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Author Topic: Seriously, though, how would a libertarian society address global warming?  (Read 27416 times)
Vitalik Buterin
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December 19, 2011, 11:14:59 PM
 #461

Alright, let me try a completely different take on this.

I'm assuming that by libertarianism we mean anarcho-capitalism, since a minarchist libertarian society can still justly enforce carbon taxes and the like as CO2 emissions are a form of harm/aggression against others.

Just a few weeks ago, the governments of the world managed to make significant progress toward addressing the climate change issue in Durban, laying the foundations for a cap-and-trade agreement to be made in 2015 and to take effect in 2020, potentially including commitments by the US, China and India. Now, international law respects the sovereignty of nations, so theoretically any country could pull out and keep polluting, and setting up the treaty to shut down if any party reneges on its agreements, while a valid strategy for bilateral agreements, would not be viable in this case. So what would be in place to dissuade polluters? Economic sanctions - essentially everyone would put tariffs on their goods. With that penalty in place, it's in everyone's interest not to pollute.

But why would anyone put tariffs on goods? It's well known that tariffs introduce economic inefficiency and ultimately hurt more than they help due to deadweight loss, so why would anyone take the hit for themselves to punish others? Two factors are at play. First, the specific mechanism of a tariff has the very attractive property that the disincentive to trade with the cheater scales linearly with the tariff (by definition) but the deadweight loss scales with the square (since with a 10% tariff everyone with less than a 10% profit margin has to stop trading, losing out on approximately 5% profit, but with a 20% tariff everyone with less than a 20% profit margin (about twice as many people) has to stop trading, losing out on approximately 10% profit - see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadweight_loss and notice how the harm is in the form of a triangle), so it's worth it for large players like the US to impose reasonably small tariffs that carry a medium amount of push at very low cost. Second, tariffs can be enforced recursively - if anyone refuses to implement punitive tariffs, the WTO might decide to implement a punitive tariff against them, and everyone would be similarly pushed to implement that punishment as well.

So how would all this translate into a libertarian society? All that the previous explanation required is the existence of powerful market players that are motivated by a large number of people's welfare and that has control over a powerful economic output. The lever of control does not have to be a tariff - taking a model of a country as an atomic unit (stay with me here for just one second libertarians, I know why that perspective is so philosophically wrong, but it's useful here), a tariff is really a country stealing from itself and cutting down on a certain one of its actions. A person or institution can, instead of a tariff, implement a partial boycott. To illustrate the principle, an business might reduce its electricity consumption by 10%, cutting out only that portion of its usage that provides only a small marginal benefit over not using electricity (eg. turning off the lights when it's not too inconvenient) but still pushing down his demand for electricity by a considerable amount. But organizations enacting such measures do not have to be governments with monopolies over large land areas. Possibilities include:

* A corporation, choosing to support voluntary pro-climate moves as a side benefit to its customers and workers
* A cooperative democratically voting to support such measures
* A voluntary mutual aid society
* A health or home insurance company seeing an interest in reducing how much it will have to pay to deal with the diseases that global warming helps spread or hurricane activity

Such large groups would agree on a treaty to reduce their emitting activities, and also reduce their use of products from businesses outside of the treaty. With large companies being more willing to work with pro-environmental players, a degree of enforced environmentalism trickles down into medium sized businesses and groups and even small businesses as well.

And so far all this assumes purely materialistic self-interested agents. Once you add social peer pressure, environmentalists who actively desire seeing the earth not being polluted just as strongly as we desire our homes not having dirt all over the place, and other psychological factors the scale tips even further.

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bithobo
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December 20, 2011, 02:00:44 PM
 #462

You know what? Screw global warming for now. How would a libertarian society handle the current level of water poisoning? Fish are dying out, more and more beaches fill with algae, rivers are full of waste (from detergents to artificial manure) etc. None of these things visibly influence businesses that make the mess. How free should this market stay?

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December 20, 2011, 02:29:48 PM
 #463

You know what? Screw global warming for now. How would a libertarian society handle the current level of water poisoning? Fish are dying out, more and more beaches fill with algae, rivers are full of waste (from detergents to artificial manure) etc. None of these things visibly influence businesses that make the mess. How free should this market stay?

the minority of people that care about the environment rather than getting stuff for the cheapest price possible will buy from the mythical non-polluting company and magically, other companies will spend unprofitable amounts of money to cater to that tiny minority rather than spending smaller amounts on look-good measures and advertising or simply continuing as before.

or perhaps the non-existent owners of the damaged land are supposed to sue the polluting company.
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December 20, 2011, 06:19:47 PM
 #464

Fish are dying out, more and more beaches fill with algae, rivers are full of waste (from detergents to artificial manure) etc

First, support this claim.  I have no incentive to respond to this based upon your assumptions.

"The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank...sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world."

- Carroll Quigley, CFR member, mentor to Bill Clinton, from 'Tragedy And Hope'
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December 20, 2011, 07:09:04 PM
 #465

You know what? Screw global warming for now. How would a libertarian society handle the current level of water poisoning? Fish are dying out, more and more beaches fill with algae, rivers are full of waste (from detergents to artificial manure) etc. None of these things visibly influence businesses that make the mess. How free should this market stay?
I don't think anybody has any idea how a libertarian society would handle it. But that's the point. But that's the beauty of solutions that don't involve central planning -- they work even when nobody has any idea how to solve the problem.

Imagine if our entire food distribution system was run by the government. It would likely do the mediocre job that's typical of governments. The system would be running multibillion dollar deficits each year. There would be occasional serious shortages, long lines, poor selection, and so on. Now suppose I proposed a simple solution, let anyone who wants to sell any food they want to any place they want to for any price they want to.

You would get the exact same kinds of responses. What would ensure that anyone actually sold any food? Who would make sure Denver had beans? What would stop people from just selling the most profitable foods and driving the government food distribution into deeper deficits during the transition?

Before you set up such a system, nobody could tell you that the answer included a national chain of stores that sell a $4 cup of coffee. Nobody could predict, or even propose, Costco or McDonald's.

You can't even guess what the solutions might be until you have a system that allows people to test solutions and rewards the good ones and punishes the bad ones. So, I admit it, I have no idea how a Libertarian society would deal with pollution. I have a few guesses, but I'm pretty sure they're wrong. It's hard to imagine it could be any worse than a society where the government just permits people to pollute.

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December 20, 2011, 07:27:02 PM
 #466

First, support this claim.  I have no incentive to respond to this based upon your assumptions.

I'm to lazy to search for a freely available document concerning every claim i made Cheesy but this might be more then enough:
http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=391&catid=10&subcatid=66
This is what an unregulated market looks like. As much as I'd love for people to be free to reap all the benefits of their hard work, I really don't want to live surrounded by red poison or feed my grandkids with suspicious algae

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bithobo
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December 20, 2011, 07:28:41 PM
 #467

Imagine if our entire food distribution system was run by the government.

My country lived in communism for 50 years, so I know perfectly well what that looks like (spoiler: it sucks)

I'm just questioning the opposite extreme because I like questioning Smiley

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JoelKatz
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December 20, 2011, 11:03:25 PM
 #468

I'm just questioning the opposite extreme because I like questioning Smiley
Then the short answer is that nobody knows. Markets create the information needed to solve problems. Without that information, the solutions are unimaginable. Nobody alive today has anything more than a guess as to how a Libertarian society would deal with problems like global warming or water pollution. The trick is simply to create the right incentives and then let people respond to them.

What's interesting is that the criticisms of Libertarianism has tended to move from the things existing governments do well to the things existing governments do very, very badly. If your only issue with Libertarianism is that it it might not do a great job on things existing governments royally screw up anyway, you should probably become a Libertarian.

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December 21, 2011, 01:31:44 AM
 #469

You know what? Screw global warming for now. How would a libertarian society handle the current level of water poisoning? Fish are dying out, more and more beaches fill with algae, rivers are full of waste (from detergents to artificial manure) etc. None of these things visibly influence businesses that make the mess. How free should this market stay?

The standard answer is if the river is owned, then the owner(s) of the river will have the right incentives to keep it unpolluted.  See, for example: http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj1n2-6.html

If you care about clean rivers, then buy them (or donate money to an organization that buys them; the Nature Conservancy is one of my favorite charities).

It is the Chinese government's river, not the free market's, why are they tolerating all the pollution?

Global Warming and air pollution is a stickier problem because nobody owns the climate or the air we breathe, and nobody CAN own them. Personally, I think we do actually need good government for some things, which is why I describe myself as "mostly libertarian".

And if I were King, I think I'd implement the Cato Institute's suggestion and give all of our National Parks and public wilderness to private environmental organizations to take care of (or sell, if they decided they could put the money to better use for something else).

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December 21, 2011, 03:35:47 AM
 #470

Global Warming and air pollution is a stickier problem because nobody owns the climate or the air we breathe, and nobody CAN own them. Personally, I think we do actually need good government for some things, which is why I describe myself as "mostly libertarian".
One commonly proposed Libertarian solution to the problem of things that cannot be owned (such as climate and air) is to use the legal system. Essentially, you would create a cause of action for harming an unowned resource. So people who harm the climate or pollute the air could be sued. In other words, there's really nothing un-Libertarian about government protecting resources that cannot be owned.

I believe this is the majority Libertarian view. There are some Libertarians who believe that if it cannot be owned, anyone is free to trash it as they please.

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December 21, 2011, 06:52:39 AM
 #471

One commonly proposed Libertarian solution to the problem of things that cannot be owned (such as climate and air) is to use the legal system.

That kinda sounds like the current society Cheesy

The standard answer is if the river is owned, then the owner(s) of the river will have the right incentives to keep it unpolluted.  See, for example: http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj1n2-6.html

I'm guessing that in libertarian utopia, everyone would be equal in the eyes of the law and not the people with more expensive lawyers... That sounds even less libertarian then the current society Cheesy

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December 21, 2011, 07:49:35 AM
 #472

One commonly proposed Libertarian solution to the problem of things that cannot be owned (such as climate and air) is to use the legal system.

That kinda sounds like the current society Cheesy

The standard answer is if the river is owned, then the owner(s) of the river will have the right incentives to keep it unpolluted.  See, for example: http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj1n2-6.html

I'm guessing that in libertarian utopia, everyone would be equal in the eyes of the law and not the people with more expensive lawyers... That sounds even less libertarian then the current society Cheesy

You have things backwards.

"The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank...sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world."

- Carroll Quigley, CFR member, mentor to Bill Clinton, from 'Tragedy And Hope'
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December 21, 2011, 08:51:22 AM
 #473

probably, but I'm not really sure how

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December 21, 2011, 03:15:14 PM
 #474

I'm guessing that in libertarian utopia, everyone would be equal in the eyes of the law and not the people with more expensive lawyers... That sounds even less libertarian then the current society Cheesy
Libertarians shouldn't promise a utopia, and generally they don't. The problem of creating a legal system that's fair to people regardless of wealth is pretty much the same in a Libertarian society as it is in any other society. Most Libertarians accept that taxation will be needed to fund the legal system.

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December 21, 2011, 07:03:49 PM
 #475

The problem of creating a legal system that's fair to people regardless of wealth is pretty much the same in a Libertarian society as it is in any other society.

Aaaand we have an answer to the question in the thread title. Thank you Smiley

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December 25, 2011, 11:17:11 PM
 #476

Get a serious carbon credits certificate for free from the link below and feel better.

  
      
If you still feel guilty of exhaling CO2 (and maybe farting it too), I can absolve you that sin for just 1 BTC, since I am a certified Reverend among many other things. PM me for enquiries.

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December 25, 2011, 11:20:33 PM
 #477

What I find interesting about the German village discussed is that the Government have actually set a price that the power companies have to buy power back to. Without that law there would be no buyback and no incentives to produce power for small communities. The government is acting as an enabler here, promoting innovation and change.

Not what people would call libertarian I guess. Let's see a way a libertarian could address global warming, this one wasn't it.

Well, if the subsidizing is really necessary in that village, then it is probably because there is already existing infrastructure in place that needs to be maintained and that was originally intended for the old kinds of energy. Siemens and other corporations are actually working with the villagers to implement a "smart grid". The involved corporations and the government of course want to sell an eco-image too, mind you.

Either way, the village merely shows what can be done with renewable energy today. What I regard among the highest values in my understanding of freedom and liberty is self-sufficiency and decentralization, i.e. independence from governments and big corps. The possibility of being able to produce my own clean energy for me and my neighbors in a small-scale "smart grid" surely does provide a strong incentive for me and I'm sure for many others as well.

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December 25, 2011, 11:56:38 PM
 #478

There is nothing smart about a 'smart grid'.  The power grid is just a passive bus, the power goes where it goes, the 'smart' part is the ability to track what goes where.

"The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank...sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world."

- Carroll Quigley, CFR member, mentor to Bill Clinton, from 'Tragedy And Hope'
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December 26, 2011, 10:35:22 AM
 #479

Short answer: It wouldn't deal with global warming. It would fall victim to it.
Long answer: No part of the libertarian Ideal says that it must be able to defeat global warming. Why should Communism, or Capitalism, or Socialism be able to defend against global warming? That is irrelevant to the ideals of the market theory.
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December 28, 2011, 05:25:12 AM
 #480

Not going to read 24 pages...

Honest answer: Move north (or south), Canada, Russia, and Antarctica are pretty damn big.

Let's say that a warmer earth actually is good for the human race.  How will CO2 producers receive a subsidy equivalent to their positive benefit on society in a libertarian world?

It's obvious the government can't realistically stop CO2 production, prove that warming is caused by said CO2, and conclusively say if this warming is a bad thing.  Technology and the advancement of human society can most likely solve this problem if it truly exist.
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