Free Market Solutions
Part 1: The Environment
The environment has been a recent excuse of worry in past and recent years. Everywhere you turn there is at least one person mentioning pollution, the massive cutting of trees, the overhunting of animals, or overfishing. In today’s rates this is indeed a matter of concern. However, whether we need government intervention to solve these problems is something absolutely debatable.
Usually people are made to believe that, “throughout the history of pollution, greedy factory owners didn’t care about the health or property of others. The owners chose to pollute because this gained them the highest profit and the law allowed them to do so. Then, in the 1970’s the government passed the Clean Air Act due to air pollution.” While we own our lawn, we do not own the air. Therefore, it is basically said that in order to deal with polluted air entering your property we need government intervention.
The real history of the United States tells us that in the early decades of the 19th century, the law stated that if someone was polluting and damaging neighboring homes or businesses, they would be enjoined by the court. Before the case took place and was analyzed, the court would tell factory owners to stop polluting. This was a more libertarian view, for it protected property rights. Nevertheless, in the 1840s and 1850s the law shifted and so did court reasoning. This is when the “common good” argument arose.
This argument declared economic prosperity was an important objective to achieve for the common good. If industrialization and polluting factories were the cost of achieving economic power, then no one could oppose them by enforcing their health or property rights. The government allowed pollution to take place in the midst of seeking economic power and in the 1970s it pretended to discover pollution once more. The increase in the wealth of the nation became more important than the health of its citizens.
Before the shift in the law, the position of the court was strict liability, which established pollution as a form of invasion that violated human property rights. This position caused factory owners to act in socially responsible ways. They voluntarily (not forced) began to use clean burning anthracite coal instead of the cheaper and dirtier type with sulfur. They also chose to install scrubbers and use various ways of pollution diminution. The court’s position took factory owners to research for new ways of keeping pollution to their selves and use better smoke prevention devices. It also increased the tendency to build factories away from populated areas and environmental forensics was in the process of being developed.
Now, did this prohibition to pollute include the tiniest amount of it? Well, think about it, if you are deaf and a little kid is screaming you will not hear the noise, thus, the noise, even though it is there, doesn’t affect you and you can easily allow it. This also applies to pollution. There can be pollution, but only in the tiniest amount where it doesn’t alter you in any way and allows you to live as if it weren’t there. This is also known as the deminimis principle, where something exists, but not enough to damage you in any way at all.
Some noise can be really annoying and even considered as pollution for it damages your health or violates your property by penetrating it. Like an airport for example, they are making noise all the time and might not let you sleep peacefully. Gratefully, we have the right of homesteading an easement in the libertarian view of politics. You can’t sue an airport for its noise because they got to that area first and mixed their labor with it or homesteaded an easement. However, if you got there first and the airport built next to your home, you are the one who has the right. Therefore, they would have to compensate you for the noise or you would have to come to a satisfactory arrangement about it. You have the right to protect your property.
“But, how about when no one owns a property or at least there exists no clear owner?” That is a good question. When there is no owner of a property or a definite one, we will have something known as the tragedy of the commons. Let me put it to you this way, if there was an ownerless forest with a lake, animal diversity, gold, and so on, people would have an incentive to enter that forest and utterly waste its resources in the blink of an eye. Since there are no property rights for that forest, you cannot stop people from doing what they want with it. No one will see and try to protect the long-term capital value of the place.
A miner, for example, will have no reason to not undermine. Imagine a bunch of miners going into that forest, they take all the gold, and none is left for the future, there will be no long-term capital value. If one of the miners says, “ok I won’t mine all the gold, I’m going to leave some out there for the future.” someone else will just come and take everything that he or she didn’t take. No one owns the forest; hence, they can’t be stopped.
When you are offered something for free, you will want to get as much as you can from it. Like little kids offered free ice cream. They will try to chug in all the ice cream they can and not think about leaving some for the future. Whatever ice cream is left behind by one smart kid thinking of the future, will be eaten by another kid. It is free, no one owns it, and you cannot stop them. “Yes, but we are not kids, we are adults.” Well, it is the same thing, offer free gasoline and see what happens.
If you own a property, you have the rights to exercise control and dominion over it. If you own a forest, you can establish a boundary that only permits certain people hunt a certain amount of animals, mine for gold, chop down trees, spend time around the lake, etc. You can even charge people to enter your property. Therefore, the resources of the forest would not be wasted at all and you would be able to preserve the long-term value of the resources without the fear of having someone else taking them away or misusing them. It is your private property and you have the right to protect it. Capitalism or the free market allows you to protect your property; it supports the protection of it, as a matter of fact.
What has the government solved? Well, it has about 14,000 animal species on the endangered list, and it has only rescued six. Is the free market a terrible thing? No, it has property rights and you can diminish the opportunities others have to waste resources when someone owns a property. It is like owning yourself. You own you; you have a will no one can touch, unless you voluntarily allow them to touch it. When you own yourself, you have rights to protect or defend yourself from any assault, control, robbery, or manipulation you might receive from others. No one can trespass the boundary of your being, the decisions you make, and the consequences you receive out of them. The same is true when you own a property, it is yours and no one can touch it, unless you allow them to do so.
You see, there is no such thing as public property, because the things that taxpayers pay for the government to do are not owned by the taxpayers, but by the people temporarily holding office. It is free stuff given to these persons. If something is temporarily freely owned for about five years, you will want to exploit it to its maximum in that period of time and not even take into account its long-term capital value. The government cannot do anything profitable with what you give to them for the people temporarily holding office will waste it as fast as they can.
In the 1980s and 1990s there was a huge debate on the pros and cons of using paper or plastic. What was and has continued to be pointed out is that plastic is harmful for the environment. Assuming plastic is really that horrible, it is said that when buried underground in dumpsites or just thrown out wherever in urban or rural areas, it can cause poisoning and deliver diseases. It might harm the water and poison it or pollute the plants and ultimately the air. The free market can perfectly deal with this problem.
Today, the government owns garbage trucks and dumpsites. While that service tends to be taken as free and for the public, it is really taxpayers who are providing it and government officials who are temporarily owning it. However, if we gave the charge of that service to a private owner, a few good things would happen. First, if the plastic buried or burnt in his or her dumpsite polluted the air, water, and the overall environment affecting the private properties around it, he or she could be sued. Second, the owner of the dumpsite would now have to compensate his neighbors economically for the damages his property caused. Third, this would take the owner of the garbage disposal service to charge greater fees for throwing out trash, specifically plastic. Finally, garbage disposal would cost the benefiters of such service a bit more to use it. This would lead them to have an incentive of avoiding the use of plastic materials for they would now know the cost of the pollution this material supposedly provokes.
In conclusion, the environmental problems we have to today, exist because the government practically supported them in the first place. The solutions they have proposed have not solved anything and they say that the free market is a very horrible system when they have not even tried it. As much as we want pollution to halt we cannot do much about it because economic prosperity is still part of the government’s agenda and if you dare to do something against that you will be punished. Actually, the government is more focused in taxing us, than in protecting the environment. Seriously, do want the government to continue intervening?