F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
July 30, 2000
Environmentalism and the Free Market

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

The best way to keep the environment clean is to see that someone owns it!

"The fundamental problem with existing environmental laws is that they embody a command-and-control, government-knows-best mentality," declares Jonathan Adler of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "Conventional policy approaches," he explains, "proceed from the assumption that markets 'fail' to address environmental concerns. Government intervention is called for wherever market activities impact environmental quality." Adler emphasizes, however, that "there is no end to the range of private activities which generate environmental effects, and centralized regulatory agencies are ill-equipped to handle myriad ecological interactions triggered or impacted by private action."

In his introduction to a new book called Ecology, Liberty & Property, Adler reports that "a growing number of scholars and policy analysts are turning to the marketplace to address environmental concerns" and advocating "the creation of institutional arrangements that facilitate private solutions to environmental concerns. Markets are not perfect," he concedes, "but they are superior to the regulatory alternative. Conventional environmental policymaking presupposes that only government action can improve environmental quality," Adler asserts. "Government regulation is needed to correct environmental concerns that the market has 'failed' to handle. . . . Free market environmentalism," he notes, "rejects the 'market failure' model."

Adler provides the rationale behind this new way of thinking. "Resources that are privately owned or managed are typically well-maintained," he observes. "Resources that are unowned or politically controlled are more apt to be inadequately managed. The insights of free market environmentalism," Adler suggests, "can be derived from a simple observation: private homes and yards are generally well-maintained, while public streets and parks are typically a mess."

Environmental quality and respect for property rights go hand in hand. "For incentives to work, the property right to a resource must be definable, defendable, and divestible," Adler argues. "Owners must be free to transfer their property rights to others at will. The role of government," he contends, "is to protect property rights in environmental resources and to secure the voluntary agreements that property owners contract to carry out." Adler says free market environmentalists "insist on the application of common law liability rules to environmental harms in order to protect private property rights and provide additional incentives for good stewardship. To harm someone's property by polluting it," he concludes, "is no more acceptable than vandalizing it."

Black is white. Up is down. Right is wrong. Inversion is the modus operandi of the socialist, the devil's disciple. He twists freedom into license, the loss of self-control. He transforms a child's right to be raised by his parents free of outside interference into government-enforced claims against those parents. He contorts the concept of property rights -- the foundation of all free societies -- so that it no longer means the right of the owner to freely use his property, but the right of the property to be free from its owner's use (or the right of the community to enjoy what belongs to the individual). No one with a decent education would fall for these impostures. Perhaps that's why we have the school system we do.

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