Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The State vs. Nature

Last week, I mentioned I had a short conversation with a friend on whether the free market could protect the environment, promote conservation, etc. Now, with "fire season" raging out west, it seems appropriate that Lew Rockwell writes an article highlighting just exactly how ineffective government is in managing nature.

Next we come to the government's response, which amounts to "run for your life, or we arrest you." They say that evacuations are the best way to protect people. But this defies good sense because you are essentially abandoning everything you have worked hard to build so that nature can take its course. You just know that crazed environmentalists secretly love this approach, and think: "that's what you get for building those stinkin' houses in places where animals and plants should rule."

Next we turn to the government's glorious fire fighting units. As with all government bureaucracies, they resist new technology. They don't plan for and assess risks. They run around spraying water and chemicals on everything regardless of effectiveness or cost. But meanwhile, they
crowd out private fire control efforts. They tell us to flee and then put an antique government bureaucracy in charge and expect us to be happy about it. Finally, when the disaster ends, the federal government dumps billions in aid as a way of placating us. This is an insane approach, or, rather, it is only a sane approach if the goal is to see civilization wiped out and meanwhile expand the state.

Oh: there is one more action that government takes: officials express profound sadness and regret that it is all happening. And we all just sit back and say, well, heck, I guess there is nothing that can be done about it.

Ridiculous! Are we under the impression that private markets can't handle risk management? Private markets specialize in protection of property, particularly against natural risks. If the land were privately owned, it would be protected against burning through better management. If it had to be burned, the burning would be controlled. Unexpected events like droughts and winds would be calculated into management decisions.

What's more, there would be serious liability issues. Any owner of property who let fires rage would be directly responsible for imposing fires on others. This is the way markets work. If my bathtub overflows, floods my house, and then the waters flood my neighbor's house, I am responsible via my insurance policy. So, yes, there would be a price to pay for fires on your land that harm others' property.


Remember, it all comes down to incentives. Private property owners have an incentive to protect and preserve their property, and reducing their liability for harming the property of others. In such a system, nature is preserved by interested property owners. Under State management, where politicians and bureaucrats are never held responsible for mismanagement – or at the very least, have no incentive to be proactive – nature is vulnerable to destruction.

And what exactly is the goal of environmentalism?

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