Private property can protect the environment better than the State (1/2)

Even if the trend is toward a centralizing, state-controlled, and command ecology, market solutions can also make environmental protection possible. And potentially better than solutions offered elsewhere…

Every century brings its share of problems for lovers of freedom, peace and prosperity. The defenders of freedom thus had to face the threatening shadow of centralization in the 20th century and fought against socialists and statists who advocated the abandonment of individual freedom and greater centralization, in the name of collective prosperity. But the fall of the iron curtain made it possible to demonstrate once and for all that collective prosperity is only compatible with economic and individual freedom.

Despite this remarkable victory, the looming shadow of centralization, with the goal of eradicating economic and individual freedom, has returned to haunt us at the dawn of the 21st century.

The freedom to… protect the environment?

Now, these calls for the abandonment of individual freedom and the eradication of freedom of choice are no longer based on materialistic considerations, but on genuinely humanistic concerns, sometimes pretentious, about the environment and the effects of its degeneration on the possibilities of survival of humanity. race.

It is almost like stepping out of the pages of a bad comedy that economic thinking and the general consensus have already turned against capitalism. To the point that the same idea that an economy of marché libre ne soit pas nécessairement opposed to the conservation of the environnement semble être à present suffisamment séditieuse pour être jugée comme s’il s’agissait d’a crime contre l’ humanity.

Suddenly, when markets have clearly demonstrated their unique ability to generate peace and prosperity, most economists and academics in fields other than economics have become Malthusians painting a bleak and misery-ridden future due to consumerism. overcrowding, overpopulation, and diminishing returns induced by resource scarcity

Therefore, it is up to the defenders of freedom to show that private property, the free market economy and ecology are in fact compatible.

Private Property and Pollution

Property rights over objects or spaces allow individuals to take responsibility for their property. This helps gain efficiency, since no one can infringe on another’s property without paying proper damages, while also placing restrictions on the actions of the owner himself. Ultimately, this leads everyone to behave in a way that does not infringe on the property of others.

If the economic activities of an individual lead to environmental degradation in a particular place, this constitutes a case of trespassing on the property of others. For example, when a factory releases harmful substances into a body of water that it does not own.

Therefore, if we approach the problem from the angle of private property rights, most cases of pollution, whether it is air pollution, water pollution or noise pollution, constitute a violation of the property rights of others, and worsening pollution levels are the result of the failure. to properly grant and enforce those property rights.

On the one hand, it incentivizes polluters to damage the property of others without having to pay sufficient punitive damages, and on the other hand, it prevents the adaptive behavior of markets from taking place.

If punitive damages were fully applied in application of property rights recognized by the rule of law, polluters would be encouraged to change their behavior, given the high cost that these damages would represent for them, which would result in a reduction in contamination levels.

a misconception

The claim that free markets and environmental conservation are contradictory is also based on the idea that increased production and consumption are the main reason for environmental degradation, and that the correct way to deal with it would be that consumption and production were centrally planned by central governments. banks and states, through national quotas, price controls and other regulatory measures market mechanisms.

Forest fires are probably – at least in the United States, but also in Canada or Australia, in particular – the most significant evidence used by environmentalists to demonstrate both the existence and the danger of global warming today.

But wildfires can also be used to demonstrate the efficacy of private ownership and market-based approaches versus government solutions based on public ownership of wildland to eliminate wildfires.

That’s what we’ll see tomorrow…

Article translated with permission from the Mises Institute. Original in English here.

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