|Free Markets and The Environment: An Unlikely Partnership|
|Written by Jillian Miers|
When an average person or non-conservative thinks about the free market, they imagine big CEOs bathing in money while crime and pollution run rampant in the cities and destroy the countryside.
But, during a lecture on March 30 presented by the Young Americans for Liberty, Walter Block argued that without government regulating public services and business practices, the market's incentives would balance environmental harm and the cost involved for consumers or producers. An audience of about 40 heard him explain this concept in regards to five concerns: air pollution, paper versus plastic, species extinction, global warming, and overpopulation.
“The government is the problem and not the market,” Block said.
Air pollution is generated from exhaust pipes, smoke stacks, tobacco smoking, and use of fossil fuels. As it is, companies are regulated on the amount of air pollution they can create, but private citizens are not. Neighbors are permitted to burn trash, rather than let it go to a landfill or blow over into another's yard, considered trespassing. Block insists that air pollution also be considered trespassing, as secondhand smoke is treated.
Block explained the court system in America had been “sympathetic to pollution victims” before the 1890s, but changed pace in order to gain power in the world. America had begun making more military equipment using steel and powering it through coal which caused more pollution, so the courts began to relax on pollution cases for the “good of the nation.”
Over the past decade, environmentalists have advocated for reusable bags and choosing paper over plastic. Many stores, such as Marsh, Target, and Walmart, offer fabric bags to reuse when shopping instead of the traditional plastic bags. “But what are the incentives for citizens to choose the more environmentally-friendly choice as they are told?” Block asks. He said it is impossible to appropriately compare the current system and its effects on the environment to a free market system and its effects because of the socialization of part of the market. The cost of disposal of both paper and plastic are the same for all consumers because the government sets a rate for garbage disposal and similar public services, so the incentives for choosing paper over plastic, or more reusable bags, comes from personal satisfaction or convenience.
Now both types of trash are stored in landfills, areas where its value has been determined not to be enough for commercial or residential development. In these landfills, the effects of disposing either are relatively harmful where plastic remains in the landfills for thousands of years but paper degrades and puts off methane gases.
“If one is really bad, the market will indicate it by money and then consumers will gravitate away from it,” said Block.
Block also added that in a free market, the fear of running out of resources would be irrelevant.
“We'll never run out of resources because when one gets low, the price rises and those who demand it will find substitutes or economize on it,” Block said. “They will begin looking for alternatives.”
In regards to species extinction, Block said to prevent it, there must be private ownership of the animals. Right now, it costs nothing when people hunt them in excess and do not use all parts of the animal. Nobody takes care of the animals because it costs them when they do not own the animals to begin with, Block said. Also, hunters have less of an incentive to hunt moderately because if they don't kill them and get the money, somebody else will.
“It it is owned in common, then you have less of an incentive to safeguard it because if you do, someone will grab it,” he said.
Block then went on to argue that global warming, which is also referred to as climate change, is arbitrary since the climate fluctuates naturally as seen over the Earth's history. He also discussed briefly overpopulation and the correlation between income and density, which he determined not to exist. Block put into perspective the population by saying all of the world's population would fit into a one mile cubic telephone booth.
Block advocated for the free market to be the solution for environmental concerns. He believes privatizing public services would lead to better quality of the services and also a balance between the harm to the environment and the cost to the consumers or producers. For more information on this, Block wrote a book related titled Privatization of Roads and Highways.
“In order to make sense of it, you must privatize everything in order to quantify the value of the goods in the market,” Block said. “The government shouldn't be telling us what's in our best interest; it will be reflected in the market.”