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Tragedy in the Commons, enviromentalism, market failures

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My question was more one of the proper role of govt in the area of negative externalities with regards to energy. More specifically, how does one account for pollution, carbon emissions etc (given these are things that are provably negative for everyone).

The question of how one accounts for pollution needs to be examined in the context of property rights. Here's a relevant quote from an article that's on point:

If a producer emits a substance, whether into the air, a body of water, or the ground, and those emissions cause health problems or cause damage to people’s property, then those emissions would be correctly characterized as pollution and the company as a polluter. The payments that the company would be forced to make should go, not to the government in the form of a tax or to other companies to buy permission to pollute, but to those in the community who have suffered from pollution.

http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/t...he-environment/

"The Environment" doesn't have rights, people have rights. Thus when someone violates those rights, it is the proper role of government to act in that context.

Edited by gags

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*** Mod's note: Merged topics. - sN ***

 

Typically, I believe in the tragedy of the commons. If we all own something instead of only one person owning it, we're more likely to mismanage or abuse that resource than if only one person owned it. I've heard it equated with a massive orange juice pitcher as opposed if we each had our own glass of orange juice. If we each have our own, we can drink it at our leisure. If we all own it, then we will try to drink as fast as possible since other people are drinking it.

 

However, if someone owns a lake and works in nuclear energy and there are no environmental regulations, what is to stop him from dumping radioactive waste into the lake, or into his 'share' of the ocean?

 

Another question: studies have shown that when houses are in poor condition, housing around it also lose value. Should there be laws passed requiring owners of houses to upkeep their quality?

Edited by softwareNerd
Merged topics

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However, if someone owns a lake and works in nuclear energy and there are no environmental regulations, what is to stop him from dumping radioactive waste into the lake, or into his 'share' of the ocean?

If I understand the question correctly, it is that what happens under an Objectivist or free market law code if someone owns a lake or a part of the ocean and dumps pollution into it? This doesn't seem to make sense at first, because the question is usually about what happens if someone pollutes or dumps on someone else's property, in which case there is a clear violation of property rights.

But this question specifically mentions that the hypothetical polluter owns the polluted property in question. But where is the victim? There must, under objective law, be a victim and an aggressor to constitute an actual crime or tort. So if there is a victim, let's say the guy's lake feeds into some other guy's river, or some guy's ocean property leaks pollution onto some other guy's ocean property, then we are simply back to the typical version of the question in which case there is a clear violation of property rights.

See the great paper Rothbard Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution

also Block Environmentalism and Economic Freedom

Another question: studies have shown that when houses are in poor condition, housing around it also lose value. Should there be laws passed requiring owners of houses to upkeep their quality?

No, because you don't own the value of your house, only the house itself.

See Block and Hoppe On Property and Exploitation

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See the great paper Rothbard Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution

I've always been interested in this topic. How do you define property rights of an item that can't be contained or parcelled out, like air.

I'll have to take a crack at that article when I get home, can't really get through all of it now. My view, however, has generally been that air pollution is a violation of property rights. Here's a simple argument for it:

1) Everything has an owner, or has the ability to be claimed and owned.

2) Air dispersion in the atmosphere cannot be contained, therefore it is impossible to "divvy up" air, or conquer it, or buy it or whatever.

3) Therefore Air exists as a property owned as a mutual trust.

4) Therefore by damaging air quality you damage the property of those engaged in the mutual trust

I mean, it's pretty straightforward that air pollution is a property rights violation. When I breathe I make a withdrawal from the mutual trust. When someone pollutes the air they damage the withrdawals of all participants in the trust.

Now, it's unrealistic to think that you can just stop air pollution, so the trick is some kind of renumeration that is used to restore air quality (how?) or is simply paid out to the breathers.

This may seem a bit far fetched, but its a lot less ridiculous that the current mentality on air pollution that dispersion actually removes it from the system, which I can tell you it absolutely does not, or even more ridiculous the concept that atmospheric air doesn't belong to anyone, thereby implying it has no significant value. And heck it is not that hard to add scrubbers on most air pollution streams.

Edited by emorris1000

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Typically, I believe in the tragedy of the commons. If we all own something instead of only one person owning it, we're more likely to mismanage or abuse that resource than if only one person owned it. I've heard it equated with a massive orange juice pitcher as opposed if we each had our own glass of orange juice. If we each have our own, we can drink it at our leisure. If we all own it, then we will try to drink as fast as possible since other people are drinking it.

If you all share the same orange pitcher then there's going to be one guy who drinks everyone elses orange juice, and beacuse he's the biggest there's nothing you can do about it.

However, if someone owns a lake and works in nuclear energy and there are no environmental regulations, what is to stop him from dumping radioactive waste into the lake, or into his 'share' of the ocean?

Well if he owns the lake there is no problem. He can do what he wants with the lake, he doesn't own it for other peoples enjoyment he probably bought it to dump in it infact.

Another question: studies have shown that when houses are in poor condition, housing around it also lose value. Should there be laws passed requiring owners of houses to upkeep their quality?

No is the simple answer. You do not own any of the houses around it and therefore have no right to change them. If you try to keep the house price up in any other way then you are merely attacking the free market. They are not directly reducing the price of you're house but changing the area it is situated in, it is then up to the buyer on how much he spends. Like I said on another thread it's like abandoning a skyscraper to preserve the view.

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1) Everything has an owner, or has the ability to be claimed and owned.

2) Air dispersion in the atmosphere cannot be contained, therefore it is impossible to "divvy up" air, or conquer it, or buy it or whatever.

3) Therefore Air exists as a property owned as a mutual trust.

4) Therefore by damaging air quality you damage the property of those engaged in the mutual trust

It may actually make sense to associate a certain volume of air with, say, a property in order to avoid some of these issues. Leaving the specifics aside for the moment, then you could have a clear property-rights based argument that if someone is blowing toxic smoke through your property they are violating your property rights.

I don't think it makes any difference that air molecules move around quite a bit; so do many other things and we don't claim that we own particular water molecules that at one time exist in your lake (you own the water that is currently present in the lake), nor do you own all deer that ever passed over your land (you could argue you own them when they're on your land, though).

It would definitely make the situation a lot more straightforward if you owned the, say, 200 feet of airspace above your land. I don't think you'd want it too high to be a nuisance to air traffic or anything like that, but that should give a wide enough range that your property rights cover any air you conceivably come into contact with.

That still doesn't mean it's easy to prove pollution, but that's a difficult problem in any case.

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*** Mod's note: Merged topics  "FISHING AND PROPERTY. - sN ***

Fishing is the prime example of the tragedy of commons. Since nobody owns the Ocean nobody abides by the regulations governments set for fishing thus destroying their own bread and butter in the long run. Obviously fish in the Ocean do not respect property rights, but is there no better way to conserve the amount of fish in the water than to regulate how much fishing boats can fish?

Edited by softwareNerd
Merged topics

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This very question has been in the news recently.  Rivers and lakes entirely within a single jurisdiction can declare these bodies (or the fishing rights thereto) to be private property, perhaps auctioning off the rights or perhaps recognizing the rights of people who've already been fishing commercially.  This is harder to do with international waters.  Nations have signed treaties regarding undersea mineral rights and the uses of Antarctica, so I don't see why they couldn't accomplish something similar here.

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Fishing is the prime example of the tragedy of commons. Since nobody owns the Ocean nobody abides by the regulations governments set for fishing thus destroying their own bread and butter in the long run. Obviously fish in the Ocean do not respect property rights, but is there no better way to conserve the amount of fish in the water than to regulate how much fishing boats can fish?

Property rights are a right to action. The wild fish may not be property (no one has an exclusive right to exploit them, the way one has an exclusive right to one's property), but the freedom to fish in the ocean is in fact a right. However, that fact has a second logical consequence: the protection of that right is a government's prerogative.

 

So, the government must:

 

1. allow the freedom to fish in the ocean;

2. protect the right of the people who fish in that ocean to administer the resource as they see fit;

 

Nr. 2 means creating the legal framework for private associations of fishermen to be formed, to regulate the fishing activities in given areas. The legal frameworks should ensure a few things:

 

1. the associations are governed similarly to corporations, meaning fishermen (and fishing companies) have a weighted vote on an objective basis (boat capacity, boat personnel, that kind of thing). 

2. the associations are open to join, if one has the equipment and manpower required to fish.

3. unlike with a corporation, the rules must apply equally to everyone;

4. people who aren't doing the ones doing the productive activity meant to be regulated don't get a say. The stakeholders are the people/companies who own all the fishing equipment.  That's it. Not unions, and certainly not environmentalists.

 

While individual fishermen don't have an exclusive right to fish in the ocean, these associations (which are open for anyone willing to invest the necessary amount, to be able to fish, to join) should have that exclusive right. They of course could still not be called property owners, because an organization like this would in fact still be a non-profit, and function more like a mini-government by and for fishermen (Note that I said by and for fishermen, not by the people for fishermen: there's a huge difference - non-fishermen have ZERO right to regulate fishing. NONE. Such a right has no moral basis, it is just as abusive as any other illegitimate law.)

Edited by Nicky

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#4 outlines ways in which people could go about estabishing property rights for fishing waters, but it doesn't address the extra layer of compication that arises on the open seas, where you don't have a single government to codify this.  I suppose nations could use treaties, but then you'd have specify what to do when people from nations outside the treaty decide to fish in waters which the treaty covers.

 

In any event I don't see how you could justify excluding nonfishermen from rulemaking.  An enterprise as large as this would need outside capital from lenders or shareholders (as in fact it does today); the rule you propose would in effect outlaw such investment.

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Divide the oceans into specialized use plots and sell them. Fishing companies would find it in their best interests to preserve the value of their investments.

 

How would one divide the High Seas into private plots?  The Seas have to be open to navigation.  Since the Seas are not the creation of any human, they  are not to be claimed for exclusive use and occupation by anyone. This is not true of river or coastal areas which are dredged and cleared. Their usefulness is maintained by capital investment and labor (dredging is not as easy occupation).  And there is the matter of enforcement.  How does one divide the Seas into plots that can be enclosed by a barrier or even guarded?

 

ruveyn1

Edited by ruveyn1

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#4 outlines ways in which people could go about estabishing property rights for fishing waters, but it doesn't address the extra layer of compication that arises on the open seas, where you don't have a single government to codify this.  I suppose nations could use treaties, but then you'd have specify what to do when people from nations outside the treaty decide to fish in waters which the treaty covers.

In any event I don't see how you could justify excluding nonfishermen from rulemaking.  An enterprise as large as this would need outside capital from lenders or shareholders (as in fact it does today); the rule you propose would in effect outlaw such investment.

No, it wouldn't. You're misinterpreting what I wrote. I thought I was pretty clear that I don't literally mean "fishermen", I mean all legal persons directly invested in the activity of fishing.

 

As far as your first objection, yes, nations surrounding a particular region would have to get on board. It's possible that some wouldn't. It's even possible that it would prove impossible to use sanctions to bring them on board. That would be a problem. But that is not the problem we're faced with today. We're faced with the opposite problem, of nations getting together and abusing their power in the name of environmentalism, not with nations not doing enough to cooperate in protecting the resource that is the ocean.

 

I don't really see a scenario where a nation would be able to ignore a treaty and deplete a region of fish, happening. 

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