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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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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jeremy Weiland on Green Markets

Here's a good old post at Social Memory Complex on cost internalization, "green taxes," and market mechanisms for punishing pollution.


Anonymous Diane Warth said...

I think Weiland's scepticism on the green tax is sound. Anything run by the government is going to tilt in favour of corporations eventually. But there are plenty of companies on privately owned lands polluting the environment. I don't understand how privatising all public lands will achieve the end results he hopes it would but suspect it would have the opposite effect, especially when any market mechanism would be enforced by the government.

And I agree with him that protecting the environment makes sense fiscally and should be monitored by a third party that is independent of the government but I wonder who he's talking about when he refers to environmental nutcases. The EPA is a perfect example of the lunatics being in charge of the asylum. It's nothing more than a beard for the party in the majority, and both are beholden to corporations. The current flap over Atrazine is a perfect example. The EU has banned it, rightfully so, but Americans were made (and remain) guinea pigs by the EPA.

And I think Weiland is being a bit unfair when he writes that environmentalists haven't put their money behind their talk. Someone is funding these third parties and I think it's safe to say it's not the taxpayer. I don't see what is so difficult about just saying No to questionable or proven pollutants. What's the efficacy in allowing it to go on but charging extra for it no matter who owns the land on which it's being produced?

April 25, 2006 1:46 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Go easy on me, Diane. That essay was written a while back (I was 24 years old, just a baby :-), before I had discovered a body of left libertarian thought that I now have at my disposal. I can honestly say that this Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left has changed my politics profoundly... I went from a Harry Browne libertarian to left libertarian pretty quickly once I discovered others had the same problems with "actually existing capitalism" as I did. And for the record I no longer believe total privatization (even in a genuine sense) is the complete answer.

The major overriding point of Hawken's book - highly recommended, it's a very easy read - is that environmental change will never come at the expense of business. Business must be a part of the process. We need to make profit dovetail with the full scope of consumer expectations, not make business responsible for some and gov't for others.

When I was speaking of environmental nutcases, I was referring to ELF types who want to dictate to the population how they should live in some sort of fundamentalist fashion. I think what we need is a true market that gives us accurate information about how to price environmental quality. To the extent that environmentalists want this, and not simply an elitist, micromanagerial dictatorship over people, I'm 100% on board.

As friendly as I now am towards the radical left and their Green compadres, I still disapprove of authoritarianism in any sense. People are smart enough to make good decisions if they have accurate information from markets. I don't wish to paint a cartoony portrait of the left, but we must expect some uncertainty, fear, and disdain from certain sectors of the environmental movement in response to any market-based remedy, vulgar or legitimate.

April 25, 2006 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Diane Warth said...

I think what we need is a true market that gives us accurate information about how to price environmental quality. To the extent that environmentalists want this, and not simply an elitist, micromanagerial dictatorship over people, I'm 100% on board.

Make room for me as far as existing production goes that isn't inexcusably damaging to life and the environment. But I think that new operations should be required to utilise earth friendly technologies when they are available. If they don't exist and there's an urgent need for the product that outweighs the risks, so be it, but only insofar as the need is met.

Carcinogens, even when only suspected to be one, should be banned until proven otherwise. The cost of those studies should not be shouldered by consumers through tax supported and corruptible agencies like the EPA, but by the business wanting to produce it.

It would be nice if decisions like this could be made at a local level.

But should a community be able to produce or allow the use of something like Atrazine that travels far in the water and affects others who are never given a say in the matter?

That's as authoritarian as it gets.

I've never been tempted to torch an SUV, but tree sitting looks pretty good to me some days.

April 25, 2006 7:17 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

It is not a law of nature or economics than externalities can only ever arise from government intervention; they can and do arise in other ways, e.g. Braess' Paradox to do with transport.

However in our times and places, most externalities arise from government action for the simple reason that governments are flourishing, curing or mitigating externalities isn't their priority (partly from not knowing what they are doing), and their preferred techniques do not connect actions and funding - in fact they deliberately try to avoid hypothecated taxes to preserve their own freedom of action.

April 25, 2006 11:07 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

But I think that new operations should be required to utilise earth friendly technologies when they are available.

Required by whom?

To the extent that existing legal systems encourage environmental damage, I agree... let's find a way to empower affected citizens to go after polluters and fully internalize those costs. But I think if we get rid of that existing legal system that encourages it, we'll have a much better affinity between responsible stewardship and profitability.

The key is to get externalities under control. I suppose some externalities cannot be avoided, but surely we can get to the point where they aren't they great societal problems they are now. In Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Kevin talks about how a stateless society would devolve decisions about how property is defined and used on a community basis. That, to me, is the best way I know of to fully internalize the costs of doing business.

April 26, 2006 7:44 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Oh, one more thing you said that I wanted to give props for, Diane. I'm absolutely in favor of the precautionary rule on chemicals, once again, given the existing legal structure. I think it is the closest we're going to get to true subsidiarity. In an anarchist environment, I imagine practices that create damage would be closely monitored by neighbors who would raise holy hell if anything harmful were attempted.

April 27, 2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Diane and Jeremy,

I don't have any objection, in principle, to libertarian law courts enjoining hazardous behavior before the fact. The power of such courts or juries, in a stateless society, is simply an extension of the powers inherent in the individual. And the individual, in the last resort, is the final judge of what is a threat to himself. If my neighbor is waving a gun around in a careless mannner, my rights of self-defense extend to stopping him from doing so. Of course, my action is also subject to judgment after the fact by third parties, as to whether my neighbor's action was threatening enough to justify my action, or whether I used excessive force.

The point is that whatever behavior's legitimate for an individual is also legitimate for any voluntary association of individuals acting collectively. So it's quite possible for a "libertarian law code," reflecting the consensus in an area, to include restrictions on egregious fire hazards, actions likely to contaminate groundwater, etc.


I agree with your general stance on externalities. I just tend to think that externalities caused by genuinely voluntary behavior, without any government abetment, are probably lesser evils than would be the initiation of force to stop them.

April 27, 2006 9:26 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

KC, I was correcting a general and absolute assertion when I made my remark about non-government externalities. If you were only commenting on the typically smaller scale of harm these do in this day and age, you are quite correct, but that misses the point that externalities can and do come up that way, which is all that I was trying to bring out.

But if you yourself are making a general statement that private externalities are always lesser and always small enough not to need force, then you are also wrong. You can consider Viking raids as communal enterprises, for instance, and European East Indies Companies themselves switched to violence (and, later, direct rule) when it became more cost effective than trade.

It should be obvious where the external costs are with raids and other direct or indirect gains from violence or the threat of it.

They too had their beginnings in private activities that formed cartels to keep out "interlopers" from other European countries. In fact, in general, all states had their origins in crystallising and ossifying of patterns that originated outside states (I include rebelling against them or resisting their attempts to encroach - many states formed under the influence of outside contact).

So the general point is, there is a continuum, and private externalities can indeed escalate. Only, if they do, generally something non-private emerges - but that is only apparent after the event.

I don't think space permits full examples, but look at how the barbarian dark age kingdoms emerged, how the feudal system evolved over time, how Madagascar and Hawaii became kingdoms, what the Maori did to the Chatham Islanders (and how they did it), and of course the Vikings. And, of course, simple tribe against tribe isn't too pretty anyway, when they aren't ritualising their conflicts.

BTW, in real English "enjoin" means "require", and one would put "enjoin against" or "enjoin not to" to mean "forbid".

April 28, 2006 4:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I think we're using "private" and "state" in different senses. By private, I meant "voluntary" or "non-coercive." Any "private" association that imposes externalities on others through the initiation of force is, for me, just a state under a different name.

May 04, 2006 4:33 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Fair enough KC, as far as it goes. But there's a catch with that use of language.

Words are tools. That usage does npt allow a useful diagnosis of what we face until after it has materialised. Granted, it's the only 100% reliable approach, but that's a bit like the way the only 100% reliable pregnancy test is the birth of the baby.

Think of it like the difference between a benign and a malignant tumour. The ultimate difference is that the latter grows and splits, eventually causing death no matter where it is or how small it starts unless you get a spontaneous remission. Even benign tumours in the wrong place can be harmful or even fatal, though.

But to make practical use of that concept, you have to assess matters while they are still small enough. Luckily there are other distinguishing features. Either way, both sorts are at first diagnosis tumours. For our use of language tools, it makes more sense to assess private entities as private, at least in their beginnings.

Only after that can we assess whether they can turn malignant, become quasi-states. Not to realise this is to risk not noticing when they change. After all, the various East Indies companies didn't get into the governing business until opportunity arose, when they were more than a century old.

So we need to consider private activity as a possible place from which state-like activity can emerge. We must look at things that could turn that way, as well as those that have already undergone that change and revealed themselves.

May 07, 2006 5:22 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

So we need to consider private activity as a possible place from which state-like activity can emerge.

Good point. Your observation about externalities being unavoidable is well taken. Two comments:

1. I think it's very wise to consider the growth of state-like activity from private entities. After all, states came from somewhere. I think the central point to keep in mind here is that in the worst case, the emergence of coercive behavior is not in and of itself an argument *against* anarchy; it's a flaw shared by both state and non-state systems.

2. To me, there is a certain inertia that comes from the particular institutional form the state assumes. It's one thing to say that a certain entity tends to dump costs on others, and isn't that bad, and shouldn't we do something about that?! That promotes a market based decision and (IMO) a reasonable belief that parties can reach an agreement given sufficient time and effort. It's quite another to say that this entity will kill us unless we concede its right to dump costs on others, especially if over time that acceptance of rule is codified and ingrained into the culture. Even if markets are thwarted in the short term, above all the long term goal should be to preserve the market tradition so that the pieces of order and justice can at some future point be picked up and refashioned into a new society.

June 26, 2006 10:15 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I'd meant to comment on this thread, but kept putting it off as new stuff came up, and finally forgot about it as the front page moved on. But Jeremy's comment showing up in my mailbox today reminded me of it.

PML, I think the main thing that decides whether private entities can accumulate destabilizing power and begin to act like states is how the rules are set up at the outset. If the rules are set up wrong, some sort of positive or negative feedback can lead to distortions, with some private power centers growing on themselves until they eat up the system. On the other hand, if a homeostatic mechanism is built in to limit the amount of land or capital that can be accumulated by anyone, and the exercise of judicial and police power is decentralized to an armed populace and a free jury system, it will be hard for such concentrations to grow.

As I see it, the free banking system and the occupancy-based property rules, combined with the decentralized administration of security and justice, are the ground cover that you speak of. Once they are in place, they should choke out any big trees attempting to grow on the same soil.

June 26, 2006 10:56 AM  

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