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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sagebrush Rebels on the Government Tit

Logan Ferree at Democratic Freedom writes (on ANWR drilling):

A Republican friend of mine, who supported the drilling, asked why doesn't the government just auction off the property rights? That way if the environmentalists want to stop the drilling, they can try to buy it, and is the oil companies want to drill, they'll actually have to pay for it.

Sounds like Logan's friend answered his own question.

It's a genius idea, and one I'd advocate for much of the public lands system.

But a lot of mining, drilling, ranching, logging, and agribusiness would no longer be profitable if the corporations involved had to pay the costs on their own dime--which is exactly why it won't be done short of near-revolutionary pressure on Congress.

It's quite likely that any price at all on Alaskan land would be enough to finish off any plans for ANWR drilling. According to Progress Report,

The United States Treasury will likely never see the drilling revenues presupposed by President Bush's 2006 budget. The budgetary estimates drastically exaggerate the price per leased acre, in some cases expecting "between 66 and 120 times the historic average." Waning industry interest in the area is also a serious factor and one of President Bush's own advisors stated, "If the government gave [the oil companies] the leases for free, they wouldn't take them."

In that case, why is the GOP so stridently insisting on it? It gets the camel's nose under the tent.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) spoke about the "symbolism involved in opening up the refuge to drilling" as well as the precedent the move will set. DeLay's comments reveal that drilling in ANWR is "a domino game that will lead to drilling in the Rocky Mountains, off the California coast and in the Gulf of Mexico." Watch out when the moratorium on eastern Gulf drilling expires in 2007.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

The thing is, the government has no viable claim of ownership over ANWR. Under liberal property rules, you have to do something with or to the land to get ownership over it, which the US clearly hasn't. I can never figure out what lefties think about property, you included, but whatever lefties think about property, the US clearly doesn't deserve any rights in the land under their rules, either.

But a lot of mining, drilling, ranching, logging, and agribusiness would no longer be profitable if the corporations involved had to pay the costs on their own dime . . .

This might be true, but paying the US government for access to land that the US never rightly gained control of is not a cost these businesses should have to endure.

- Josh

March 19, 2005 1:39 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Josh, the government has claim to all sorts of public entities, like public land, the broadcast spectrum, territorial waters, etc. This is even more the case in Alaska, where we actually bought the land from Russia in the 19th century. Since the revenue for this came from the taxes collected from the American people, it is not unreasonable to expect compensation from the oil companies who will benefit. This isn't the government being greedy, it's ensuring that the population as a whole isn't giving a de facto subsidy to an industry that doesn't need it.

March 19, 2005 2:41 PM  
Blogger Captain Salty said...

The GOP insists on this sort of thing because they have deep ties to the companies that stand to profit. For instance, Big Timber donates a**loads of money to the GOP, and ... voila! ... logging rules get relaxed and an assault on the roadless rule, a rule created after one of the longest and most comprehensive public input periods ever, begins.

But, the salient point of this post is a good one, corporations get hefty subsidies to make hefty profits on public land. Grazing permits are ridiculously cheap, lumber companies get embarrassingly cheap leases and get their roads built for them, and desert farmers get their water largely for free (even though the empowering law called for them to help defray the costs of the dams that provide it).

There's another point. People who use these lands most extensively, backpackers and hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, already pay for these lands in the form of taxes. To turn around and force environmental groups -- many of whom don't have the cash reserves that for-profit corporations do -- is double taxation. Heck, I know a lot of backpackers who refuse to pay the daily use fees (pay-to-play fees) on those grounds -- yes, I'm one of them.

March 19, 2005 7:06 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Well of course it has claims to them. The government has a lot of claims I don't recognise as legitimate.

Here we have a case of one unjust title of ownership (Russia's) is sold to another party who obtained the money through robbery. I don't see where Russia had the right to sell or the US the right to buy. In that case, the land ought to be ownerless. Under liberal property rules, which I support, that means the first person to put the land to use gets claim on it. Even if we assume more mutualist/Proudhonian property rules, such as I suppose Kev supports, neither Russia nor the US has any just sort of claim on the land. Under either system of rules, the US has no right to extort money from businesses looking to drill on the land.

- Josh

March 20, 2005 12:01 AM  
Blogger Stentor said...

Josh: Isn't "creating a wildlife refuge" a use of the land? ANWR hasn't just been sitting there, it's been dedicated to a particular purpose, namely maintaining a natural ecosystem.

And if that's not use, then we simply have to go back to the indigenous people of the area, who used it for centuries as a source of subsistence. So then Logan's friend's idea would involve giving money to the natives.

March 20, 2005 5:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, why not "give" the natives of the area title to what was rightfully theirs in the first place? Let them decide whether getting rich from oil drilling is worth the potential damage to their ancestral lands. I'm not at all sure which way they'd decide it-- but I can't think of any group better placed to make the decision, or more justified in doing so.

--Nick Weininger

March 20, 2005 9:18 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Wow, Jim Henley sent me a lot of traffic on this!

Josh,

The problem is that the state's preemption of ownership involves excluding everybody *except* its favored clients, and *then* giving them preferential access at nominal prices. And in a lot of cases, such private exploitation of government-owned land depends on government providing things like access roads and other support facilities.

So given that the businesses involved are presently in active collusion with the government, rather than being victims, I can't see my way to using the term "endure" in regard to access fees.

You're right--I generally favor some sort of occupancy and use tenure, which in this case would make the relevant federal land property of the actual workers engaged in mining, logging, etc. But I also have some sympathy for the Geolib idea of a social commons, in cases of some particularly scarce resources. I wouldn't mind decentralizing ownership of ANWR to individual communities and letting them regulate access to it--especially when the communities are the indigenous peoples, as Nick suggests.

March 20, 2005 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's as if you have never paid attention to these issues before. In the 1990s, when environmental groups started bidding for grazing rights so that they could give some overgrazed lands a rest, the republicans in Congress struck back by making it illegal to bid for grazing rights if you didn't intend to use the land for grazing. At the ridiculously low rates that public land is given away, it would have been easy to shut out the ranchers/timber cos. and others who suck on the government teat.

Look at the Crested Butte fiasco where they gave away half a mountain range to mining companies for pennies on acre where nearby land changes hands at hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars an acre.

March 20, 2005 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Bay State Goober said...

Okay, hree is a thought.

Why not have the locals in these communities form their own oil and energy co-operative -- call it "Arctic Star Energy Co-op" for sayings sake. Let them buy the area where the government plans to drill in the ANWR. Get them to force both the government and the oil companies to make deals favorable to them and the locals.

Better yet, have "Arctic Star" be the cornerstone of a Mondragon-style co-op of energy co-ops up there. Let such comapnies that belong to it develop
environmentally-sound methods of extracting the oil and transporting it. Maybe it's a utopian suggestion, I'd admit, but it seems better than nothing.

Comments, please?

March 20, 2005 4:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Anon,

Who never paid attention to these issues before? Surely not *moi*. You're right--when the government does auction off its land instead of just leasing it at a sweetheart price, it generally limits the bidding to a cozy little arrangement between members of a particular industry, so there's no danger of the price going too high.

There was an excellent article on that theme in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty (give the devil his due) a few years back, but I haven't been able to track it down.

Goober,

I like the sound of your idea. But if anybody should have first claim to possessory rights without having to buy land from the feds, it would seem to be local communities. I'd be willing to simply devolve ownership to such local community cooperatives, and then let them manage the land as a commons.

March 21, 2005 2:04 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

I wasn't aware anyone actually lived in ANWR. Checking around, it looks like about 7000 Inuit live there. Their property rights ought to be fully respected in whatever happens. However, remember, ANWR is larger than the Republic of Ireland (which has 5m people and is sparsely populated itself). I don't think that those 7000 people have ownership over the entire area, even under the broader property rules of liberalism.

Kev:

I sympathise with your comment about the US rationing access, but this is an arctic wilderness. People aren't clamouring to move there. Your comment would have more force if this were prime real estate. Furthermore, if the thief demands my wallet, and I give it to him, am I colluding with the thief? Was all that time when drilling was banned a clever ruse to make us think there was no conspiracy? That seems to ascribe to Congress a lot of unwarranted intelligence.

To my Anonymous friend:

Congress, devoid of market incentives and owning property it has no just claim for, is a lousy steward of land? No way!

- Josh

March 22, 2005 8:21 AM  

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