Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part 4 (Or Eamon Butler Phones It In)
In the "Comments" thread, of course, Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons gets dragged out for another dusting off. This despite the fact that Hardin evidently knew nothing about actual, historic commons: commons were, in fact, heavily regulated to limit the number of livestock any family could graze, the amount of wood they could gather, etc. Hardin confused the commons, which were the joint private property of a village, with unowned land. The prisoner's dilemma Hardin described was, in fact, a pretty good account of what happens in the case of genuinely unowned land, in which there is no property system to internalize costs in those using it. A genuine commons, as they existed in historic Europe, would be a pretty good solution to the Ethiopian goat problem. The Anarchist FAQ has more on Hardin's ahistorical myth of the commons. I do have to wonder, by the way: does this vulgar libertarian aversion to joint private property extend to the modern corporation?
In the course of his post, Butler comes up with some incredible gems of vulgar libertarian boilerplate. For example:
The environazis disperse this myth about peasant farmers being at one with nature. Sometimes the myth is so idyllic that I think they want us all to become peasant farmers. Anyway, the idea is that while big, grasping corporations are ruining the planet, if we just thought smaller and more rustic we could turn things round.
So much straw, so little time! Dr. Butler neglects to mention that the phony "free market" nazis, in their turn, disperse their own myth about giant agribusiness corporations being a product of the free market, and replacing peasant farmers through their superior efficiency alone.
How much more preferable would have been the "free market" recipe of British East Africa--for example Kenya, in which the peasantry were evicted from the best 20% of arable land so that white colonists could use it for cash crop agriculture! This is the same tried and true recipe for "free markets" used by the English gentry in enclosing the commons so they could get more work out of the laboring classes; E. G. Wakefield adapted the recipe to settler societies, advocating that colonial administrations preempt ownership of vacant land so as to make self-employment more difficult and relieve the better sort's travails in finding good help at cheap wages. The hidden subtext in all this fake "free market" agitprop, of course, is the tacit understanding that robbery is only bad when it happens to rich people.
The time-honored "free market" recipe, among the ruling classes, goes like this: 1) rob the producing classes of their traditional property rights in the land, and turn them into tenants at-will of the plutocracy; 2) through coercive controls on the population, like the Combination Laws and Law of Settlement, make it impossible for the producing classes to bargain effectively in the wage market; 3) when the process is complete, talk a lot about how great the free market works, and justify the existing concentration of capital ownership as a result of the superior efficiency of those who came out on top.
That's pretty much what the neoliberals (e.g., Bush) mean when they talk about promoting "democracy (more on which in yesterday's post), free markets and free trade":
The environment is a luxury that the world's poorest can't afford to bother about. The only solution is to make the world's poor farmers rich. And - Bush is right - the only way to do that is to spread democracy, the free economy, and trade across the planet.
Yep--rigged spectator democracy, a mercantilist "free" economy, and heavily subsidized trade. Those poor farmers should see the cash start rolling in any day now.
UPDATE (hat tip to Ken Macleod)--It seems I was unfair to Garrett Hardin. According to Dan Sullivan,
In their search for excuses to deny any common right to land, royal libertarians are fond of citing Garrett Hardin's work, "Tragedy of the Commons." Or at least they cite the title, which is all most royal libertarians are familiar with. Hardin is himself an advocate of land value taxation, and has criticized misinterpretations of his work with the lament that "The title of my 1968 paper should have been `The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.'"