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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is the Environment a Public Good?

I’m frequently asked how an anarchist society would deal with things like pollution and other kinds of corporate malfeasance in the absence of a regulatory state.

One remedy commonly put forward by market anarchists is tort liability, enforced by local juries or arbitration services. For example, a corporation that spilled large quantities of gasoline and polluted the groundwater would be sued by the farmers whose wells were affected.

Libertarian writer Don Boudreaux (“Demsetz on the Costs of Markets,” Cafe Hayek, Jan. 21) cites economist Harold Demsetz to the effect that property rights (like the right to clean air) may go unprotected in a free market because protection costs too much. The transaction costs of defining the property rights, assigning a market value to them, and identifying and punishing violations, are simply more than it’s worth to those who are protected.

If this is the case, Boudreaux’s argument essentially mirrors that of progressives: That the prevention of pollution is a public good. They simply disagree on whether the market’s forbearance is a “market failure” or a rational allocation of resources away from an activity that’s just not worth it.

I don’t think either is correct.

Read the rest of Kevin Caron's article

at The Center for a Stateless Society.

James Tuttle,
Regular Columnist, THL
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