference is baseless discrimination.

It is time to restore freedom of contract to marriage, Laissez-faire for all capitalist acts between consenting adults!

Agreed! More broadly, I’ve always been uncomfortable with divisions of rights into social and economic spheres. Similarly, some have complained that Mr Huckabee’s “conservatism” intrudes into both the bedroom and the wallet – as if for conservatives it’s ok to intrude into one and not the other (with the opposite set of intrusions and non-intrusions ok for liberals).

My problems with this are twofold. First, I see no logicially consistent way to differentiate meaningfully between economic shperes and social spheres of life. Much social pateralism is conducted via the tax code. Is a tax break for kids a social or economic act?

Second, I see no way of justifying social intrusions into private lives that does not also justify economic intrusions, and vice versa (this point may just be a logical corollary of the first).

(The New York Times article on the history of marriage that Prof Tabarrok links to is worth a read)