There’s always something to howl about

Cleaned by Capitalism: Our professed love of nature is an artifact of our enormous prosperity

The other week Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek posted a wonderful article discussing the advent of the rule of law as a precursor to poetic rhapsodizing about the love of the natural world. The post featured a quote from Macaulay’s History of England:

Indeed, law and police, trade and industry, have done far more than people of romantic dispositions will readily admit, to develop in our minds a sense of the wilder beauties of nature. A traveller must be freed from all apprehension of being murdered or starved before he can be charmed by the bold outlines and rich tints of the hills. He is not likely to be thrown into ecstasies by the abruptness of a precipice from which he is in imminent danger of falling two thousand feet perpendicular; by the boiling waves of a torrent which suddenly whirls away his baggage and forces him to run for his life; by the gloomy grandeur of a pass where he finds a corpse which marauders have just stripped and mangled; or by the screams of those eagles whose next meal may probably be on his own eyes. . . .

It was not till roads had been cut out of the rocks, till bridges had been flung over the courses of the rivulets, till inns had succeeded to dens of robbers . . . that strangers could be enchanted by the blue dimples of lakes and by the rainbows which overhung the waterfalls, and could derive a solemn pleasure even from the clouds and tempests which lowered on the mountain tops.

Today is Earth Day, and Boudreaux is back with another trenchant post, this one discussing the revolting squalor that typifies pre-capitalist communities.

Don Boudreaux is the Chairman of the Economics Department at George Mason University — a hot zone of free-market economic research. In today’s post, he cites an article he had originally written for The Freeman, the magazine of The Foundation for Economic Education.

Boudreaux has given BloodhoundBlog permission to print his article in its entirely. The Greek root of the word economics literally means household management, and it’s not a coincidence that the real estate industry is so important to the economic well-being of the polity. It think this essay conveys important ideas for everyone, but it seems to me to be of particular moment to real estate professionals.

Cleaned by Capitalism

Thoughts on Freedom by Donald Boudreaux

I recently spoke in Toronto to students at a public-policy seminar sponsored by the Fraser Institute. The seminar opened with Fraser’s Laura Jones reviewing the many sound reasons why environmental alarmism is inappropriate. Ms. Jones offered superb analysis and boatloads of relevant facts. Her case that the environment is not teetering on the edge of disaster was unassailable — or so I thought.

During both the question-and-answer period and the group discussions that followed, the students vigorously assailed Ms. Jones’s case against command-and-control environmental regulation. These assaults all sprang either from mistaken notions about environmental facts or from a lack of historical perspective. 

As I listened to student after student lament the horrible filthiness of modern industrial society, my mind turned — as it often does — to the late Julian Simon. I remembered a point he made in the introduction to his encyclopedic 1995 book, The State of Humanity: almost all of the pollutants that have been most dangerous to humanity throughout history are today either totally eliminated or dramatically reduced. Here are Simon’s wise words:

When considering the state of the environment, we should think first of the terrible pollutants that were banished in the past century or so — the typhoid that polluted such rivers as the Hudson, smallpox that humanity finally pursued to the ends of the earth and just about eradicated, the dysentery that distressed and killed people all over the world.

Indeed so.

The fact that people today wring their hands with concern over the likes of global warming and species loss is itself a marvelous testament to the cleanliness of industrial society. People dying of smallpox or dysentery have far more pressing worries than what’s happening to the trend in the earth’s temperature. Truly, we today are lucky to be able to worry about the things that we worry about.

Our Polluted Past

I decided to work that last line into my own talk later in the day. I knew that declaring that our modern world is vastly cleaner than was the pre-industrial world would be met with astonishment, or even hostility, by the students. Such a claim contradicts all that they are taught. So I quickly assembled irrefutable facts to back my claim. Here’s my partial list of the myriad, mundane ways that modern society is unquestionably cleaner than pre-industrial society.

As Simon pointed out, smallpox, dysentery, and malaria — once common threats to humankind — are today totally conquered in the industrial world. (Smallpox is no longer a threat even in the poorest parts of the world.) Antibiotics regularly protect us from many infections that routinely killed our ancestors.

Before refrigeration, people ran enormous risks of ingesting deadly bacteria whenever they ate meat or dairy products. Refrigeration has dramatically reduced the bacteria pollution that constantly haunted our pre-twentieth-century forebears.

We wear clean clothes; our ancestors wore foul clothes. Pre-industrial humans had no washers, dryers, or sanitary laundry detergent. Clothes were worn day after day without being washed. And when they were washed, the detergent was often made of urine.

Our bodies today are much cleaner. Sanitary soap is dirt cheap (so to speak), as is clean water from household taps. The result is that, unlike our ancestors, we moderns bathe frequently. Not only was soap a luxury until just a few generations ago, but because nearly all of our pre-industrial ancestors could afford nothing larger than minuscule cottages, there were no bathrooms (and certainly no running water). Baths, when taken, were taken in nearby streams, rivers, or ponds — often the same bodies of water used by the farm animals. Forget about shampoo, clean towels, toothpaste, mouthwash, and toilet tissue.

The interiors of our homes are immaculate compared to the squalid interiors of almost all pre-industrial dwellings. These dwellings’ floors were typically just dirt — which made the farm animals feel right at home when they wintered in the house with humans. Of course, there was no indoor plumbing. Nor were there household disinfectants, save sunlight. Unfortunately, because pre-industrial window panes were too expensive for ordinary families — and because screens are an invention of the industrial age — sunlight and fresh air could be let into these cottages only by letting in insects too. Also, bizarre as it sounds to us today, the roofs of these dwellings were polluted with all manner of filthy or dangerous things. Here’s the description by historians Frances and Joseph Gies, in Life in a Medieval Village, of the roofs of pre-industrial cottages:

Roofs were thatched, as from ancient times, with straw, broom or heather, or in marsh country reeds or rushes. . . . Thatched roofs had formidable drawbacks; they rotted from alternations of wet and dry, and harbored a menagerie of mice, rats, hornets, wasps, spiders, and birds; and above all they caught fire. Yet even in London they prevailed.

One consequence is described by French historian Fernand Braudel: Fleas, lice and bugs conquered London as well as Paris, rich interiors as well as poor. (See Braudel’s The Structures of Everyday Life.)

Our streets are clean. Here, again, is Braudel, commenting on Parisian streets in the late-eighteenth century: And chamber pots, as always, continued to be emptied out of windows; the streets were sewers. Modern sewage disposal has disposed of this disgusting pollution. And that very symbol of twentieth-century capitalism — the automobile — has further cleaned our streets by ridding us of the constant presence of horse dung and of the swarms of flies it attracted.

Consider, finally, a very recent victorious battle against pollution: toilets and urinals that automatically flush. Until a few years ago, every public toilet and urinal had to be flushed manually. Not so today. As automatic flushers replace manual flushers, we no longer must pollute our hands by touching filthy flush knobs.  

These are just some examples of the countless ways that our ordinary lives are less polluted than were the ordinary lives of our ancestors. The danger is that people — like the students I met in Toronto — wrongly believe that the world is dirtier and less healthy today than in the past. And they blame capitalism. While some environmental problems still exist, they aren’t dire and they are nowhere near as great as were the problems with filth that regularly harassed our grandparents and great-grandparents.

It is tragic that demagoguery fueled by misinformation leads people today to blame the free market for all real and imaginary environmental problems. In fact, the free market is the greatest cleanser and disinfectant of the environment — the most successful pollution fighter that the world has ever known.

There is a corrollary argument to the one that Boudreaux makes here: That the organized environmentalist movement not only does not result in a cleaner environment, that this is not even its primary objective. I personally have no trouble crediting such an argument. My take is that the organized political movements of the left are all devoted primarily to growing the power of the state over the individual, with their superficial differences being more a matter of marketing than anything else.

I wrote about that much about a year-and-a-half ago, in a BloodhoundBlog post about compact fluorescent light bulbs:

I have zero faith in the good intentions of capital-E Environmentalism as a movement. I see it as a further expression of the global totalitarian movement. The original Marxist argument — the vicious exploitation of the incredibly rotund poor people — is so obviously absurd, Environmentalism was cooked up as an unanswerable substitute.

If there were such a thing as a true environmentalist movement, its very first target would be government interference in real estate — starting with the collectively-owned roads that yield up thousands of acres of pristine land to taxpayer-subsidized development every month. The fact that capital-E Environmentalism does nothing to combat the massive environmental destruction caused by government argues to me that its actual objective is — surprise! — more government, not “saving the earth.”

Even so, the pending disaster that is the alternative fuels movement could have come straight out of Atlas Shrugged — a potential famine caused by environmentalist dictates. If you’re interested in learning more about this point of view, Iain Murray has a brand new book — The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About — Because They Helped Cause Them — on this uglier side of the organized environmentalist movement.

And it’s important to make that distinction. If you have clean water despite pandemic government mismanagement of the water supply — if your water is delivered or you have a filter on your faucet or fridge — that’s capitalism answering a market need. If you’re using compact fluorescent bulbs, that means you’re smart and frugal — and therefore a juicy target for future tax increases. But when you hear people arguing for fines or jail terms, it is not at all unreasonable to wonder if what they really want is the power to fine or jail people, with the putative vitally-important-objective being so much window dressing.

Environmentalists are never short of demons to haunt your dreams. But there is a fundamental difference between a nightmarish threat and a cop with a gun. It were well for you to investigate those sorts of differences from this side of the jail cell door. Here’s a useful question to begin that investigation: If the organized environmentalist movement could achieve its most-fervently idealized state of civilization, how closely might it resemble the pre-capitalist communities Professor Boudreaux describes above?

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24 Comments so far

  1. Dave Shafer April 22nd, 2008 1:46 pm

    It’s my experience when anyone points the finger and says those people are all bad, wrong, misguided, or any other adjective that they are doing so because they want more power. That includes libertarians pointing the finger at environmentalists. Having been involved in the environmental movement for quite a long time, your characterization of it is unrecognizable. Most people come to the movement because they are trying to right a wrong. Doctors pushed the clean water movement which drove away much of the diseases and gave much better lives to people. Some Capitalists got on board, some stood on the sideline, some actively pushed back against it. Housewives drove the “Love Canal” movement because their children were getting sick. Hooker Chemical fought hard against them. Some wealthy folks stood behind them, some stood on the sidelines, some joined the power against them. Save the Everglades movement was started by fishing guides who saw their livlihood disappearing because of the destruction of the Everglades due to development and the sugar industry. The battle continues to be waged today.
    Personally, I think you are a very smart man and seemingly a very good RE person. However, I think you have set up this straw man (liberals, socialism) for you to tilt against. Your enemies are really only windmills!

    PS I live one block from Tampa Bay, which 20 years ago was one of the five most polluted bodies of water in the US. Environmentalists, government, citizens, business owners have changed the way they behaved and remade Tampa Bay into a thriving ecosystem that I regularly go swimming in with my 6 year old son. If this liberal approach to solving problems is wrong, then may we all be so wrong!

  2. Greg Swann April 22nd, 2008 2:24 pm

    Hi, Dave. This is why I said it’s important to distinguish between individual people and the organized environmentalist movement. Libertarians seeking power is an oxymoron, but, just to be on the safe side, I’m against that, too. I’m pretty sure that there is no peril to human life greater than Socialism, which piled up the corpses of 160,000,000 innocent people in the last century.

    Is Tampa Bay private property? Would its owners have permitted it to become polluted if it had been private property? Public ownership is almost always an economic and environmental disaster — as is nowhere more obvious than in the Socialist utopias, past and present. I’m glad it’s working a little better — for now — in Tampa. But there is no way to secure that asset in an enduring way except by private ownership. This is what Ducks Unlimited does. It’s what the Sierra Club used to do, before it became politicized. Is it your impression that the organized environmentalist movement is in favor of greater private ownership of land? Of waterways? I don’t have that impression at all, and so I think my argument holds up pretty well as written.

  3. Dave Shafer April 22nd, 2008 3:03 pm

    The corpses piled up by fascism (a right wing movement) are stacked pretty high too, so don’t see where this bolsters your argument?

    Oh my….you are a lot further gone than I realized. Public ownership of major bodies of water???????

    Well for the record, as long as businesses could externalize their costs by polluting public areas and had no costs coming back at them then they did just that. When various groups could make them pay for their pollutions then the calculus changes.

    Yes, many groups realize that private ownership could protect land and have gone on buying spree’s. Teddy Roosevelt did this with the Federal Governemnt essentially making the government stewards of land preservation. Florida has a similiar program. But I know this is not what you mean.
    Here is your problem. Many businesses have gone about their business, while polluting the land they own. And then they leave the mess to the citizens to figure out how to clean it up. Raytheon (Honeywell originally) left a site, now a superfund site, not to far from here that is radioactive. Private ownership failed to protect the land and the neighbors in that case. That is only one of many examples that make your theory seem a little less realistic. They essentially externalized the cost of their pollution to the citizens while taking their profits and running!
    That is what I mean about creating strawmen. It would be easy to say all corporations are bad actors when you look at this behavior, yet I find it precludes useful ideas from coming to fruition that requires cooperation from all parts of society.

  4. Sean Purcell April 22nd, 2008 3:29 pm


    Most people come to the movement because they are trying to right a wrong

    Herein lies the problem. Most people do not do any real investigation of their own on most subjects. This most certainly includes the environmet. Instead, they count on the leadership and education of others. And others can take on a lot of shapes and sizes.

    There are those for whom the cause is greater than the facts, there are those who have been mislead themselves, there are those that have researched and read and come to their conclusions and there are even those that have, at their core, an evil intent. The latter two categories are, in my opinion, the very small minority.

    What makes liberalism of a socialist nature so very terrifying is how classically tailored it is to the former groups. Most liberal fights are based on an idealism that is attractive to all. It would be nice if there were no crime, no pollution, no war, no poor, etc., etc. But the ideal of these goals is no match to their reality; more importantly: the steps seemingly most obvious to liberals in achieving these ideals rarely leads to them (the law of unintentional consequences).

    For those that do not put a fine point on their analyses, it is much easier to swallow whole the pablum put out by these others like so much panacea. A couple of examples:

    – Global warming – sounds great until one understands even the basics of the math. Never mind that the actual records currently show results in direct contradiction to predictions. No reason to put down the signs though, instead aerosols have been named as a masking agent to the global warming that is happening but can not be seen. (Reminds me of the scientists holding on to the Earth-centered universe and using reversing loops to explain away the accrued evidence. Nothing like a retrograde movement to really bring home the fervor.)

    -Tax cuts to stimulate the economy. No matter how many times supply side economics are engaged and no matter how many economists record the direct, positive results, liberals choose to scream down the benefit. Don’t let facts get in the way. What we need is a little more retrograde motion. :)

    It is easy to see why so many good natured people join movements such as you have joined. The proclaimed outcome is certainly to be lauded. But laudable goals are of small comfort to people force fed paternalistic laws and regulations from a nanny state only to watch the planets once again circle… the sun.

  5. Greg Swann April 22nd, 2008 3:42 pm

    I’m racing. I have to show in a little while.

    > The corpses piled up by fascism

    Fascism is a branch of Socialism, specifically of Marxism. The “right wing” dodge was invented by the Communists. Note that I am not of the right in any case. I am opposed to all uses of force against innocent people, no matter how they might be rationalized.

    > Public ownership of major bodies of water?

    I assume you mean private ownership, and, yes, this would make much better sense than the Tragedy of the Commons that results from public ownership. In any case, you didn’t answer the question. It is obvious that private owners will guard the value of the asset — any asset — much better than governments do. Is it your impression that the organized environmentalist movement favors greater private ownership? This one question by itself is enough to indict the entire organized environmentalist movement.

    > as long as businesses could externalize their costs by polluting public areas and had no costs coming back at them then they did just that.

    Correct. This would be a failure of government, specifically of public ownership of economic assets. This problem goes away if government gets out of the economy. Nobody treats a mall like they do a city street. Why? Because the owners won’t put up with it. There is no way to achieve that kind of oversight with an ownerless asset.

    > Teddy Roosevelt did this with the Federal Government essentially making the government stewards of land preservation.

    This was a massive expropriation of the Western United States, an incredibly destructive Socialist boondoggle. I can show you millions of acres destroyed by running cattle on land that never would have seen a cow, except that the land was “free” under government ranging licenses.

    > Many businesses have gone about their business, while polluting the land they own. And then they leave the mess to the citizens to figure out how to clean it up.

    Yet another failure of government. Its actual job is to protect individuals from criminal and tortuous injury, but, as you note, it has failed at the one job it is supposed to do, even as it is failing at all sorts of other jobs it should never have taken on.

    > requires cooperation

    I know you don’t mean anything bad by those words, but they eat each other: That which is voluntary cannot simultaneously be compulsory. When words like that come together in the larger arena, somebody’s going to get hurt.

    Free trade is not without defects, but government is always crime — the use of force by one person against another. We rationalize this by reference to offenses that are incontestably evil, such as rape or murder, but we then extend the reach of that force far beyond any rational boundary — into “free” roads and “free” parks and “free” waterways — even as we excuse government for failing to respond to actual crime. This is all a huge mistake, not to mention a complete betrayal of the ideas that motivated the Revolution of 1776.

    But: I don’t see how any of this has anything to do with the topic of the post. If the organized environmentalist movement actually cared about the environment, and not about expropriating, criminalizing and commandeering the lives of innocent people, government would be its first target of attack, not its ally.

  6. Mike Farmer April 22nd, 2008 5:57 pm

    One of the most disgusting environmental ad campaigns is the recent coalition of Pelosi, Gingrich, Sharpton and Robinson under the Gore umbrella. If you can watch this ad without puking you have a strong stomach.

    It’s so superficial and paternalistically insulting I don’t have the words to properly condemn it.

  7. Dave Shafer April 22nd, 2008 6:28 pm

    I hate to be the one to tell you but your reasoning is circular at best. When given an example of private ownership destroying the environment (land), you say it is a failure of government to protect what you said will be protected by private ownership. Circular reasoning at best and disingenuous at the same time. Your argument was simple, private ownership protects because it is its best interest to protect. When given an example of that theory not holding true, you simply create another straw man, government failing to protect.

    The whole mall versus public street argument is another version of the same thing.

    Then of course you tell me your real feelings with organized environmentalist movement “expropriating, criminalizing and commandeering the lives of innocent people.” Really, innocent people who just happened to pollute the land, leave it for others to build houses on it, without any concerns for the people who would live there (Love Canal et al.). Oh..I know they were only applying their property rights to do what they want with their property…..

    Really????? So who was really ” expropriating, criminalizing and commandeering the lives of innocent people” the movement that sprang up trying to get answers to why their children were getting sick and dying or the company that left a chemical stew for others to live on?

    Fascism is a right wing movement that has nothing to do with socialism. Might study some history to understand why Nazi Germany destroyed themselves attacking Soviet Russia. It wasn’t because they felt akin to communism.

    But, my general point is that “true believers” whether it of socialism, capitalism, democracy, or any other ism are always proved to be wrong because rigid ideology seems to require of them to think they are right and others are wrong and to give the others “evil” intent as you have done. There are some members of the environmental movement who fit this bill too, but I learned a long time ago to stay away from those folks because they were.. well boring… and ineffective at acomplishing goals. You might not agree with the goals of the environmental movement, nor its methods, but you do your movement no good by imputing evil in others who think differently.
    And it is generally agreed in the movement that the biggest polluter is and has been the federal government. So there is room for agreement.

    You might make better headway talking about the history of land acqisition. You know the native Americans land, which passed through the Spanish, French, English, Mexican, imperial needs before they settled into the USA and the land given by King George to favorite subjects to run plantations using that old capitalist favorite slavery system. But of course I digress. That in my mind is a much better argument against goverment power than any thrown up so far.

    Understanding that the environmental movement had to drag government into the battle and when it does win it does it by convincing the fairness of its claims to “the people” would go a long way in cleaning up your opposition in my opinion.

  8. Craig Klein April 22nd, 2008 7:18 pm

    Making the individual and God the source of all rights was Good.

    Trying to take those rights away from one individual for the betterment of the collective IS Evil.

    Trying to take rights away for the betterment of the Earth is just the same Evil with a new set of clothes.

  9. Greg Swann April 22nd, 2008 8:06 pm

    You are conflating criminals with innocent entrepreneurs and blaming it on me.

    1. Criminals commit crimes that go unprosecuted. This is a failure of government.

    2. Governments mismanage economic assets they should never have taken control of. This is a failure of government.

    3. Private entrepreneurs, by far the better stewards of economic assets, are prevented from owning assets that should always have been private property. This is a failure of government.

    National Socialism is a form of Socialism. The left-right spectrum is useless in any case, but Socialism, Marxism, National Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Fabianism, etc., are all forms of Collectivism, the belief that the group holds supremacy over the individual. The opposite of Collectivism is Individualism. The United States was founded as an Individualist nation, the first philosophically Individualist nation, but it has been trending toward Collectivism almost from the very beginning.

    > Really?????

    I draw attention to your five question marks. When you get hot under the collar, that’s a physical cue from your brain that you lack confidence in your own arguments. You wouldn’t be angry if you could prove what I am saying is incorrect. I’m not angry at all with you.

    > Then of course you tell me your real feelings with organized environmentalist movement “expropriating, criminalizing and commandeering the lives of innocent people.”

    Indeed, yes. I’ve said all along, many times, that I think that the organized environmentalist movement is in fact a false flag for Socialism in the United States. This is why the organized environmentalist movement aligns itself again and again with the police power — the state.

    > “true believers”

    This is the Fallacy Ad Hominem. Greg is a “true believer,” therefore Greg’s arguments cannot be true. I’m not a zealot in any case — I can defend everything I say in excruciating detail — but this is an invalid move either way.

    > you do your movement no good

    I don’t have a movement. I abhor collective action in any form. I am by long odds the most extreme individualist you will ever meet.

    > And it is generally agreed in the movement that the biggest polluter is and has been the federal government. So there is room for agreement.

    That’s insufficient. Government as such, at all levels, is the progenitor of the worst abuses of the environment. Without “free” roads, there would be few if any automobiles. We would live at a much higher level of density on the land, and walking would be far and away the most common form of transportation. Most of the abuses of the water supply would never have happened, if waterways were privately-owned, income-producing assets. There is no aspect of government action that does not result in significant environmental damage. To say, “the biggest polluter is and has been the federal government,” is a gross understatement. The proper expression of fact would be: Collectivism destroys wealth and Totalitarian Collectivism destroys all wealth.

    So why then is the organized environmentalist movement always in bed with the federal government, and why are its attentions always focused on restricting and criminalizing the actions of individuals and entrepreneurs? The theory that best fits the facts is that growing the power of the state — the collective — while limiting the autonomy of the individual is the actual goal of the organized environmentalist movement, rather than opposing the federal government as “the biggest polluter.” And that would again tend to argue that the organized environmentalist movement is a false flag for Socialism in the United States.

    > land given by King George to favorite subjects to run plantations using that old capitalist favorite slavery system

    As with the Nazi crack, this has nothing to do with me. If I had less confidence in my case, I might be insulted, but this is an obvious smear. In any case, slavery precedes capitalism by quite a few millennia, and it was capitalism that eradicated slavery from the West. It persists to this day in pre-capitalist cultures. Moreover, from my point of view in this debate, you are the advocate of collectivism and of involuntary labor — slavery. Even so, I don’t think you are evil, just misinformed.

    I know from your responses to me that I represent a point of view that you have never heard before. This is why you keep trying to slide me into conceptual categories you think you understand: Right wing, Nazi, pro-slavery, whatever. I will tell you the categories that do apply to me, but I don’t think they’ll mean anything to you without a great deal of elaboration. I am: a rationalist in epistemology, an egoist in ethics, an individualist in politics, a capitalist in economics. If you continue to react to me from your gut, or from that intense heat at your collarbone, I will continue to stymie and confound you. But if you ever get curious about social concourse without massive, government-inflicted criminality — I can show you a path that has been kept hidden from you for your entire life.

    > [Slavery] in my mind is a much better argument against government power than any thrown up so far.

    I agree. Those 160 million political murders, committed by Socialism upon innocents for the “crime” of disagreement, are an even better argument. And if there is a famine in grains this year, it will have been caused by the organized environmentalist movement by means of its ludicrous ethanol posturing. How many gross injustices and needless deaths will be enough for you and other Americans to call into question what is to me an entirely indefensible faith in the state?

  10. Allen Butler April 22nd, 2008 10:50 pm

    Oh. . .this is rich! I love a good political debate. Greg is our champion debater, or debaser, I can’t remember which.

    Some people are just incredibly bothered by black and white thinking. People who think in absolutes are a terrible threat to liberal thinkers (I guess that’s why they call it “liberal”).

    People who hold to strong convictions are now called “Zealots”. I am totally okay with that.

    It really only boils down to one incredibly simple thing: somebody has to be wrong. We can’t all be right. It doesn’t work that way. But a liberal’s mind begins to “squirm like a toad,” to borrow from Morrison, when confronted with principled and ridged moral and ethical structures. Their own inculcation of tolerance and moral relativism creates a rising heat under the collar when confronted by a principled thinker.

    Kepp it up; this is great fun!


  11. Mike Farmer April 23rd, 2008 8:36 am

    “You are conflating criminals with innocent entrepreneurs and blaming it on me.”

    This is true, there are criminals in both industry and government, and another aspect of this argument is that an over-reaching, interventionist government attracts the worst in our society to the feeding trough government has created. Instead of good, honest entrepreneurs innovating and producing who can’t stomach politics, the goverment attracts those who can influence, lobby and bribe government officials for favors.

    Over-reaching government intervention and regulation slowly corrodes the free enterprise system until all that is left are the ones who are most politically adept at buying favors and special priveleges.

  12. Dave Shafer April 23rd, 2008 8:58 am

    Oh I have run into folks like you.
    I am not hot under the collar.

    My problem is that you never deal with the reality of the world always insisting you know a better way of being. That is why you never directly deal with the real situations I pose for you….like the pollution of land by private owners….like how folks would deal with their children getting sick and dying because of the pollution under the land they live on without building a movement that makes demands of the government….
    You want to get government out of our lives, OK I can get on board with that. But what happens when a large corporation wants to hurt us (don’t play nieve and say this won’t happen). How does a individual deal with the power of corporations? Send the local police?

    You discount power. Just as the environmental movement discovered they needed a powerful ally and found the goverment a good source of power, capitalists do the same thing.

    You discount the difficulty of reversing the whole history of nationalism/tribalism which has led directly to collectivism (to fight wars mostly).

    Probably the only thing that really heats me up is the smugness of your posts. Most people can recognize your philosophy for what it is, disconnected from reality, incapable of addressing our collective problems, ignoring the reality of the last 200 years of industrial capitalism, etc. But the paternalism your posts show, that somehow you and your philosophical brothers are the only ones who really understand what is good for *us* is very familiar to me. Despite your cries of “I am not looking for power” (which may be true on an individual level) your philosophy asks us to create a power vacumn that will be filled up by someone, likely the priests of your philosophy. At least that is the usual order of events. Just as Marx’s dreams of a collective society run for the betterment of everyone, your dream of a radical individualistic society that benefits folks is unworkable because the all too human will to power is simply not accounted for.

    Collective action is the only thing that has ever successfully challenged power. The examples start for the USA with the American Revolution go through the abolition movement, sufferage movement, trade union movement, civil rights movement, environmental movement, etc.

  13. Sean Purcell April 23rd, 2008 9:31 am

    a rationalist in epistemology, an egoist in ethics, an individualist in politics, a capitalist in economics


  14. Sean Purcell April 23rd, 2008 9:56 am


    I will leave most of your post to Greg, as this discussion is primarily between you both. But there are two points I can not let go:

    the paternalism your posts show

    ? Greg’s posts can certainly be smug (by design, technique or style I am not sure) but paternal? The very definition of paternalism is the philosophy you espouse. The standard bearers for paternalism are currently running on the Democratic ticket. To wit: we shall confiscate your money and redistribute it to what we know to be best for you (baseless green initiatives, dysfunctional school systems, poverty-enabling (but) constituent building handouts, etc.). The implication is, of course, that the individual does not know what is best – a pretty good definition of paternalism wouldn’t you agree?

    Collective action is the only thing that has ever successfully challenged power

    Please do not confuse collective action with collectivism.

  15. Greg Swann April 23rd, 2008 10:06 am

    Sorry, no time to play right now.

    > Greg’s posts can certainly be smug

    This is certainly not my intent, unless “smug” means “knows what he’s talking about and won’t pretend he doesn’t.” Is that what it means? 😉

  16. Dave Shafer April 23rd, 2008 1:10 pm

    Sean, somehow I knew this was going to devolve into a repub v. demo thing. Frankly, I don’t want to go there but if you think one party is paternalistic while the other isn’t then you need to take another look!

    “I abhor collective action in any form. I am by long odds the most extreme individualist you will ever meet.”

    I was commenting on this statement!

    Finally, telling me I was lacking confidence in my thoughts because I added question marks is paternalistic in my mind. If the good readers don’t think so, well so be it!

    No ill intent was intended, nor am I particularly perturbed by any of the posts. We just see the world in a different vain, that’s all

  17. Sean Purcell April 23rd, 2008 3:14 pm


    I knew this was going to devolve into a repub v. demo thing

    I have no intention of devolving into such an argument. The philosophies of the two groups are different, but in most instances it is a difference without a distinction.

    My point was only that Democrats are generally the standard bearer of paternalistic pontificating (which is the word you had introduced). Republicans fair no better in my estimation; their pontificating is less paternalistic and more assumptive (which is to say they don’t tell me that I don’t know what is best, they just assume that I agree with them).

    Bottom line is they both are members of a living organism; and like all organisms their most primal urge is to live. Their lives require my money, my freedom and my future. This most basic of natures scares me the most. Having said that, I generally find the Democratic ideals more insulting to my person and my intelligence, but no more dangerous than Republican.

    I can not know what Greg meant in his statement, but the over riding message is one of vehement anti-collectivism and it was on that basis that I admonished you. Collective action of the individuals often leads to accomplishment but as soon as it is codified or organized (especially under color of law) it becomes, for me, a source of fear rather than accomplishment.

  18. Dave Shafer April 23rd, 2008 4:02 pm

    Points well taken. I agree with much of this last post, with the exception of the differences between Reb and Dem’s.

    So, when accomplishment get’s codified into law (let’s change the subject to something we can agree on like the end of slavery) it becomes a source of fear? I simply don’t get this?

  19. Sean Purcell April 23rd, 2008 4:18 pm


    Well said. You have opened up an interesting question. I am running out to a little league game but look forward to reengaging later.

  20. Richard Nikoley April 23rd, 2008 5:40 pm

    So, when accomplishment get’s codified into law (let’s change the subject to something we can agree on like the end of slavery) it becomes a source of fear? I simply don’t get this?

    In my view, there are many reasons and I’d have to ponder over which one I’d consider more important. Offhand? When you consider the abolition of slavery (already well towards being abolished as industrial technology increased worldwide), do you credit the state for ending it? That is, do you get a sorta nice warm feeling, like you were in 2nd grade and the teacher just extolled the virtues of the great Lincoln?

    I think that’s one of the most pernicious aspects of coercive authority. Humans have the propensity — even tendency — to actually adore their tormentors, and all the tormenter has to do is throw a bone.

    Slavery is but one example. It’s America’s original sin, the one that morally undercuts the whole Declaration of Independence, which was the high-water mark of the entire failed American political experiment (but not of America, which as I like to say: exists everywhere on earth in the minds and passions of individuals).

    How about tax cuts, or even worse, refunds?

    But this is baked into the bread and circuses cake. Dominate everything; throw crumbs; watch the world beat a path to your feet on bended, adoring knee.

  21. Sean Purcell April 23rd, 2008 8:07 pm


    when accomplishment get’s codified into law

    You have actually touched on an issue (albeit accidentally, I believe). I did not make the statement that you used to initiate your comment. What I said was:

    Collective action of the individuals often leads to accomplishment but as soon as it is codified or organized…

    The “it” referenced above is the collective action, not the accomplishment. When the collective actions become codified under color of law they are no longer the actions of self-serving individuals acting along side one another for a common cause, but instead the requirements ordered by a centralized power acting without legitimate source.

    Individual rights are sourced in the individual (and God, as you please) and they cannot be ceded. The state can no more take away your right to own slaves than they can execute you. Individuals can, however, through collective action create an agreement to not exercise certain rights in order to live together (create a club if you will).

    So the real question is this: what happens when, through collective action and agreement, we create rules for this club and someone wishes to break the rules (own slaves)? We cannot effectively eschew them from the club any more. There is no longer an option of ostracization. So how are we to avoid collectivism and honor Rousseau’s social contract at the same time?

  22. mike simonsen April 24th, 2008 4:49 pm

    I love how Boudreaux signs off his post, “Peace and Free Trade.”

    I need to get that put on a t-shirt.

    Because, you know, a t-shirt is the appropriate way to articulate one’s political philosophy.

  23. Greg Swann April 24th, 2008 7:38 pm

    Some quotes from Dreoy Murdock’s article today at National Review Online:

    The emergency brake should be pulled — NOW — before ethanol wreaks further havoc.

    Poor Haitians rioted last week outside Port-au-Prince’s presidential palace, forcing Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis’s April 12 ouster. Haitians are sick and tired of food prices that are 40 percent higher than last summer’s. Some have resorted to eating cookies made of salt, vegetable oil, and dirt. That’s right: Dirt cookies.

    Developing-world denizens are taking it to the streets with growling stomachs. In Bob Marley’s words, “A hungry man is an angry man.”

    Climbing corn prices have ignited Mexican tortilla riots. Enraged citizens in Egypt and Pakistan — potential Muslim powder kegs — have also violently protested premium prices for basic staples. Similar instability has erupted from the Ivory Coast to Indonesia. Resurrecting the defeated “import substitution” model of yore, India and Vietnam are among the nations that lately have prohibited grain exports and imposed government price controls. Kazakhstan, Earth’s No. 5 wheat source, just halted wheat exports, hoping to hoard local supplies. One third of the global wheat market is now closed.

    High oil prices and growing global food demand fan these flames, but government lit the match. Atop the European Union’s biofuels mandate (5.75 percent of gasoline and diesel by 2010; 10 percent expected in 2020), America’s 51-cent-per-gallon ethanol tax subsidy (2007 cost: $8 billion) and Congress’ 7.5-billion-gallon annual production quota (rising to 36 billion in 2022, including 15 billion from corn) have turned corn farms into cash cows. Diverting one quarter of U.S. corn to motors rather than to mouths has boosted prices 74 percent in a year.

    Eager to ride the ethanol gravy train, wheat and soybean farmers increasingly switch to corn. Thus, hard wheat is up 86 percent, while soybeans cost 93 percent more. Since April 15, 2007, pricier, grain-based animal feed (which consumed 40 percent of 2007’s 13 billion bushel U.S. corn crop) has helped hike eggs 46 percent. Got milk? You paid 26 percent more. Conversely, meat prices have dropped, as farmers slaughter animals rather than pay so much to feed them. (For details, click here.)

    All this has triggered a race to the top of the grain silo. On April 9, “the World Bank estimated global food prices have risen 83 percent over the past three years, threatening recent strides in poverty reduction,” the Wall Street Journal noted the next day. “As crops are sold for alternative-energy production, food prices have soared: The price of rice, the staple for billions of Asians, is up 147 percent over the past year.”


    It would be bad enough if this human suffering and geopolitical strife were ethanol’s ransom for dramatic environmental progress. In fact, ethanol is Earth-hostile.

    • According to the Hoover Institution’s Henry Miller and University of California Davis professor Colin Carter, “ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy per gallon than gasoline, so miles per gallon in internal combustion engines drops significantly.”

    • Meanwhile, tree killing consumes wildlife habitat. Orangutans now are in jeopardy as their surroundings fall to new, ethanol-inspired palm-oil plantations.

    • Nitrogen fertilizer, common in corn cultivation, yields nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas — which is no laughing matter. As Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and his scientific team concluded in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics last August 1, “the relatively large emission of N2O exacerbates the already huge challenge of getting global warming under control.”

    • Unless superior substitutes emerge, obeying Congress’ 2022 diktat will require a corn crop equal to 115 percent of 2007’s U.S. output, with every kernel going to ethanol, none for food. The consequences would be calamitous — from movies without popcorn, to over-farmed and under-rotated fields, to growing global starvation.


    Congress should abolish federal ethanol subsidies, mandates, and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imports — including Brazil’s cheaper, cleaner, sugar-based ethanol. If scientists can develop ethanol that neither starves people nor rapes the Earth, splendid. However, this enterprise must not rest upon morally repugnant, ecologically counterproductive, economically devastating, government-ordered distortions.

    It’s time for emergency legislation to repeal ethanol-market meddling. The federal program began as a sop to U.S. grain growers — arguably the most pampered and endlessly entitled people this side of the Saudi royal family. It has grown into a cancer on global food markets. Still, U.S. farmers won’t surrender quietly. Since they are hooked on handouts, let’s offer them one more: In exchange for accepting a two-year federal tax holiday on any income they earn, every actual, tractor-driving corn/biofuel farmer simply would walk away and let Congress relegate state-sponsored ethanol to the Unintended Consequences Hall of Fame. Compared to the global chaos that ethanol is fueling, this is a tolerable, one-time investment to pry these farmers’ and their Washington enablers’ hands off of our necks.

  24. Dave Shafer April 25th, 2008 7:34 am

    Couldn’t agree more. Must point out that this policy was the result of both Reb and Dem’s from midwest states and was pushed hard by american auto manufacturers as well as farmers. The auto industry refusing to directly compete with the Japanese and their more fuel efficient cars instead pushed for this hard!