Conservatives, the Market & the Environment

The market will produce in great abundance whatever goods or services society wants. It can do this because it is based on the greatest of renewable resources - human ingenuity. The market is a mechanism that focuses the genius of the people on what they consider most important. When the innovation of the market is focused on improving the environment, we can expect good results

Let me first stipulate government regulation is required for a clean environment, since market incentives alone are insufficient to take care of externalities. We just need to employ the right tools at the right time and against the right problems. Command and control regulation was appropriate and successful in going after large point source pollution in the 1970s. Although many of these problems have been largely eliminated, we still need regulations to prevent their recurrence. However, as the problems we face become finer and more diverse, we will need more and more to rely on incentives for innovation and market mechanisms to finish the job. Command and control is the big chain saw that creates the gross shape. We needed the chain saw, but now it is time to put it aside. We are at the fine carving stage and it is time to use different tools.

We also need to learn from experience. The big government chain saw is useful but also dangerous. Many of today’s environmental problems result from earlier government interventions. To err is human, but if you want to screw up on a really big scale you need to enlist the help of big government.

Private industry could never have produced the resources to destroy the wetlands of Louisiana in order to build underwater cities. Government water projects & subsidies encourage the growing of water hungry crops in the middle of our southwestern deserts. Government mandated the use of asbestos in of our buildings. Government agricultural policies and trade restrictions turn over many square miles of our land to inappropriate crops while at the same time starving farmers in developing countries by subsidizing competition against them. Government programs to protect jobs allow dirty inefficient industries to stay in business long after the market would shuttered them as unprofitable.

My personal favorite result of government master plans is kudzu. Anybody who has been around the countryside in the Southeast knows this persistent invader. It can grow a foot a day and choke a forest in a matter of weeks. It costs farmers and foresters a fortune every year to keep it down. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted kudzu all over the south. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre to plant fields of the vines in the 1940s. I guess we can consider that a successful government program.

Most of these things were done with good intentions & they were often based on the science of the time. The science was right about Kudzu. It was and remains an excellent way to prevent erosion. It just is a little too enthusiastic about covering things. We need to be very careful with any big plan. Each generation says "back then we THOUGHT, now we KNOW" but they always learn this a generation too late. If you think I am wrong, consider the current ethanol subsidies and the rush to biofuels. Biofuels are a great idea, but only when appropriate feedstocks are used. The Europeans have had to rethink their biofuels programs after they learned that whole forest in Indonesia and Malaysia were being cut and burned to establish palm oil plantations. Sure enough, palm oil burns clean, but all those trees that used to be the forest don't. In the U.S. we will come to regret replacing big oil with big corn if that becomes our main ethanol fuel stock.

A proper conservative environmental policy involves government in the role of setting up incentives and then leaving the decision making to those who are closest to the problem. It does not pick winners or losers. It will by its nature be gradual and diverse. You cannot expect immediate results, but will get a more sustainable solution. And the genius of a lot of people solving their own problems always outweighs that of a small group of experts trying to come up with a global solution that applies to all.

There is an old joke. This guy comes into the doctor's office., "Doc," he says raising his arm, "It hurts when I do this." The doctor replies, "Then stop doing that."

A good first step for a better environment is for the government to stop doing some of the things it is doing now. For example, the government should not subsidize flood insurance. If you are building your home or business in a place with a reasonable risk, you can get insurance from a private vendor. If firms whose business it is to insure you think it is too risky at an affordable price, why should the government step in and be a bigger fool? This simple move would almost immediately create defacto conservation zones on most barrier islands and fragile estuaries and cost the taxpayers nothing. In fact we would save money by getting out of the fool support business.

Another thing the government could do is to phase itself out of the water business. Where water is scarce, it is governed by century old rules that were created to encourage people to farm deserts by giving them subsidized water. As a result, today water is distributed like bread in the old Soviet Union. The first guy in line gets a lot at a low price. Those with political influence do not have to stand in line at all. Other people get nothing much. The simple market solution is to charge a market rate for the water. People will stop wasting water when it is no longer almost free. Farmers will decide that maybe it is not worth growing that cotton and land will revert to uses more in line with its natural state. I said PHASE out. We cannot just make people quit all at once, since many people have their life savings tied up in the current system, but let's start today.

The most far reaching thing we can do, however, is a kind of an earth tax. This tax would largely REPLACE income taxes. We could determine the externality cost of most forms of energy and tax accordingly. That is why I favor a carbon tax. It is not only a way to raise revenue, but also a means to encourages wiser use of resources. For example, you would not have to ban SUVs if the price of gas was $5 a gallon. People would make choices rationally. A person might load seven passengers into that SUV and have a much smaller impact on the environment than those seven individual Prius drivers and each would be paying accordingly.

Leftists like environmental issues because they think it opens the way to big government. It does not have to be that way. The most intrusive governments (communists) were by far the biggest polluters. Their system created so much pollution that it wore down stone and still managed to produce poor economic results.

A smart government that creates incentives toward a goal, but does not mandate precise means will be able to use the market mechanism to produce both a cleaner environment AND a better economy.

The environment is not a left wing issue. Leftists have just managed to frame the issue in their terms. "Want a clean world," they say, "then you must let government boss you around." We can understand and recognize the problem w/o accepting their big government control solutions. Command & control was a stage we needed to pass through to get to where we are today. It was fitting, proper and good, but it represents the past. The market mechanism is the future.

BTW - Most of the important steps in environmental protection (Clean Air Act, Endangered Species, Clean Water, Montreal Protocol, Clean Air Amendments, Off Road Diesel, Clean Air Mercury Rule) came during Republican Administrations. Thank God Jimmy Carter’s synfuels initiative was so poorly planned an implemented that is just crashed soon after takeoff. That would have been a real environmental disaster. Worse than kudzu.

Posted by Jack at February 28, 2007 9:40 PM
Comment #210017

100% agree that the environment cannot, and should not, be a partisan issue.

The extent to which it is was brought into sharp relief for me the other week on the Daily Show: Christopher Horner from CEI (or AEI, I get them confused) was talking to Jon Stewart about the evils of environmentalism.
“Doesn’t it make sense,” said Stewart, “that all this industry would lead to pollution if we don’t legislate against it? That’s why we had the Clean Air Act.”
Horner’s Rebuttal: “Well, that law was passed in 1962, before the Green movement started.”

I don’t think Horner gets it: Most “Greens” (or “Enviros” if you want to sound mean about it) don’t care who proposes effective environmental legislation. There may be a select few who are hopelessly partisan but most would just like to see someone take the issue seriously. Witness the Sierra Club’s endorsement of Lincoln Chafee (To Kos’s chagrin). Instead of really putting the “Conserve” in conservative to good use, most on the right are content to take the knuckle-dragging approach to this issue simply to oppose liberals (who, by the way, have not been all that strong themselves; remember that no one took up anthropogenic climate change as an issue until Al Gore made it OK.

One big point I take issue with is the Righty assertion that regulation necessarily harms us economically. No less a source than Michael Porter says otherwise:

“This static view of environmental regulation, in which everything except regulation is held constant, is incorrect. If technology, products, processes, and customer needs were all fixed, the conclusion that regulation must raise costs would be inevitable. But companies operate in the real world of dynamic competition, not the static world of much economic theory. They are constantly finding innovative solutions to pressures of all sorts - from competitors, customers, and regulators… How an industry responds to environmental problems may, in fact, be a leading indicator of its overall competitiveness.” — “Green and Competitive: Ending the Stalemante”, Porter & Van Der Linde

Posted by: Jim M. at February 28, 2007 10:47 PM
Comment #210023

The lack of caps on CO2 emissions for automobiles has made the U.S. auto industry less innovative and competitive, not more.

Posted by: Max at February 28, 2007 11:25 PM
Comment #210030


That is likely more symptom than cause. The lack of a way to pass the externality costs on to the consumers using them is the reason that the U.S. auto industry went after SUVs and small trucks. This left them ill prepared to meet the rapidly shifting market demands brought on by rapidly rising gas prices in the post-Iraq, post-Katrina world.

Before that, the U.S. automakers were actually cutting major inroads into the foriegn competitors. That’s the reason that Toyota and Honda both sunk big money into SUVs that were only competitve beginning in about 1997. During that run-up, the U.S. automakers were marking up SUV’s and small trucks as much as 20%, compared to the industry’s average margin of about 5% for standard sized sedans. Rumor was that U.S. automakers were actually taking a loss on some of their small cars so that they could increase the number sold so that they could in turn sell more SUVs and still be in compliance with the CAFE standards.


Nice piece. I couldn’t agree more with the idea of market based environmental reforms. I was lucky enough to take a class with Milton Friedman in college. I believe that he started the idea of market based environmentalism when he was an economic advisor to Reagan in the first two years of his presidency.

If we can craft environmental reform measures from the right, I believe that we will have a better chance at a success than if they come from the left. Just as Clinton could pass welfare reform when no Republican could, I think that a Republican leading the charge on environmental reform, could be the answer to breaking the log jam on the issue.

Posted by: Rob at March 1, 2007 1:05 AM
Comment #210035

What nonsense. It seems Jack doesn’t know his “Free Market” is pretty much owned by a couple of mega corporations who are in turn owned by a handful of men. What would these men do if their profit disappears while they go green?

Posted by: Juan dela Cruz at March 1, 2007 2:50 AM
Comment #210036

Jack: You do make some good points. But, trying to relate the cleanup of the environment with Republicans isn’t one of them. People like James Watt and Gail Norton says a lot about the Republican response to environmental issues. When was the last time we heard anything about the Environmental Protection Agency? Enforcement under Reagan was terrible. George Bush dito.

You make excellent points about bad science. Along with Kudzu I would add Rosa Multiflora. I don’t believe Biofuels have any future and the government shouldn’t waste money on them.

Electric cars could satisfy at least 90% of our personal transportation needs and a report I read recently said the we could reduce our CO2 out put by 42% by going to electric cars even if we use fossil fuels to generate the electricity. I would absolutely love it if the market would take the initiative and use their advertising power to sell good electric cars to the public but they wont.

Did you take a look at the electric car produced by Teslamotors? I think the price is 30 to 50 thousand. Honda could mass produce one like it and even a family version for $20,000 or less. If the general public sees that it is a viable alternative and if the sales pitch is national security-Buy electric and help save an American soldiers life, they will respond. What if everytime George Bush traveled in a motorcade he was riding in an electric Lincoln? How can we get an oil man President to do that?

Posted by: jlw at March 1, 2007 3:06 AM
Comment #210040
The market is a mechanism that focuses the genius of the people on what they consider most important.

Is important another word for profitable here?

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 1, 2007 5:12 AM
Comment #210047


Is there a problem with profitability? Without profit, there would be very little business. It’s the idea of making money that drives almost every business you can think of.

Juan- No, they wouldn’t disappear. Going green does not mean losing money. It means using our brains to figure out a way to produce environmentally sound products at a competitive price.

The role lof government in the environmental movement is one of levelling the playing field. Possibly putting up some subsidy money to get things started and then getting out of the way. Government should not micromanage industries to the point where private efforts are stopped. Almost every time the government steps in to solve a problem, the problem gets worse. Look at the “war on poverty” and the “war on drugs” On the poverty effort, if the government had written a check to everyone under the poverty line, it would have done more good than the botched effort that we have seen over the past 35 years. One reason is the size and slowness with which government works. To change a policy or course takes months, if not years, to make it through the bureaucracy. By that time, the problem has either solved itself or, more likely, the affected area has diappeared.

Posted by: John Back at March 1, 2007 7:18 AM
Comment #210048
Is there a problem with profitability? Without profit, there would be very little business. It’s the idea of making money that drives almost every business you can think of.

But profit is not what most people consider the most important. Happyness is.

Jack’s claim that the “market automagically focus people genius on what they consider most important” sounds a bit narrowed to me.
It works only with marketable stuff, and only when profit is achievable, the quicker the better. Which is not what people really needs.
Where is the market magic in Darfour? HIV tri-therapy drugs? Food shortage in 3rd countries?

No achievable profit (in the short term, these days everything beyong 6 months is long term), no market magic. The market is not altruist.

Hence my sarcastic first post.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 1, 2007 8:03 AM
Comment #210053

Jim M

Of course it depends on the type of regulation. Reasonable regulation is essential to a market economy. But regulations should be designed very narrowly. Too often they are asked to do societal engineering. That also, BTW, is a big problem with environmental laws. Something like Kyoto, for example, tried to be both an environmental and a redistributive agreement. To some extent those are both decent goals, but they are like peanuts and gum: they just do not go together.


Tax carbon and you will find all kinds of innovation.


You need to update your world view. JP Morgan died some time ago. You are around a century too late with that rhetoric and even then it was simplistic.


Most Republicans believe in market forces. Once the market gets going at the problem, you will see quick progress. In fact, something like the cap and trade on SO2 & NOx quickly mitigated the acid rain problem at much lower than anticipated costs.

I lived in Poland for some years. If you want to see what the environment looks like in a non-market system, look at those old pictures. Since the fall of communism, progress has been nothing short of remarkable. Much of the gain came in the first couple of years BEFORE environmental regulations had an effect. The big Lenin Steel mill dropped its production by around 80% and its pollution by even more because it could not compete in the marketplace.


Profit comes from giving people what they want and incentives make people do what they should.

If people think something is important, they are willing to pay for it. The environmental problem is that people prefer to talk rather than do or pay. That is precisely the problem with many laws re environment. They are popular but they do not always hit the problem. Tax carbon, and you will do a long way in fighting global warming. Do not tax carbon and you have no chance of success. That is just too simple for the politicians and it does not raise much money for Greenpeace.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 9:05 AM
Comment #210063

I thought we were the biggest polluters. I thought pollution really kicked into high gear because of the industrial revolution which was, of course, fueled for the most part by capitalism.

That said, not many here would argue against the general view that market forces controlled by some debatable extent by government is the way of things.

Posted by: Trent at March 1, 2007 11:17 AM
Comment #210066

Free Market: A economic device with a catchy but totally misleading name used to enslave the masses. It has been around since time began.

Free Market: A drug smoked by small time investors which when ingested makes them feel as if they were high ranking members of the party of Davos.

“A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at.” Ronnie Ray Gun.

I am immune to criticism because members of my coal-advisory panel include “a black…a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” James Watt.

Posted by: jlw at March 1, 2007 12:06 PM
Comment #210070


Free Market: A economic device with a catchy but totally misleading name used to enslave the masses. It has been around since time began.

A system that pays you for your efforts and allows you the ability to improve your own standard of living through self-improvement is slavery? I guess I’m glad to be a slave… I certainly can’t think of a better alternative.

Posted by: TheTraveler at March 1, 2007 12:34 PM
Comment #210073

And it hasn’t really been around since time began.

Posted by: TheTraveler at March 1, 2007 12:44 PM
Comment #210074


As I wrote, I lived in and visted places w/o a free market. I have also traveled around the U.S. a lot. I have never seen an American city that was as dirty as an average place in a communist industrial area.

I also noticed that people were poor and miserable. Their average standard of living was well below that of someone living in poverty in the U.S. (although they behaved better and so did not suffer all the pathologies of poverty).

The free market (as Traveler implies) is the worst system except compared to everything else.


Of course you are right. When the world population was low, when people lived for the most part in shacks & when the maximum horsepower was a real horse, you did not have world pollution. The actual human conditions - the pollution around people - was much worse than today.

In those days we didn’t get to manage nature so much because we just could not do much. Nobody wants to return to conditions of 1200, however, and given the population of today, if we tried we would have to lose 95% of the people in the world today.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 12:50 PM
Comment #210079

The components of Human civilization

1) Rulers/wealthy/etc.

2) Overseers/managers.

3) Police/soldiers.

4) Workers/slaves/servants.

The great way is easy,
Yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.
When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
When government officials spend money
On weapons instead of cures;
When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
While the poor have nowhere to turn-
All this is robbery and chaos.
It is not keeping with the Tao.
-the Tao Te Ching

Free market: old dragon-new clothes.

My neighbor is desperate for money. He wants to sell me an item. He has no idea that it is worth ten times what he wants for it. Shall I do the moral thing and tell him what it is worth and where he can sell it or shall I take advantage of his ignorance and make myself a very good profit.

Ignorance and trust are what makes the free market system work. It is the best system devised so far for the few to accumulate wealth and if not for government intervention it would be either appalling or dust.

Posted by: jlw at March 1, 2007 1:29 PM
Comment #210082


Ignorance and trust are what makes the free market system work. It is the best system devised so far for the few to accumulate wealth and if not for government intervention it would be either appalling or dust.

I trust myself. I trust the people who I chose to work for (If I didn’t, I would work somewhere else). You trust the government. I’m not the ignorant one.

What you call for is totalitarianism. The United States is way too close to that as it is.

I, for one, don’t want the government to dictate where people should work or how much they should get paid. I sure as hell don’t need them controlling the money I work hard for. Our government partially controls these things already. Do you really want to live under a system with more government control over the economy? I don’t, and neither do most people who work for a living.

Posted by: TheTraveler at March 1, 2007 1:52 PM
Comment #210084

“My neighbor is desperate for money. He wants to sell me an item. He has no idea that it is worth ten times what he wants for it. Shall I do the moral thing and tell him what it is worth and where he can sell it or shall I take advantage of his ignorance and make myself a very good profit.”

That is entirely up to you. Why not use a market approach and tell him he wants too little for the item and offer to sell the item for him at a reasonable profit.

I understand you don’t like the free market. What do you propose to take it’s place?

Posted by: tomd at March 1, 2007 2:00 PM
Comment #210086


That is entirely up to you. Why not use a market approach and tell him he wants too little for the item and offer to sell the item for him at a reasonable profit.

I like that. Everybody gets something and they all earned what they aquired by either selling something or working. Capitalism at it’s best. ;-)

Posted by: TheTraveler at March 1, 2007 2:17 PM
Comment #210087


The item is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it and how much somebody is willing to take for it. You have a moral, a supply/demand and a social problem. Do not mix them up, but all three make up a market.

If you plan to use the item yourself, you have no moral problem at all. You are just getting a good deal as your neighbor is letting it go for less than you would have paid. I bought two liters of Coca-Cola at CVS a few minutes ago for $.89. I would have been willing to pay up to around $1.89. Should I throw in the extra dollar?

Your supply/demand problem involves supply and demand. IT depends on how much you think such items will be worth in the future. That old computer might have cost $3000.00. Is it “worth” that much today?

Your social problem involves your neighor. If you “rip him off” he will probably be less cooperative in the future. You may well give him a better deal than you have to on this transaction in order to maintain the relationship. Firms do this too.

All three of these things, plus others, make up the market. You cannot look at it in the one-dimensional way you were.

Re the Tao - the market is the system that provides choice so that people CAN go down those little paths. If the government decides for them, they all need to use the same highway.

Lao Tzu would have been in favor of the market when confronted with the alternatives. If you read your own post, you will see that he is talking against big government and the concentrations of power that entails.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 2:22 PM
Comment #210090


The components of Human civilization
1) Rulers/wealthy/etc.
2) Overseers/managers.
3) Police/soldiers.
4) Workers/slaves/servants.

Such distinctions are no longer clear-cut, and sometimes they no longer exist.
I myself fall under all these categories in one way or another. I have quite a bit of money which I earn by working and also supervising others. I am also a Guardsman.

You can drop the class-warfare stuff. It’s increasingly irrelevant, especially in a country where people can choose where to work and how to live with what they earn.

Posted by: TheTraveler at March 1, 2007 2:36 PM
Comment #210096

This nation of 300 million is the greatest on earth because of capitalism and the market economy. The average American is far better off than the average South or Central American. We are far better off than the average African. We have a much better way of life than the averge citizen of the Middle East. Anyone who dares to say we are better off than other countries because of class warfare or exploitation is just a filthy envious lier. It is amasing how people who benefit from a system can easily rationalize the greatness of that system and vilify those who point out the flaws in that system.

Posted by: jlw at March 1, 2007 4:04 PM
Comment #210101


Yes. Average Americans are better off than most of the people alive today and most of the people from the beginning of the human species until today. This includes rich & poor Americans. This is good, isn’t it?

You do not really understand the nature of wealth. You think wealth is out there to be distributed when in fact wealth is created by human initiative.

If you took all the wealth in human hands in 1750 and distributed it fairly, everyone in those days would have been abysmally poor, by our standards. Most of the wealth we enjoy today just had not yet been created.

Our western free market system has been the great wealth creator in history. That is why we can have 300 million Americans, even the poorest of whom has access to more food and comforts than the vast majority of the human race in all the years up to today.

I agree with Traveller about the old fashioned nature of your paradigm. Even when Marx was writing, it was not true. Today it makes no sense at all. Most of us fall into multiple categrories. Maybe most of us are oppressed. If so, I hope I never recover.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 4:31 PM
Comment #210104

Okay, I’m convinced.

I wont be anymore an atheist.
Where could I find a free market church to get my belief weekly dose?

Capitalism is the worst system, except for the other ones.
Which means one day something will be worser, except for all previous systems, capitalism included.

I’m glad I own at least something that have no price and nobody could claim his… mind freedom.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 1, 2007 5:00 PM
Comment #210107

Back to topic, I dunno if market magic could help about our little environment issues, but what’s sure is Earth can’t care less about market or capitalism…

Meanwhile, I’ve my doubt human could stop raping Earth ressources like there is no tomorrow. Returning to a subtainable level of our resource usage will needs a radical switch of our way of life
that, without a drastic worldwide population drop (and I’m not here calling for it, don’t get me wrong), seems utopian today.

More and more wants bigger share of the old same cake. Do the math.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 1, 2007 5:14 PM
Comment #210108


It is really quite remarkable how close my theoretical views on the market, regulation, and the environment are to yours, in light of how utterly different my assessment of how far the policies of your party since 1980 stray from the ideal environmental policy.

I believe the following things, and it seems you pretty much agree, and it the first two instances I have just copied and pasted your own words:

When the innovation of the market is focused on improving the environment, we can expect good results.

Government regulation is required for a clean environment, since market incentives alone are insufficient to take care of externalities.

Current regulations aimed at protecting the environment are in most areas too many in number and too complex.

The big picture should be prioritized over the minutiae, but making sure the appropriate regulators understand both is also vital.

Folks on both sides of the regulatory debate should be willing to re-examine particulars in the light of new information, and avoid the assumption that conceding ground is necessarily a bad thing.

Pretty good, so far, eh?

Now I would disagree with your characterization of regulatory attempts to control externalities as “chainsaw” maneuvers while market incentive attempts to do so represent “fine carving”. That can be the case, but the opposite can also be true. The large number of regulations in fact sometimes represent too much “fine carving”, but some market mechanisms can have disastrous “chainsaw” effects.

You present a lot of ideas in the body of your post which I would also welcome. Neither one of us I can see is a big fan of corporate welfare. Unfortunately BOTH national parties owe so much of their success to corporate interests that corporate welfare has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 27 years regardless of which party holds Congress or the White House. I think it’s pretty clear that the Republicans are worse in that regard, but both parties are sullied.

But what was so odious about the 2001-2006 period of Republican control across the board, was not just corporate welfare, but absolute corporate dominance of the whole process. No we haven’t returned to the dirty industry era of the mid twentieth century; and every corporation knows they have to pay lip service to green ideals, and keep obvious environmental disaster either hidden or averted. But there is plenty of big picture stuff that has just gone ignored, and non-industry stakeholders in our environmental health (and that includes a lot of small businesses too) have largely been left screaming on the sidelines while the big boys with the big money are left to make all the rules, and in fact have incentive to make those rules complicated, so that the smaller players are left screaming about burdensome regulations, often blaming environmentalists for industry written rules.

I’m perfectly willing to stipulate that some carry-over regulation from days when environmental non-profits did have more of a hand in creating regulations are guarded like sacred cows and remain in effect when they may fall in the category of well-intended but no longer logical. But to suggest that the picture is rosy, and we only need to move more toward market incentives and away from command and control strikes me as not only an over-simplification, but simply not correct.

Yes we know more now, and we need to use what we know, but corporations’ near exclusive role in writing regulations is not good for the environment or our future. Further the notion that green-leaning Democrats, Independents, or Greens all want to ignore the market and strictly control all environmental regulations by fiat is simply not true. Sure there are a few radicals who see that as the only way, but most reasonable people recognize the value of our market economy - they just want more balance in preserving our environment than the big corporations are likely to provide on their own.

I recently read a book which introduces a new way of looking at this which I think is worth looking at by people on both sides of this debate. In Capitalism 3.0, Peter Barnes argues that neither the market nor government are in a position to look after the interests of the environment or future generations, and in our changing world where capital is now abundant, but resources are finite, new mechanisms need to be introduced to become the trustees for that which is precious, but under-represented. He offers the book in its entirety as a pdf download from here.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 1, 2007 5:15 PM
Comment #210109

Doing the math, one will quickly notice that the cake is large enough for everyone.
Except when a very few already have eaten more than their share. More than ten times their share. Their kids future shares included.

Which is *pure* capitalist darwinism at best.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 1, 2007 5:20 PM
Comment #210112

I’m reading Capitalism 3.0 rigth now.
Thanks Walker!

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 1, 2007 5:33 PM
Comment #210114


Anyone who dares to say we are better off than other countries because of class warfare or exploitation is just a filthy envious lier.

If this was a response to my post, you completely misconstrued what I was trying to say.

What I meant was, class warfare (which you seemed to be engaging in with your “components of human civilization” post) is not something we should be participating in. Like I said, the line between classes is hard to judge in this country. I’m sorry If I wasn’t clear.

It is amasing how people who benefit from a system can easily rationalize the greatness of that system and vilify those who point out the flaws in that system.

But you weren’t pointing out flaws in the system; you were criticizing it as a whole. Big difference.
We aren’t vilifying you, just disagreeing. I know this system isn’t perfect. Far from it. But when you say things like:

Free Market: A economic device with a catchy but totally misleading name used to enslave the masses… It is the best system devised so far for the few to accumulate wealth and if not for government intervention it would be either appalling or dust.

This is just wrong. The Americans who you consider middle class are living in luxury compared to most of the world. Do you not see how this disproves what you said? We aren’t “enslaved masses.” We chose to be part of the system, to contribute to society, and thereby earn our wealth. If we chose not to be part of the system, we will have less. it is our right to make that choice. Wealth is not going to the few, it is going to the masses, because they work for it.
Know what I like about the free market? I get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

Now there are very poor and very rich in this country, but not many, compared to the rest of the world. In fact, some countries have no middle class at all. I may not be super rich, but I’m happy with what I earn. And I’m not a slave - I’m proud to contribute.

Posted by: TheTraveler at March 1, 2007 5:48 PM
Comment #210115


The reason I use the term free market instead of capitalism is because capitalism tends to be a narrow definition usually employed by people who have little practical experience with the free market. As far as I am concerned, capitalism is as obsolete as communism. What we have is a free market that includes the rules of law, reasonable regulation and the use of the market mechanism. There may come a better system, but I believe that any workable system will include those three things.

In many ways the free market created the current ecological crisis by supplying humans with the means and wealth to do it and allowed the population increases that made it dangerous. When most people live on the edge of subsistence and populations are very small, you do not have a human induced environmental problem. I would point out, however, that if all Americans tried to live as Native Americans or if all Frenchmen tried to live as Iron Age Celts, at our current population level we would effectively destroy the environment in a matter of weeks. Conversely, at densities they had, we could live with our current technologies in an easily sustainable manner.

The earth doesn’t care about capitalism or people in general. There is nothing we human can do that will destroy nature. There are only things we can do that will make the world unlivable for ourselves.


I like things that work. I like to have the freedom to reach goals in a variety of ways. We probably do not have a theoretical difference.

Pollution represents a waste. Firms are good at turning wastes into resources and minimizing waste in general.

The problem I have with some regulations is that they try to manage the process. Government tends to like to boss people around.

Another problem I have is with the idea of stakeholders. In theory it is fine, but in practice a lot depends on how much involvement they have in the process. You remember the old story about the difference between commitment and involvement. If you look at your bacon & eggs breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.

As you may recall, I own a forest. That means I am responsible for what happens on that land. If it is well cared for, I benefit. If not, I suffer. There are other stakeholders, but their commitment is much less than mine. For example, I had a problem with beavers. They were crewing down trees and damning up the streams. Those beavers are no longer a problem. Some people think it was a bad thing to kill and drive them off. They feel they are stakeholders. It seems to me that if they want to be stakeholders, they should pay the thousands of dollars that the beavers will damage.

Re the last six years - the U.S. has become cleaner in all the measures we have. We enacted new legislation on off road diesel. For the first time we have regulated mercury. We passed the healthy forests initiative (which I know is a good thing). Environmentalism has become bipartisan.

Our carbon tax idea, which neither party supports, is the real way to help mitigate global warming. Do that and everything falls into place.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 5:50 PM
Comment #210139

I was with you until you started to digress into partisan twaddle. The left has been concerned about the enviorment not because it bolsters big gov but because we are concerned about the enviornment. We breath. So do our children. The right has been slow in catching up because generally conservatives fear change and some on the right are easy prey to industry propaganda. Witness the “there is no such thing as global warming” responses your piece will most likely get. At any rate ,welcome to the club.As I have stated before we need all hands to solve our oil addiction.
There will be a struggle. In order for us to succeed there will need to be a power shift of sorts. Large oil companies and power producers and brokers are not to happy with the prospect of their consumrs becoming more independant of them.
Government is not the only institution that can diminish individual freedom. For example if one puts solar panels on the roof,one can expect to pay the utility company less each mont. This is an increase of personal freedom.
Government can and should play a big role on all levels. This is necessary for no other reason than government is such a large user of energy. For example some cities are moving forward with conservation measures like changeing street lights to diodes,installing solar generation systems on public buildings etc.There is a place for fed help with some of this.
Assisting start up companies with SBA or something like it should also be considered. Adjusting patent law to promote actual production of new energy saving or producing technologies is an idea. Better planning to reduce cummuting. Building standards to require more energy efficiet structures etc. There is a need for government involvement that simply will not come from the market. Infact segments of the market will resist. For example,the auto industry is sueing the State Of California, challenging the states right to set miliage standards. Ca. is asking that cars sold there meet,in five years,standards that are already required in China.

Posted by: BillS at March 1, 2007 9:13 PM
Comment #210146


The difference with China is that they do not have to follow those laws. China is an ecological disaster.

In E. Europe they also had wonderful laws. In theory everything was pristine. They did not rely on the market.

You are right about the government being a big consumer of energy. If governent was really serious, it could make all its post office trucks electric etc.

The Fed can help with the carbon tax. A lot of the other things probably are not actually useful. That is the useful sorting mechanism of the market. You remember in the 1970s when they had so many lame ideas that ended up using a lot more resources than they saved and made everybody cold.

A good firm can make money selling green too. The market is a mechanism that works well.

Re government - we need rule of law & some regulation, but when you think kudzu, susidized water for deserts, New Orleans levies, building on barrier island etc, not to mention the synfuels projects, be a little careful about those big government ideas.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 9:54 PM
Comment #210150


The curent project I am working on is an expansion of a wastewater treatment facility in N.CA. On the same site the sewer board is having a significant solar array installed for power generation. The board(ratepayers) has a monthly electric bill of about 38,000$ a month. The array they are installing is projected to amortize in 5 years and is costing about 5 mil. The difference is the amont of power they expect to be able to sell to the private monopoly utility. Looks like good governance to me,at this point anyway. A government intervention in the market done in Ca. is that the utility is required to purchase excess power from small providers,even homeowners. Yes,sometimes peoples meters do run backwards. I do not know if other states have similar regulations but they should consider it.
Like or not there are some serious regulations to increase gas miliage and incentivize alcohol production that will be comming out of the congress soon. Celulotic(?) alcohol seems most promising to me. There is just something terribly wrong about burning food. I’ve heard tell there is already a corn shortage in Mexico resulting in higher tortilla prices. This could be your kudzu problem in spades.

Posted by: BillS at March 1, 2007 11:14 PM
Comment #210152

What makes you think China’s cars do not meet their standards? We will know soon as we will start getting Chinese imports soon and they will meet CA. standards. Detroit insist on getting creamed by NOT doing all they can to get fuel efficiency.The conspirist in me smells cahoots with big oil.I mean they could could not be that dumb.One place we differ is I regard mega-corporations as at least as dangerious as government.

Posted by: BillS at March 1, 2007 11:25 PM
Comment #210153


I know China is one of the most polluted places on earth. I have seen previous non-market rules in action. I expect the Chinese CAN make cars that will make less pollution, but they will not be using them in their internal market for a while.

As a forest grower, I like the idea of celulous ethanol, but we do not need to subsidize it. We just need to tax the carbon.

Re large corporations - they get too much influence in government because government has too much power.

Posted by: Jack at March 1, 2007 11:37 PM
Comment #210156
they get too much influence in government because government has too much power.

Thank you!

It’s great to see others saying what I’ve been complaining about for years. And getting hammered on in the left column for daring to suggest.

Posted by: Rhinehold at March 2, 2007 12:43 AM
Comment #210158
One place we differ is I regard mega-corporations as at least as dangerious as government.

That’s impossible since corporations are not compulsary. If I don’t like Ford and their products or practices, I choose not to deal with them.

The same can not be said of government, the only body with the legal right to incarcerate or even take the life of its citizens.

Posted by: Rhinehold at March 2, 2007 12:45 AM
Comment #210187


You mean not compulsory, like Microsoft in business apps? OPEC for oil? Big tobacco for lung Cancer? I think Big business is dangerous becuase of it’s control over gov’t policies and drive for profit over people.

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at March 2, 2007 12:40 PM
Comment #210190

Rhinehold, sometimes the actions of corporations affect even people who do not use their products. Ford is a good example of this. Of the big three Ford is the worst as far as the fuel efficiency of their offerings (I’m not even considering foreign automobile producers as their products are far more efficient than ours). We have spent in recent past, and will spend in the near future, a trillion + in the Middle East; because we want to bring democracy there? (no). because we wish to “fight the terrorists”? (only a small part of the answer, as al-quaida has a stronger presence in places other than Iraq) We fight because we have “interests” there; energy interests. Ford leads the way in producing these crappy, fuel guzzling, unsafe to ride in (!) SUV’s.
I just wish the government would get out of the business of keeping dinosaurs like Ford going; going with the blood of American soldiers and the treasure of American taxpayers!!

Posted by: charles Ross at March 2, 2007 12:55 PM
Comment #210198
I think Big business is dangerous becuase of it’s control over gov’t policies


If the government weren’t so entrenched into so much of our lives, Big Business wouldn’t be able to influence that power that it maintains, would it? Perhaps the REAL problem is that we have a body that can control our lives to that extent AND is subject to politics and influence by anyone…

Posted by: Rhinehold at March 2, 2007 1:55 PM
Comment #210200


Private industry could never have produced the resources to destroy the wetlands of Louisiana in order to build underwater cities.

So New Orleans was built by the government and not by private industry? I think you need to take a better look at history.

Posted by: Jarandhel at March 2, 2007 2:10 PM
Comment #210201

I can only imagine what the world would be like if you took the federal government out of the mix. We would, in short order, be back to a lords-and-serfs-regime (not that we’re too far away from that as it is!!) Rhinehold, you are taking facts:
that government is very powerful,
that big business is very powerful,
and drawing from that the rationalization that big business would not be powerful if government were not powerful. Wouldn’t the reverse also be true? If business had less power wouldn’t government, by your rationalization, also have less power?
Look at power in terms of strata. We, as individuals, compete neither with business nor government for power. Those two entities compete with each other. When a business funded “think tank” like the Hoover Institute or a fictional environmental group funded by, say, the lumber industry, (let’s call it the “Committee for Environmental Progress”) talk about getting the government off our backs, they are not talking about YOUR back, they’re talking about theirs!!!!
Remember, it’s not about principle or philosophy it’s about money!!!!!!!!

Posted by: charles Ross at March 2, 2007 2:15 PM
Comment #210205

Funny, I didn’t realize that ‘big business’ could come into my house with a gun and force me to give them money or kill be if I didn’t. Somehow that seems like a bit more power than they have, don’t you think?

Posted by: Rhinehold at March 2, 2007 2:52 PM
Comment #210216


Microsoft does not have a lock on computer applications. There are other operationg systems and applications not controlled by Gil Bates and company.

Big tobacco does not cause lung cancer. There are many other resources for lung cancer or the cancer of your choice.

There are other sources for oil. OPEC does not have a lock on that industry.

So name the policies tht big business has over government.

BTW-if big business did not exist you would be burning candles for light, burning wood for your kitchen range, growing oats to feed your horses, and hemp to make the rope for your oatmeal boxes to the neighbors house for communication, making your own tools for the daily chores, and who knows what you would do if you needed madical care. So lump it or like it big business is necessary.

Posted by: tomh at March 2, 2007 4:02 PM
Comment #210220

Rhinehold. The government will come to your door with a gun and kill you if you don’t give them money???

Tomh: big tobacco does not cause lung cancer ????

I’m sorry. but you’re both living in a fantasy world.

Posted by: Charles Ross at March 2, 2007 4:31 PM
Comment #210227


The part of the New Orleans that is above sea level, the part that did not suffer very much from Katrina and the part that is mostly rebuilt, was founded w/o government mandate. The parts that were underwater and are still in serious trouble were built only after government subsided/built levies and pumps had destroyed the local wetlands to allow the construction.


The point is that big business by itself cannot force you to do anything. It can only entice you, maybe pressure. When big business wants some dirty work done, it has to get government to do its bidding and it usually can. If big government was not powerful enough to do the deed, big business would just be out of luck.

Posted by: Jack at March 2, 2007 5:50 PM
Comment #210233

Sorry. I don’t agree that big business only affects us, as individuals, when we have dealings with it. That is simplistic and inaccurate. When you do have business with a big company you have just about zero leverage in the relationship. Big business has a monopoly on much of our life. If you enter into any contract with a corporation, a finished document is inevitably set in front of you for your signature, take it or leave it.
Regarding my choice to participate as a consumer:
When car makers advertise the safety of SUV’s aren’t they implicitly acknowledging the danger those cars would pose to me as the driver of a compact vehicle?
When I am indoors and someone is smoking, aren’t the producers of that product implicitly saying that the their right to sell the product and the consumer’s right to enjoy the product are more important than the health of non-smokers?
when a gun is sold that results in my injury or death, aren’t gun manufacturers implicitly placing their right to sell the weapon and the right of the consumer to purchase the weapon above my safety?
The fact is, we live in a world that is dominated by large multinational concerns that are playing in a game way over our heads and to portray it all as a simple matter of “if you don’t like what they have to sell, don’t buy it”, is naive.
If you are arguing that government, particularly in recent years, has colluded with large corporations against the national interest, against us as taxpayers and against us as consumers, I would certainly agree; but I didn’t vote for this government. As that famous philosopher Republican representative Billy Tauzin once said, after he helped negotiate the pharmaceutical bill and then accepted work as the head of big pharma’s lobbying arm. “Now I’m going to make some real money”
That says it all.
The distinction between government and big business has certainly become blurred but the solution is not less government it is stricter control over these big transnational concerns, business’ that have NO faith or allegiance to the United States.

Posted by: charles Ross at March 2, 2007 7:02 PM
Comment #210245


ALL government represents status quo interests. It cannot do otherwise. Those who are organized, smart or connected have more influence than those who do not. If government has the capacity, they will use it to their advantage.

It is not only this government. Special interests are plenty strong among Dems. But you need to recall that at least around half of the time the government will be controlled by those you do not like. If you do not wish to give big power to George Bush, you cannot give it to government, since people like him will often be in charge.

BTW - I am sorry you feel you have so little control over the things in your life. It is not really the fault of big business, however. You probably have more options than you think.

Posted by: Jack at March 2, 2007 8:21 PM
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