Thursday, March 20, 2008

Free markets are good for the environment

Property rights are that-damned-important, and I'll never back down from promoting them as a goal of the highest order.

Sometimes "environmentalists" suggest - hey, "society" needs to preserve "the environment" and government needs to have environmental laws, regulations, statutes, departments and bureaucrats to protect trees, animals, fish, oceans and the air.

As Penn and Teller often say, I'm calling bullshit on that, and here's why:

Kenya banned the killing of elephants in 1979, effectively nationalising its herd. At around the same time, Rhodesia (as it still was) made elephants the property of those whose land they were on. The result? Thirty years on, Kenyan elephants have been all but wiped out, while Zimbabwe’s are as numerous as ever.
(hat tip: Samizdata)

Free markets revolve around property rights. Whats yours is yours, and nobody has a right to tell you what/how/where/when you can use your property.

Sounds simple, but why then do we meddle (regulate, tax, socialise and bureaucratize) with so much property, so much wealth, so much land, and people's most highly valued personal property such as their bodies, their speech and their relationships ?!?

If somebody owns something, they have an interest in it. If EVERYBODY owns something, then nobody has an interest in looking after it because nobody really owns it. A park and a public toilet are often used for the same things. Trains are used as big graffiti canvases.

Lets get something straight. Only misguided idiots still believe that free markets involve big greedy corporations buying the great barrier reef and dump toxic chemicals there.


Instead, people seek to acquire property rights over a resource not for "exploitation" or to despoil it. But an entrepreneur will take a risk and pay money out of their own pockets to maximise their own profits. The only way to do this, is to put that resource to its most profitable use under free markets. And when it comes to natural resources, forests, oceans .. if you own part of it, and you paid good money for it, why would you trash it and make it worthless ?

Why would you fish all the whales out of the ocean, cut down every tree standing in a forest, dump chemicals on a coral reef ? You will soon see, within weeks, that you have destroyed any future value that the resource would have once held.

We also saw the British versus the French practice of Oyster farming in the 19th century. The French had property rights and licensing for oyster farming. The British banned it and said that the oceans are the property of the state. Yet nobody owned the ocean, nobody protected it and made sure that they could enjoy future revenues and future oyster catches ! So the British have no oysters left, and the French do.

Capitalism is great for the environment (however you define it).