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Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Over the years, I’ve had fun mocking the silly extremism of the environmental movement.

That being said, protecting the environment is a worthy and important goal.

And that’s why some of us want to give the private sector a bigger role.

John Stossel, for instance, has a must-watch video on how capitalism can save endangered rhinos.

Professor Philip Booth expands on the lesson in the video and urges broad application of market forces to preserve the environment.

Especially well-enforced property rights.

…what is needed for better husbandry of ecological resources is more widespread and deeper establishment of property rights together with their enforcement. The cause of environmentalism is often associated with the Left. This is despite the fact that some of the worst environmental outcomes in the history of our planet have been associated with Communist governments. …a great deal of serious work has been produced by those who believe in market or community-based solutions to environmental problems, and a relatively small role for government. For example, Ronald Coase and Elinor Ostrom are two Nobel Prize winners in economics who have made profound contributions to our understanding of how markets and communities can promote environmental conservation. Indeed, the intellectual and moral high ground when it comes to environmentalism ought to be taken by those who believe in private property, strong community institutions and a free economy.

Philip explains why private ownership produces conservation.

If things are owned, they will tend to be looked after. The owner of a lake will not fish it to near extinction (or even over-fish the lake to a small degree) because the breeding potential of the fish would be reduced.

He then explains the downside of public ownership.

On the other hand, if the lake is not owned by anybody, or if it is owned by the government and fishing is unregulated, the lake will be fished to extinction because nobody has any benefit from holding back. Local businesses may well also pollute the lake if there are no well-defined ownership rights. The much-cited work here is Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons (1968), though, in fact, Hardin was simply referring back to a pamphlet by William Forster Lloyd which was written in 1833. In that pamphlet, a situation was described whereby common land was open to grazing by all. The land would then be over-grazed because a person would get the benefit of putting additional cattle on the land without the cost that arises from over-grazing which would be shared by all users.

He points out that one advantage of Brexit is that the U.K. can implement a fisheries system based on property rights.

Now that fishing policy has been repatriated, the UK should establish property rights in sea fisheries. Few would seriously question private property when it comes to the land. For example, it is rare these days to find people who would suggest that farms should be nationalised or collectivised or returned to an unregulated commons where anybody can graze their animals without restriction. It would be understood that this would lead to chaos, inefficiency and environmental catastrophe.

And since we have real-world evidence that fisheries based on property rights are very successful, hopefully the U.K. government will implement this reform.

So what’s the bottom line on capitalism and the environment?

If we want sustainable environmental outcomes, the answer almost never lies with government control, but with the establishment and enforcement of property rights over environmental resources. This provides the incentive to nurture and conserve. Where the government does intervene it should try to mimic markets. When it comes to the environment, misguided government intervention can lead to conflict and poor environmental outcomes. The best thing the government can do is put its own house in order and ensure that property rights are enforced through proper policing and courts systems. That is certainly the experience of forested areas in South America.

Let’s close by noting one other reason to give the market a bigger role. Simply stated, environmentalists seem to have no sense of cost-benefit analysis. Instead, we get bizarre policies that seem motivated primarily by virtue signalling.

And don’t forget green energy programs, which impose heavy costs on consumers and also are a combination of virtue signalling and cronyism.

No wonder many of us don’t trust the left on global warming, even if we recognize it may be a real issue.

P.S. There is at least one employee at the Environmental Protection Agency who deserves serious consideration for the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

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As a public finance economist, I normally focus on big-picture arguments against excessive government.

If the public sector is too large, for instance, that undermines economic growth by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy.

The damage is then compounded by a needlessly destructive and punitive tax system.

But I’ve also discovered that it helps to personalize the analysis by pointing out examples of ridiculous and wasteful behavior by government.

From England: The world’s most useless sign

That’s one of the reasons I share horror stories as part of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

Some actions by government, however, belong in a different category. I’m not sure what word I would choose to describe them – perhaps venal, evil, despicable, reprehensible, or disgusting would be good options.

Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, but is there any other reaction when the government persecutes a family with possible jail time for rescuing Bambi?

Here are some absurd and disturbing details from the Indianapolis Star.

When Connersville police officer Jeff Counceller first encountered the baby deer, she was curled up in the corner of a front porch.It was clear the fawn was injured. Counceller could see the wounds… If left to its own, the animal would surely die… So the Councellers took in the deer, which they named Dani, cleaned and dressed its wounds and nursed it back to health, all with the intention of turning it out into the wild once it was big enough and strong enough to have a chance on its own. …she was unable to stand, and her maggot-infested wound was ugly. The Councellers contacted DNR at the time but were told to return the deer to the wild and let nature take its course. “It would have been a death sentence,” Jeff said.

So the family did what any decent people would do. They nursed the deer back to health. But decency and government often are in conflict.

Trouble is, what the Councellers did is against the law. Now, more than two years after rescuing the deer, more than six months after conservation officers began an investigation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources wants them prosecuted. …DNR officials began an investigation that entailed half a dozen visits to their home and numerous calls to local authorities. In July, the agency issued an eight-page report and asked for a special prosecutor from another county to handle the case. Why the charges are being sought now — six months later — isn’t clear.

Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer

Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer

I think the answer is obvious. The bureaucrats from the Department of Natural Resources are sulking because their imperious demands weren’t obeyed.

So they’re lashing out at an innocent family, as indicated by the following excerpts.

…when the DNR came calling, the Councellers say they were almost ready to release Dani back into the woods. They were just waiting for the summer drought to pass and the nearby corn crops to mature enough to offer cover and food for Dani. They say they weren’t aware it was illegal to keep the deer.

That’s when the bureaucratic nightmare began.

When the DNR began its investigation, the Councellers say the conservation officer suggested they obtain a rescue permit. But that was denied. Soon, the DNR said the deer must be euthanized, that it was a safety threat to humans.

Fortunately, an unknown good Samaritan intervened and freed Dani before the government could kill the helpless animal.

But on the day of Dani’s scheduled execution, the deer turned up missing, its enclosure left open. The Councellers say they didn’t arrange the escape or know how the deer was freed but acknowledge that they didn’t probe too deeply to find out.

But no good deed goes unpunished when spiteful bureaucrats are involved.

…there was nothing but silence from the DNR until the Councellers received notice of the charges earlier this month. They plan to fight the case, even though jail is unlikely and the lawyer costs — which could reach $5,000 — are significantly higher than a likely fine. It’s a matter of principle, they say. They don’t want to plead guilty for trying to help an animal and when they had no criminal intent.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the community is on the side of the deer (and the persecuted family). Indeed, there’s even a Facebook page for folks who want to register their displeasure with this example of government thuggery.

“People are outraged at the DNR and that the government has nothing better to do than harass these people,” said John Waudby, an Indianapolis man who created the Facebook page after hearing about the story. “Anybody in their right mind would have done the same thing.”

All things considered, this story from Indiana shouldn’t be part of the government stupidity and incompetence contest. Given the venality of the bureaucrats, it belongs with this list of horrifying examples of government thuggery.

In a just world, a court will immediately dismiss the charges against the Counceller family.

I would urge that the family then be awarded damages, but that’s not the right response. The bureaucrats would merely shrug and let taxpayers pick up the cost.

The only good outcome is to unceremoniously fire every bureaucrat who played a role in this outrageous episode.

Like most bureaucrats, I suspect the pinheads at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are overpaid. So losing their pampered positions would be genuine punishment and it would send a message to the rest of the paper pushers not to harass innocent and good people.

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A couple of weeks ago, before leaving for Europe, I stopped by the High Lonesome Ranch in De Beque, Colorado.

City slicker in the CO mountains

Controlling about 300 square miles, the High Lonesome is a remarkable spread. And if you like wildlife, you’re in Heaven.

It’s sort of akin to a private national park. And it shows how free markets are an excellent steward of natural resources.

The folks at the ranch brag about having the heaviest concentration of elk, deer, bear, and mountain lion in the country. That’s probably not easy to verify, but deer and elk are ubiquitous and I saw two bear on the trip (I also saw a badger on a previous visit).

The mountain lions are largely invisible, though the ranch has a project – as part of its education and conservation work – with some academics to monitor the range, feeding habits, and behavior of these impressive animals.

Another noteworthy feature of the ranch is the way hydrologists are protecting and restoring streams and ponds. They have an incentive to do this because people from around the country come to the High Lonesome for fly fishing.

Obviously not a very bright trout

I very much doubt that all this valuable work would take place if a bunch of bureaucrats were in charge of the property.

Or, if it did take place, it would take three times as long and cost five times as much thanks to the nightmarish incompetency and misaligned incentives of the government procurement process.

Hunting is another source of revenue that enables the ranch to preserve natural resources. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow in case some leftists read this) that this means the owners have a big incentive to protect wildlife and ensure a sustainable harvest.

Heck, there are now so many bear that they are almost at the point of being a nuisance animal.

I did a bit of fishing, as you can see from the photo with the remedial trout. Maybe I should try some hunting at some point.

The 2nd Amendment in action

But probably not bird hunting. The ranch is filled with pheasants, quail, chuckers, and other game birds, but I haven’t been overly impressive when I’ve tried the sporting clays. The clay that shoots straight in the air was particularly vexing. Fortunately, I doubt burglars would have that ability, so I’ll still be okay with home defense.

The Chi-coms better avoid Fairfax

While I wasn’t overly proficient with the shotgun, I think I did okay with the rifle. I was a bit high and to the left on the target range, but one of the guides said anything within the bigger orange square is a kill shot.

Then again, part of their job may be to stroke the egos of visitors from the cities and suburbs.

In any event, a bear hunt might be a good idea. I have a fireplace at home, and it might look nice with a bearskin rug in front of it. All I’d be missing, then, is a lovely lass to pose on it.

But I’m digressing. The point of this post is to simply note that this piece of property is something every environmentalist should applaud. And it’s all made possible by the free market and private property rights.

One final point: In the interests of full disclosure, I’m an officer in a company, created by a foreign investor, that owns about 50 percent of property. But that doesn’t influence my views. It’s my pre-existing belief in private property and the environment that made it very easy for me to say yes to the this opportunity.

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I’ve written about the government’s war on light bulbs, its rule against working toilets, and its prohibition of washing machines that actually clean, so I sometimes cover environmental issues.

But I usually limit myself to examples of silly radicalism, such as the crazy claim that climate change causes AIDS, a reprehensible example of EPA thuggery, and a column about pointless recycling mandates.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, environmental protection is a legitimate role of government. Simply stated, we don’t want polluters to violate our property rights.

The challenge, of course, is how to conduct sensible cost-benefit analysis.

Where do we draw the line, for instance, on how much pollution cars should be allowed to emit? Or what are the best rules to ensure landfills don’t pollute groundwater?

These are important issues, but I will admit a bias. I am instinctively skeptical whenever self-proclaimed environmentalists start pontificating.

In part, this is because everyone has an incentive to exaggerate. The business community will always say that a new regulation imposes astronomically high costs, while environmentalists will claim minimal costs and say that thousands of premature deaths will be averted.

Since exaggeration is omnipresent in Washington, that’s not what really bothers me. My main problem with environmentalists is that they want to use so-called green issues to give government more power. And if you oppose them, you’re an evil person.

Consider the example of Professor Kari Norgaard of the University of Oregon. She thinks you’re mentally ill if you don’t agree with her.

Just in case you think I’m being unfair, here are some blurbs from a report in the UK-based Daily Mail.

Prof. Kari Norgaard

An Oregon University professor has controversially compared skepticism of global warming to racism. …The professor, who holds a B.S. in biology and a master’s and PhD in sociology, argued that ‘cultural resistance’ to accepting humans as being responsible for climate change ‘must be recognised and treated’ as an aberrant sociological behaviour. …Norgaard last week attended the annual four-day ‘Planet Under Pressure’ international conference in London, where she presented her controversial paper to delegates on Wednesday.

Professor Norgaard wasn’t the only oddball at the conference. The article also mentions that the attendees included a bunch of control freaks who want to force people to live in densely-populated cities.

The scientists behind the event recently put out a statement calling for humans to be packed into denser cities so that the rest of the planet can be surrendered to mother nature. And fellow attendee Yale University professor Karen Seto told MSNBC: ‘We certainly don’t want them (humans) strolling about the entire countryside. We want them to save land for nature by living closely [together].’

The folks at the Commentator sent a camera to the conference. Here’s a five-minute sample of what they saw.

Remarkable.

But the folks at the conference weren’t even the crazies, or at least the really bizarre environmentalists weren’t part of the video. For instance, I didn’t see the folks who don’t believe in bathing, the ones who sterilize themselves to avoid carbon-producing children, or the ones who produce (or use) hand-cranked environmentally-friendly vibrators.

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In some recent polling data, most Americans expressed a negative view of the federal government, with many of them in another poll saying it poses an “immediate threat to citizens.”

That probably sounds extreme to some people, but this story about IRS abuse should be enough to convince any normal person the the federal government is despicable.

For another example, let’s look at a case involving the thugs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This Reason TV video provides the background.

This is a horrifying video to watch. Anybody with a shred of decency should be outraged.

Fortunately, all nine Supreme Court Justices sided with the property owners. I don’t know if they were outraged, but they made the right legal decision. The Wall Street Journal opined about the outcome.

These are hard times for economic liberty, but the Supreme Court on Wednesday offered a modest reason to hope. In a 9-0 ruling, they concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency can’t terrorize Americans via regulation without allowing them a day in court. …The case landed at the High Court after the Sacketts tried to appeal the wetlands designation. But the EPA refused to grant a review or lookback hearing, because an appeals process isn’t explicitly required by the Clean Water Act. Only after the EPA moved to enforce the compliance order would the Sacketts get their day in court. The EPA almost never needs to enforce, however, because disobeying a compliance order—even one that is later overturned—is legal proof in its mind of “willfulness” or a tacit admission of guilt. The only way to defend yourself is to break the law and therefore invite even higher penalties. The Sacketts claimed this Star Chamber violates their due process rights. …Congress ought to amend the Clean Water Act to make the law’s jurisdiction clearer. Meantime, the ordeal of the Sacketts shows once again how this agency with a $10 billion budget and 17,000 agents has become a regulatory tyranny for millions of law-abiding Americans.

Sadly, the decision still leaves the EPA thugs with too much power for discretionary abuse, as Brian Garst notes.

We’ve still got a long way to go to restore basic property rights in this country, and the Sackett’s still have to fight the EPA on the merits of the case as they seek to disprove the claim that their own property is a “wetland,” much less a “navigable water” of which the Act supposedly deals, despite having no water. But at least now they have their Constitutional due process rights recognized, so that they may challenge EPA’s jack-booted thugs in court without first having to rack up millions in fines waiting for EPA to allow them to do so.

But let’s enjoy at least a partial victory. I’m smiling today at the thought of unhappy bureaucrats at the EPA.

Last but not least, I want to acknowledge that government thuggery is not limited to the federal government in Washington.

Gee, do you detect a pattern?

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I posted the other day about the federal government giving $10 million of our tax dollars to a private company for developing an “affordable” light bulb that costs $50.

Now, thanks to the pen of Alexander Hoffman (creator of this gem), we have an excellent cartoon to commemorate this achievement.

Since we’re on this topic, I want to atone for an admission in my previous post (as noted by Seth, Bill, Dan, and Talon’s Point).

If you believe the calculations cited in the article from the post, it’s possible that this light bulb might save money in the long run. I should have noted that there are two possible interpretations of that data.

a) It’s wrong, which is what you’d expect from the crowd that routinely trumpets misleading data on everything from global warming to job creation.

b) It’s right, in which case there’s no need for a $10 million taxpayer handout since consumers will figure out that the bulbs save money.

Which is why, in the absence of war, I’ll relentlessly publicize this poster showing that more government is not the answer.

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I’ve written about the government’s war on consumer-friendly light bulbs (and also similar attacks on working toilets and washing machines that actually clean), so I’m generally not surprised by bureaucratic nonsense.

But even I’m shocked the federal government gave an affordability award for a light bulb that costs $50. I’m not making this up. Here’s a blurb from ABC News.

The U.S. government has awarded appliance-maker Philips $10 million for devising an “affordable” alternative to today’s standard 60-watt incandescent bulb. That standard bulb sells for around $1. The Philips alternative sells for $50. Of course, the award-winner is no ordinary bulb. It uses only one-sixth the energy of an incandescent. And it lasts 30,000 hours–about 30 times as long. In fact, if you don’t drop it, it may last 10 years or more. But only the U.S. Government (in this case, the Department of Energy) could view a $50 bulb as cheap.

Isn’t that wonderful? My tax dollars were used to reward a company that produced a light bulb I can’t afford.

Lisa Benson has a very good cartoon about this light bulb, as well as the less-than-shocking news that Obamacare will be more costly than originally forecast.

If you like Lisa’s work, there are some other good examples here and here.

Last but not least, I’m up in New York City for an investment funds conference about the Cayman Islands. Not a bad view from my window, though you need to click on the image to get a good idea of what I woke up to.

Too bad the state and the city are high-tax hell holes.

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