Libertarians and the Environment, Part 1 of 3: Principles Abandoned

Column by Lawrence M. Ludlow.


Exclusive to STR


The Role of “But” Libertarians and “Hyphenated” Libertarians
There is a particular subset of libertarians that champions anti-environmentalism, zeal for maximum fossil-fuel consumption, disregard for pollution, and worship of population growth for its own sake (and all that comes with it). At best, these libertarians merely fail to acknowledge the downside of their positions. At worst, they revel in them. I do not know how these people came to find such easy lodgment within the libertarian community, and I do not know why their presence goes unremarked in so many libertarian circles – but they have and it does. By re-defining the libertarian message in terms of their own personal prejudices on these matters, they have distorted and undermined its consistency – a disservice that repels otherwise sympathetic allies.
Each of us has encountered quasi-libertarians in one guise or another. Some of them are easily spotted; they say things like “I’m a libertarian, but…” These “but” libertarians, however, are usually run-of-the-mill conservatives or progressives underneath their camouflage. I believe they are merely cross-dressing as libertarians – perhaps because they are embarrassed by the odor of the conventional political herd. They fail to understand that libertarianism is defined by its unwavering advocacy of human liberty (freedom from coercion). It is not a hodge-podge of positions that can be selected – cafeteria-style – from a platter of political hors-d’oeuvres. As a philosophy, libertarianism requires its adherents to take ideas seriously and to value the integrity of holding them consistently. By now, most of us understand that the pivotal concepts of the libertarian and voluntaryist worldview are (1) the non-aggression axiom and (2) the theory of self-ownership. Both of these are outlined in Murray Rothbard’s books – including For a New Liberty and Ethics of Liberty – among other sources. It is the failure to extend these concepts consistently that defines the “but” libertarians.
More deeply entrenched within the libertarian community than “but” libertarians are those who fail to apply libertarian principles to the natural environment and the important subject of environmentalism. Although some of these people readily identify themselves as “hyphenated” libertarians (such as the paleo-libertarians), most of them do not openly acknowledge their deviation from libertarian principles on this key issue. And just to get it out of the way, let me clearly state that big-government “solutions” are not and cannot be the answer to environmental challenges. Furthermore, I am not a Luddite, hoping to repeal the advance of technology. Nonetheless, a bias toward population expansion and reckless handling of the environment is not libertarian. Advocates of these positions regularly abandon the libertarian concepts of (1) pollution as a form of trespass, (2) the need for market-based (i.e., non-political) population “right sizing,” and (3) market-based land use. Instead, they assume that current levels of government-induced population growth, the size of the “human footprint,” and pollution are somehow a product of the free market and should continue without limit. For them, talk of environmentalism, overpopulation, and pollution are tantamount to supporting the dictatorial state. Note the following examples:
·       Bloggers at one web site regularly dismiss concerns about the environment and population growth. Here (Lew Rockwell), here (Sean Corrigan), here (Butler Shaffer), and here (David Kramer), are some examples – including this featured paean to gas-guzzlers by Karen De Koster. For these writers, to be concerned about the environment is to be “anti-human.” In their world, there are only two alternatives: the socialist alternative of leftist environmentalists and their own equally socialist paradigm. It is socialist because it shuns the cost-revealing, cost-assigning ways of the free market and pretends that the misallocation of resources and spreading-out of negative externalities that we currently experience in our state-sponsored “tragedy of the commons” is somehow acceptable as an alternative. Even worse, they assume that this misallocation can go on forever with no worrisome consequences.
·      At a related web site, this article by Benjamin Marks is typical of the treatment the topic of overpopulation receives. He dismisses the possibility that population pressures can be negative and does not even address the problem of state-sponsored population growth (through tax incentives and transfers, etc.). Another, by George Reisman, explicitly accepts the tragedy of the commons and abandons the concept of holding individual human beings responsible for actions that have an impact on the environment. Why? Because everyone else is doing the same thing. Addressing global warming and ozone depletion, he writes: “The appropriate answer to the environmentalists is that we will not sacrifice a hair of industrial civilization, and that if global warming and ozone depletion really are among its consequences, we will accept them and deal with them—by such reasonable means as employing more and better air conditioners and sun block, not by giving up our air conditioners, refrigerators, and automobiles.” Going even further, William Anderson builds a straw man and then shakes it in front of us with this dire warning: “The verdict is in; environmentalism is not only hazardous to our health, it threatens our very lives.”
·      This article by Cort Kirkwood – posted at yet another web site – correctly points out the foolishness of government programs that limit population, but it fails to address the downside of state-sponsored population growth – which is called “social engineering” when socialists are the culprits.
·      In his book review of Steven Mosher’s book, Population Control (hosted by yet another web site), George Leef exhibits great angst about falling fertility rates in some countries. Like Steven Mosher, Mr. Leef views population growth as a way to salvage big-government social security programs. To support this goal, which is hardly libertarian, he cites Julian Simon, a growth-at-all-costs advocate. Julian Simon’s argument also was repeated by Louis Carabini in his recent book, Inclined to Liberty.
How to Misunderstand the Problem
Sheldon Richman, a fine writer on many other issues, reveals the typical attitude of anti-environment libertarians in this article:
“Contrary to the anti-natalists, people do not breed like rats. They have always adjusted their reproductive activities to the constraints and incentives that confronted them. (Big families make sense in pre-industrial economies.) Population is no threat to progress. The basic issue is who shall determine how many children people may have, the state or individuals? The moral is the practical. Individual freedom is the answer.”
The devil, however, is in the details: Richman’s blanket statements about overpopulation and human behavior are as erroneous as those of the big-government anti-natalists that triggered his reaction. Note Richman’s use of the words “always adjusted their reproductive activities” and “big families make sense in pre-industrial economies” and “population is no threat to progress.” These phrases assume that people always act rationally, that they are subject only to the capitalist ethos and downward-sloping population curve of industrial society, and that technology will always supply a remedy for population problems. These assumptions are not justified. There are many factors that can disrupt the spontaneous market mechanisms that normally function to “right-size” human populations at levels that are commensurate with the prevailing economic climate and technological developments. Richman does not account for the impact of government-protected cultural factors that affect family size. He also ignores the impact of the modern welfare state – where 90% of children attend tax-subsidized schools, where per-child income-tax deductions act to short-circuit the cost pressures of bearing additional children and shift costs to others, and where food-stamp programs (now credit cards) and a raft of other programs further redistribute costs throughout the population. These factors all short-circuit the spontaneous, rational, voluntary methods of population right-sizing. Furthermore, use of the word always often leads to trouble, and it did so in Richman’s case. Later, we will cite just a few of the many famines that contradict his statement. People do not always adjust their behavior to avert disaster.
Recalling Libertarian Basics
When humans make a habit of acting without forethought, they fail to consider the unintended consequences of their actions. At the beginning of his most famous book, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt labeled this habit (when applied to economics) the “the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.” For Hazlitt, it consisted of a failure to consider the long-term and widespread consequences of a course of action. Whether it was product shortages caused by price controls, higher prices caused by trade restrictions, or inflation as a result of printing too much money, Hazlitt believed that 90% of harmful economic policies were based on a failure to understand this error. Hazlitt’s lesson applies to environmental questions as much as it does to economic policies, and we are kidding ourselves if we pretend that it doesn’t.
My suggestion is that libertarians – including voluntaryists and agorists – should stick to their knitting. This means that they should seek only voluntary, market-based solutions and remain agnostic about what constitutes acceptable limits (whether large or small) when discussing pollution, population size, or land use. By agnostic, I mean simply that we “don’t know” in the original sense of the Greek roots of this word. Consequently, we cannot pass quantitative judgment about such things as whether the population is too small or too large. After all, it is the position of the Austrian School of economics (in agreement with Friedrich Hayek, author of The Fatal Conceit) that knowledge is incomplete and decentralized in the marketplace. That is why government-sponsored “economic calculation” is impossible. Central planners simply cannot possess enough accurate data and information about its meaning to understand all of the desires, needs, methods, and effects of the billions of market transactions that take place every day. They cannot know, and we can’t either. This market-based agnostic approach also applies to judgments about technologies such as nuclear power (a heavily subsidized, government-backed industry in many ways) and issues such as global warming. Instead, we should focus on the importance of property-rights enforcement, restitution for trespass, and the need to ensure that the full costs of human action (including reproduction) are borne by those who undertake a course of action. And it is the phrase human action that brings us to Ludwig von Mises of the “Austrian School” of economists and author of the tome Human Action among others.
Resurrecting the Ghosts of Mises and Rothbard
I invoke the name of Ludwig von Mises because so many writers – while wearing his mantle – seem to have ignored their eponymous inspiration. It is as if someone had lowered the cone of silence on Mises’ extensive and favorable comments about the work of Thomas Malthus.
Buried in Mises’ magnum opus, Human Action, are extensive remarks about the perils of non-market-driven population growth. Similar statements can be found in the writings of Mises’ most famous student, the irrepressible Murray Rothbard. He wrote passionately about pollution in chapter 13 of For a New Liberty. Sadly, the authors cited in this article often treat these topics with derision – as if no sentient student of Mises could possibly concern himself with the environment, pollution, urban sprawl, or population growth. Instead, they have adopted a pro-development stance that is identical to that of “Red State” Republicans living in Orange County, California. Why? Because they have accepted today’s milieu of tax-subsidized population growth, government-tolerated pollution, marketplace distortions, and subsidized resource consumption as if it were a product of the market and therefore above reproach. In essence, they have embraced the environment created by Big Brother and have re-named it Heaven. Stockholm syndrome, anyone?
Mises on Pollution
Let’s take a closer look at what Mises actually said about pollution and overpopulation in his book, Human Action. In the chapter entitled “The Data of the Market,” Mises briefly traces the story of pollution in the industrial age:
By and large the principle is accepted that everybody is liable to damages which his actions have inflicted upon other people. But there were loopholes left which the legislators were slow to fill. In some cases this tardiness was intentional because the imperfections agreed with the plans of the authorities. When in the past in many countries the owners of factories and railroads were not held liable for the damages which the conduct of their enterprises inflicted on the property and health of neighbors, patrons, employees, and other people through smoke, soot, noise, water pollution, and accidents caused by defective or inappropriate equipment, the idea was that one should not undermine the progress of industrialization and the development of transportation facilities. The same doctrines which prompted and still are prompting many governments to encourage investment in factories and railroads through subsidies, tax exemption, tariffs, and cheap credit were at work in the emergence of a legal state of affairs in which the liability of such enterprises was either formally or practically abated. Later again the opposite tendency began to prevail in many countries and the liability of manufacturers and railroads was increased as against that of other citizens and firms. Here again definite political objectives were operative. Legislators wished to protect the poor, the wage earners, and the peasants against the wealthy entrepreneurs and capitalists. [Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998) p. 651.]
Clearly, Mises regarded pollution as a form of trespass (as did Rothbard). He understood that a failure to enforce property rights during the industrial revolution (for political reasons) introduced high levels of pollution.
Mises on Overpopulation
Moving to the topic of overpopulation, in the chapter entitled “Work and Wages,” Mises issued the following warning:
In the capitalist society there prevails a tendency toward a steady increase in the per capita quota of capital invested. The accumulation of capital soars above the increase in population figures. Consequently the marginal productivity of labor, wage rates, and the wage earners' standard of living tend to rise continually. But this improvement in well-being is not the manifestation of the operation of an inevitable law of human evolution; it is a tendency resulting from the interplay of forces which can freely produce their effects only under capitalism. It is possible and, if we take into account the direction of present-day policies, even not unlikely that capital consumption on the one hand and an increase or an insufficient drop in population figures on the other hand will reverse things. Then it could happen that men will again learn literally what starvation means and that the relation of the quantity of capital goods available and population figures will become so unfavorable as to make part of the workers earn less than a bare subsistence. [Ibid., p.601, emphasis added]
Please note the difference between Mises’ warning and Sheldon Richman’s rosy assessment. When Richman claimed that humans “have always adjusted their reproductive activities to the constraints and incentives that confronted them,” he failed to account for episodes of mass starvation. And it is these episodes that depict precisely what Mr. Malthus tried to point out. As recently as the 19th century, there was the Irish potato famine. It was preceded by countless others, and these have continued in some areas of the globe well into the 20th century. If people have always adjusted their reproductive activities, how does Mr. Richman explain the practice of infant exposure/abandonment and female infanticide in the Middle Ages (which has been documented by study of the polyptych of Saint-Germain-des-Prés)? These are some of the consequences of reproduction without limit.
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Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.  


srichman's picture

For the record, I am not anti-environment (assuming I understand what you mean by that term), and I do not sanction government protection of cultural traditions or the welfare state, which encourage large families. I do not sanction anything government does. I don't know what you makes you think otherwise.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

This article was written to “balance the scales” because for years, I have noticed that the problems of human populations and negative externalities related to those populations have been addressed in a monolithic fashion within the libertarian community – one that pretends that there is no problem and “how dare you for even thinking that there is one.” The article I cited in this piece, written by Sheldon Richman, is typical of this habit – and I believe it is a bad habit. There is always a tilt in one direction in the printed/web-based libertarian community. It speaks for itself, and I do not like it. I first became aware of it when I spoke to acquaintances who claimed to have an interest in the environment, and they mentioned that they never read anything from libertarians except the one-sided viewpoints that this series examines and criticizes. I checked up on what they accused libertarians of doing, and I found that these critics of libertarianism had a point. The topic of population and pollution was always dealt with in the same fashion – to pretend it does not exist. One cannot walk away from an examination of this issue in libertarian venues without seeing this sad trend of insensitivity to the impact of human populations, and the easy dismissal of this topic at many of the web sites mentioned here tells the story. I’m sorry if you feel you’ve been mischaracterized, but like the others, your writings reflected this predisposition. Please read on through the remaining parts, and I think you will have to agree that it is very odd that these “forgotten” opinions of Mises and people like me are NEVER, EVER represented in the libertarian venues – a fact that is particularly odd when you consider the volume and nature of what Mises has written on the topic and on Malthus in particular. It is as if Mises has been thrown under the bus on this issue.

golefevre's picture

It seems to me that what we witness from many whom identify themselves as progressives and environmentalists is a certainty not commensurate with their understanding of the science. In my opinion, the best science is that which remains non-partial and objective, or as you so aptly mention, "agnostic". Government most certainly co-opts public sentiment and scientific findings regarding the environment to its own advantage. Other actors in this money-free-for-all patently misrepresent information to a point beyond propaganda simply because it is profitable to do so. I think this incites a bit of resentment in some and the first reaction for many is to be snarky in their responses on this issue. The appropriate answer to a lie is not another lie, but rather empiricism, facts and critical thought. Well done, Mr. Ludlow.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Dear golefevre: Thank you for your supportive comments and for making an excellent point -- especially the one about statist lies and exaggerations and the appropriate response to these exaggerations and lies. Too many libertarians have fallen into the practice of being knee-jerk contrarians. This has done quite a bit of damage to the libertarian cause by making it seem as if we were the allies of those who trespass. Incidentally, because I suspected that some of the anti-environmentalist/pro-population sentiment was finding its origins in a misunderstanding of Judaism and Christianity (Catholic and otherwise) and what it means to "have dominion" over the planet, the entire 3rd part of this essay has been built around a possible answer to that position -- drawing up Thomas Aquinas among others.

willnmcl's picture

I think this is an excellent article. I have often thought that the current population level and growth and current pollution were primarily an unintended consequence (or sometimes intended consequence) of government manipulation. Obviously public schools contribute to population growth but so do many such seemingly remote laws as the mortgage interest deduction. I'm all for population growth or shrinkage as long as it is motivated only by the free market and the absence of any government involvement.

Thank you much for reminding us of the brilliant contributions of Rothbard and Von Mises on these issues.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Dear willnmcl: Thank you. Wait until you see the extensive Mises quotes in part 2 tomorrow. After reading them, you will begin to wonder (as I did) why these points are never addressed at places such as or and why no argument (as opposed to mere contrary assertion) is ever made against them there. It's as if they were never penned by Mises and must never be discussed -- down the memory hole with them!

willnmcl's picture

Am very interested to read part 2 tomorrow.

D. Saul Weiner's picture

Very interesting; I am glad to see this topic addressed.

I am confused about remaining agnostic and using restitution (etc.) with respect to global warming. Don't we (or doesn't somebody) need to come to some kind of conclusion about what is happening in order to determine if restitution is in order?

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Dear Saul: You have a good question about how restitution is sought. Offhand, I can only think that the usual libertarian arbitration method worked out by Morris and Linda Tannehill in "Market for Liberty," might offer a solution. In other words, probably and individual or class-action lawsuit against a polluter. And thanks for reading. I only hope the people who pretend this argument does not exist will take note. Regarding the term "market agnosticism," I only mean that because market-based information is widely dispersed and cannot be known by a central planner, we must allow the market with its trillions of market signals do the "planning" through the invisible hand -- which is really noting more than the judgments of millions of consumers and their decisions. By "agnostic," I mean we cannot know in a central-planning way. You would be surprised at how much resistance I encountered to "letting the market decide" at a recent Mises event here in San Diego. A devoted disciple of George Reisman objected to it and decided that he "knew" that nuclear power was the way to go, markets be damned. When I pointed out the sordid history of escape clauses and limited liability propped up by government permissions in that industry, my point fell on deaf ears. Reisman seems to have abandoned the market when it comes to pet peeves of his -- such as nuclear power and pollution. Mises addressed topics like this in Human Action. He pointed out that the latest and most efficient technology is not immediately adopted in a free market because the residual value of the existing technological infrastructure still has marginal utility that surpasses the new invention since it already has been paid for. That's why the decisions of central planners are absurd in an economic sense. They forget the value of the existing infrastructure and the marginal utility of using it until it is consumed. So I say that we need to stop pretending to "know" what the market needs. Let the market decide, and let us remain agnostic about what it will bring.

leucocephala's picture

I'm a long-time reader of STR, but I never registered or made a comment until this article prompted to go through the hassle. I must say "about time someone brought this up!"

Two things I'm passionate about: regenerative/sustainable/organic farming, and libertarianism. I love LRC but the anti-environmentalist slant often seen there has grated on me for a long while. Undoubtedly there is much within the environmentalist movement that deserves harsh criticism, but the LRC writers too often couch their criticism in the most bombastic, reactionary terms possible, minimizing any legitimate problems that exist.

I make it a point to always point people towards Rothbard's writings on pollution and property rights (as you mentioned) when debating this issue.

Looking forward to part II and III...

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Dear leucocephala: Thanks for writing and sharing with me your disappointment at the one-note drumbeat on this issue among so many libertarian sources -- especially at LRC and the many organizations associated with it. Ironically, while the LRC folks and other web sites cited here do so much good, they undo it when it comes to this issue. They have, in effect, become the very Kochtopus that they revile. I only hope they give it some serious thought and re-examine their stance. I have suspected that their misplace religious thinking may be behind their stance, but I can only guess. If it is a misunderstanding about Catholicism or Christianity, they have never provided a thoughtful rationale for their opinion, and they do not permit discussion of it in this way -- or why they abandoned Mises on this issue and will not discuss his views. I wrote the religious segment of this essay, to be published tomorrow, hoping that it may provide another approach from that end. Please thank Rob at STR for putting this on his pages. There's a complete blackout of this issue elsewhere.

J Neil Schulman's picture

I was referred here by a link in a discussion on my Facebook wall.

The reason libertarians are consistently hostile to discussions on environmentalism and the size of human population is that the very premises necessary to be assumed by both are anti-libertarian from the ground up.

Libertarians don't acknowledge the concept of "an" environment." The function of private property rights is to create multiple environments, a sphere of control within each of our own property boundaries. Significant and damaging incursions onto someone else's property is almost always regarded as actionable under any conceivable libertarian legal system, minarchist or agorist.

The very concept of "population" is collectivist and anathema to the libertarian who regards all human rights as held by individuals. Reproductive rights are a subset of individual rights, and others have no more right to limit someone else's fecundity than they do to demand someone else produce children for them as workers or cannon fodder.

The libertarian premise bypasses the entire question of whether there is such a thing as a "right" number of people, just as much as libertarians reject the concept that there is such a thing as too much or too little property, or that the "globe" is the wrong temperature.

Then you add in that most of "environmentalism" and "population science" is based on crackpot junk science, and the hostility rises to my statement that these are nothing but evil and nefarious schemes to create a holocaust of the human species itself -- one which makes the Nazis desire merely to kill off people they regarded as racially inferior seem charming by comparison.

I've come up with a term for these sort: not Greens, but Gangrenes.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

J Neil: Thank you for inadvertently making my point. To answer requires only the following question: Did you object when these "pro-growth" libertarians spoke out in favor of increasing populations? When they used the "population" word, did it raise your ire in the same way? My guess is "no" because you share their bias. The problem is that they claim to "know" for all of us. That is the nub. And by failing to note their use of this now-collectivist word, you have revealed your dog in this fight. Only you can know why you have taken that route. Similarly, as used in this article, the word "environment" has been used to refer to trespass. By pretending that it doesn't you have created out of thin air a straw man to beat upon. Again, put down your reactions and think about what I have said. The hostility to market-based agnosticism betrays an anti-market way of thought.

Suverans2's picture

You shouldn't sugar-coat it, J Neil Schulman. LOL Well said. I particularly like this one: "Significant and damaging incursions onto someone else's property is almost always regarded as actionable under any conceivable libertarian legal system, minarchist or agorist."

Under the "legal system" you describe MONSANTO would be sued by those whose crops are tainted by its genetically modified organisms, and not the other way around.

"In the well-known case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, pollen from a neighbor's GE canola fields and seeds that blew off trucks on their way to a processing plant ended up contaminating his fields with Monsanto's genetics.

The trial court ruled that no matter how the GE plants got there, Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto's legal rights when he harvested and sold his crop. After a six-year legal battle, Canada's Supreme Court ruled that while Schmeiser had technically infringed on Monsanto's patent, he did not have to pay any penalties.

Schmeiser, who spoke at last year's World Social Forum in India, says it cost 400,000 dollars to defend himself.

"Monsanto should [be] held legally responsible for the contamination," he said."

A "North Dakota farmer, Tom Wiley, explains the situation this way: "Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell." Monsanto ”Seed Police” Scrutinize Farmers

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Please see response below (I hit the wrong button). Briefly, you invented a scenario and attacked the position of Schulman, who is actually in the same position as Monsanto, except that in the story you cite, Monsanto sued. I agree that Monsanto's suit is of course nonsense. Similarly, the farmer's would be if he had no real damages to claim -- which usually makes frivolous suits a rarity. Sadly, these arguments do not address the point of the article, but they do show that you are willing to pretend I said something I didn't, attack it, and then declare victory. My breath is not taken away by these knee-jerk responses to the "e" word and to the "p" word, but I generally try not to invent superstitions about words.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Suverans2. Thanks for writing, but you are arguing with words you have put in my mouth. Monsanto's suit would be in line with J Neil's attitude, not mine. This puts him on the side of the tax-farmer Monsanto. Further, one usually has to show damages to file such suits, and a farmer who wished to sue Monsanto would have to pay the freight for his lawsuit and prove damages. That would not be easy. So you have made the wrong argument about the wrong side. Were you hoping I wouldn't notice the switch? I'm sure you can do better.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Lawrence M. Ludlow,

I am caught totally off guard by your reply, my friend. I assure you I wasn't trying to put any words in your mouth, in fact, I have read, re-read and read again, my reply to J. Neil Schulman, and I honestly have not the vaguest idea what words you are referring to. In the name of fairness, please tell me what you think these words are?

Secondly, I am definitely NOT "on the side of the tax-farmer Monsanto"; nothing could be further from the truth!

The damages that come to mind when Monsanto's BIOENGINEERED FRANKENFOODS invades someone's farm mostly pertains to "organic" and "non-GMO" growers, at the moment. Once their fields are contaminated, their "organic" and "non-GMO" crops are ruined and can't be sold as "organic" and "non-GMO", and perhaps for more than one growing season...perhaps even indefinitely. Further, I think it costs these farmers just as much to fight Monsanto's frivolous law suits as it would to bring suits against them, but I could be wrong. One "little state" has done something to offset the cost of suing these mega-corporations.

"While Washington is asleep at the switch, the state of Vermont is doing something. In March, by a stunning 28-0 vote, the Vermont senate passed the Farmer Protection Act, to hold the biotech giants legally accountable for the contamination of any farmer's crops by a corporation's GMOs." ~ Frankenfoods

And, again, I have not the slightest notion of what you mean when you say that I "have made the wrong argument about the wrong side" and that I was "hoping [you] wouldn't notice the switch". If you are pro-Monsanto then you and I are DEFINITELY on opposing teams.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Suverans2's picture

P.S. I just re-read "Part 1 of 3" and, as on my first reading, (as I recall), I can find nothing objectionable about it. Well done.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Souverans2: Sorry about the misinterpretation, but I think you'll understand when I explain how it happened. As you can see, this article is as much about the knee-jerk cover-up of the Lewciferian crowd and other "orthodox" libertarians over any discussion of the environment that differs from theirs -- including throwing Mises under the bus (check out the Mises quotes in part 2). Consequently, when Schulman chose not to discuss the points raised in the article about the challenges faced in this real-world situation of statism and (sadly) the unowned "commons," and instead chose to deny what is happening to adhere to the lock-step meme of the Lewciferians, I realized he opposed the observations I made. Then, when the first thing you did was agree with him, I assumed you were part of that crowd, too. When you then added the bit about the Monsanto suit, I tried to see how this would work in your mind (as one opposed to the points I made based on your approval of Schulman). Since Schulman denies the existence of "neighborhood effects" because he chose not to discuss the real world, I naturally made the connection that Schulman=Monsanto, which denys their role as "polluter" in the whole matter (even though I don't think you could take them to court barring significant damages). Then I tried to fit myself into the scenario created, and that meant I was the "farmer," and you see how it goes from there... To me, these pages are all about dialog, and that means discussing what people wrote. I naturally assumed you were discussing the points laid out. So you can see the connections I made (I hope!). Anyway, thanks for reading.

Suverans2's picture

Lawrence M. Ludlow,

No harm done, my friend. Thank you for taking the time to explain.


Suverans2's picture

In defense of J. Neil Schulman, though I do not know the man, and have myself taken exception with, at least, a couple of things he has written, it would seem from this statement, (which is, by the way, one of the things I was agreeing with), "The function of private property rights is to create multiple environments, a sphere of control within each of our own property boundaries. Significant and damaging incursions onto someone else's property is almost always regarded as actionable under any conceivable libertarian legal system, minarchist or agorist", that he too would find the individuals controlling Monsanto corporation guilty of trespass when their Franken Foods are found on a man's land who did not ask for them to be there and does not want them there, regardless of whether they caused that man harm, or not.

I was also agreeing with this, "The very concept of "population" is collectivist and anathema to the libertarian who regards all human rights as held by individuals. Reproductive rights are a subset of individual rights, and others have no more right to limit someone else's fecundity than they do to demand someone else produce children for them as workers or cannon fodder", since I too believe that all human rights [just claims] are held only by individuals, that is to say, that the rights of the group can be no greater than the rights of the individuals who make up the group. I conclude that the concept of "the people"[1] as contrary to libertarian principles, as well.

On the other hand, I disagree with all three parts of this statement by J. Neil Schulman, "The libertarian premise bypasses the entire question of whether there is such a thing as a “right” number of people, just as much as libertarians reject the concept that there is such a thing as too much or too little property, or that the "globe" is the wrong temperature." I think you have shown quite nicely, in your three-part thesis, that this is absolutely not true of all libertarians.

And, what the hell does the "globe" being the wrong temperature have to do with the price of eggs in China on Saturday afternoon? By accentuating the word "globe", I suppose he is trying to say that all libertarians fail to think of planet Earth as their home. Furthermore, in my opinion, planet Earth is the temperature it is supposed to this particular point in time.

Let me conclude by saying I believe that far too many of our species seem to think that we are ABOVE "nature", because we believe we can control certain aspects of it, but it is my opinion that if and when we get too far out of line, "nature" will "correct" us, and in no uncertain terms. Which is why I am dead set against Frankenfoods, (an appropriate name, in my opinion). Once they unleash these "abominations" on us all, (which they have already begun doing), and these "freakish creatures" are no longer within the "sphere of [their creator's] control", there will be no recalling them; their f*ckups will very likely effect every living being on the planet...PERMANENTLY. Think, The Island of Doctor Moreau, come to your neighborhood...FOREVER!

[1] "[The People] are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty." ~ Thomas Jefferson
No, Thomas, the individual is the ultimate guardian of his own liberty.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Hi, Suverans2: I have no disagreement with either of those Schulman statements either when presented in a context as you have provided. Monsanto, which is a creation of the state in more ways than I can count (and its products), may be screwing things up -- although it is hard to tell at the present moment. People have been cross-straining and doing similar things for years, although they've taken it into new places that may have some bad consequences. I can only hope that if a Hazlitt-like long-term, widespread damaging effect is produced that it can be dealt with properly.

Similarly, I fully understand and agree about the misuse of conceptual realism (collective terms used to categorize and "group" into a phrase any references to large numbers of individuals) -- especially by socialists and sociologists as well as econometricians and mathematical modellers. Like Mises, I think methodological individualism is vital. I do, however, use these commonly accepted words that refer to large groups of individuals because they are part of the language, but among libertarians such as ourselves, I think we understand their proper function and misuse. Perhaps Schulman felt this had to be explained, but I'd hate to see an outright ban on such terms, which would be to mimic the French and their enforcement of word usage by their academy. You'd be surprised that there are writers among the Lewciferians who have entirely anathemized both conceptual realism and nominalism both as unabashedly wrong in all cases. These disparate writers were probably unaware of each other. It is true that either one of these modes of communication can be misused, but the devil is always in the details. With respect to the late-medieval debates on these issues of conceptual realism vs. nominalism (and I think one of the great achievements of the Middle Ages was the de-mystification of conceptual realism and the acknowledgment that Socrates and Plato and their followers were dead wrong in believing that concepts were more real than the physically existing reference points), the over-demonization of either the use of concepts or the restriction of thought to an extreme nominalist expression that is best characterized by those who would say "it does not exist if you cannot measure it," otherwise known as extreme positivism (which has its own internal problems as the quantum physicists have discovered) is an error to be avoided. As we all know, some things can be measured, but that which is measured or measurable does not convey the totality of meaning regarding a thing, which is why Mises preferred ordinal rather than cardinal enumeration when it came to subjective valuations by human beings. He ranked them but did not assign a cardinal number.

I can see that you understand the problems I have encountered by even raising these environmental issues. It has been said by critics affiliated with the Lewciferians that my introduction (much of Part 1) was too hectoring to tolerate, but I felt it was necessary to clearly and emphatically lay out not only how deep and how widespread, but HOW UNCONSCIOUS AND NON-SELF-AWARE this anti-environment sentiment had become within the libertarian community. The purpose of this series of articles was to bring this misguided trend to the attention of the community. As one commenter above noted: the way to combat a (socialist) lie is not to manufacture your own contrary and equally extreme lie. It is simply to state the truth. You would be surprised -- or maybe not -- at how much flak I've taken over the last two years in simply proposing to get out this message.

Again, thanks for reading.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Lawrence M. Ludlow,

With all due respect, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such word as “cross-straining”, and it has not been going on for years; it is happening for the first time in the history of the earth.

“What's wrong with Genetic Engineering”
“Genetic engineering is a radical new technology, one that breaks down fundamental genetic barriers -- not only between species, [but between “kingdoms”, i.e.] between humans, animals, and plants. By combining the genes of dissimilar and unrelated species, permanently altering their genetic codes, novel organisms are created that will pass the genetic changes onto their offspring through heredity. Scientists are now snipping, inserting, recombining, rearranging, editing, and programming genetic material. Animal genes and even human genes are being inserted into plants or animals creating unimagined transgenic life forms.”

A little bit of knowledge can be, particularly in this case, a VERY DANGEROUS thing.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Hi, Suverans2. I meant that creating hybrids and new strains of plants and cross-breeding animals to create different effects has been practiced for centuries. I don't know what the results of this new stuff are, however. Sorry about the confusion.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Lawrence M. Ludlow,

Perhaps reading, for yourself, the latest Wikileaks' leak on the GMO conspiracy will serve to motivate you, and hopefully others, in learning more about this issue.

"Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory."

That was from "Craig Stapleton, the US ambassador to of the Texas Rangers with former President George W. Bush, (his wife, by the way, is George Bush's cousin)", talking about "retaliating" against European countries opposed to Monsanto's GMO crops.

Suverans2's picture

If you are a citizen/subject of the U.S. government, here's how your FDA will protect you...NOT!!

"There is No Right to Consume or Feed Children Any Particular Food; There is No Generalized Right to Bodily and Physical Health; There is No Fundamental Right to Freedom of Contract."
~US Dept of Health & Human Services and US Food & Drug Administration

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Suverans2. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I haven't delved into this field yet, and it's good that you're bringing it to our attention. There's a lot of IP application to this, too, eh? I'm considering a piece on the roots of IP (actually copyright) myself. The origins go back far before the events in English law that Kinsella points to -- not only in early incunabula printing but even in manuscript copying. But it's a difficult project. It will build on top of the Gutenberg article that I wrote a few years ago for STR. But as you bring up, this agriculture-industry-fascism/subsidy-IP "complex" is getting more dangerous each year, isn't it?

leucocephala's picture

"Lewciferians?" I find this name-calling highly undeserved.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Hi, Leuco: It may be unnecessary, but it's certainly not undeserved. Not only are many of them quite regular in the practice of labeling others (see Kochtopus, etc. and the regular diatribes against those with whom they disagree), but they've become their own Kochtopus by closing off debate, walling off in utter silence when backed against a wall, intolerance of all criticism of either themselves or of Ron Paul (even when it is good-natured and mild and positive), and of offering naked royal assertions instead of arguments, etc. So I hope you'll forgive me for occasionally letting off a little steam. Despite much of the good work they do, I think they have earned this new catch-phrase.

leucocephala's picture

Hmm. I'm not much aware of this walling-off, utter silence, naked assertions business you speak of. I usually stop at LRC and STR daily, but I guess I'm not in the loop on current intra-libertarian squabbles. Though I do cringe at the excessive use of "awful" and "evil" as descriptors on LRC. But still... lucifer himself?

Any specific examples of this skullduggery you care to name?

Suverans2's picture

In Roman astronomy, Lucifer, (from the Latin term lucem ferre, "bringer, or bearer, of light") , was the name given to the morning star, (the star [sic] we now know by another Roman name, Venus), because it "rises ahead of the Sun". It was translated from heylel ben shachar (Isa. 14:12), and was an idiomatic metaphorical way of calling someone "madly boastful".

Quick definitions from Macmillan (madly) adverb
in a very excited or uncontrolled way
▸very, or very much
in a way that shows that you have a mental illness

In the Aramaic text, which replaced Ibriy [Hebrew], the expression was used to describe a Babylonian king, and NOT the "chief angel who rebelled against God's rule in heaven" or "satan"; these two myths were created by other religionists much later.

The true "luciferians" (madly boastful ones), of today's modern "Babylon" are as insane as their namesake, the Babylonian king, who said, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God...I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!"

Well HERE is what I think about that.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

@Suverans: Thanks for the name lessons!
@luecocephala: I already documented several examples both in the article itself and in many of the subsequent thread comments, so I won't be repeating these. You should also know that the topic of this article and the fact that Mises himself made these points was rejected as even a mild reminder by both Lewciferian organizations in the past when I made separate private overtures to that effect. And no, I don't think that Lew is the embodiment of evil (he does much good), but he sticks to his errors relentlessly; consequently, I tag him with this silly title.
In addition, I suggested some mild improvements on Ron Paul during the campaign -- but especially Ron's horrible centralized campaign effort, which was run by paid individuals as opposed to his unpaid volunteers. See my two-part article (Postmortem on the Marketing of Ron Paul, also on STR) for this in depth.
Further, I pointed out to him that his blind support for Hans Hermann Hoppe's homophobic (and, more to the point, economically incorrect) assessment of gay men and women was a cause celebre at Lew's site for a long time. Even though I love Hoppe's work, his collectivist comments were economically ignorant (a stereotype of short-term thinking on the part of gay people, which applies to straight people even more when you think about it, if such stereotypes can even be applied to individuals without violating even the most basic attempts at accuracy).
The point is that Lew is a cultural conservative, which is perfectly fine as an individual choice for him, but he too often tries to twist libertarian principles conform to these personal whims -- thus distorting it into an unrecognizable dogma. Now that you know what to look for, you can keep an eye out for yourself in the future. The point is that Lew thinks he's the "pope" of libertarianism and that his every utterance is "ex cathedra" (in contrast to the real pope, who separately defines such statements). For Lew, his whims are identical to libertarian theory, when, in fact, he is just blowing smoke up people's collective a**es. It really does much to undo his genuinely good work. The Lewciferian sobriquet is merely my attempt to show that his contentions are every bit as wrong as any statist's and that his tenacious clinging to error is really as perverse as any genuine luciferian's opposition to a more balanced and truth-based stance vis-a-vis Christianity (Lew is a devout Catholic, or so he claims, and this can mean anything as the Catholic church is not monolithic in its makeup, despite the claims of some). As long as this continues, I'd like to keep playing with my Lewciferian(TM) label to help keep Lew honest, and I encourage others to adopt it. He and his group have become as organizationally intolerant as the Kochtopussy he so reviles. Cruise the site and his own for these topics and see what I mean.

leucocephala's picture

As an atheist, I've paid attention to LRC's views about religion and "cultural conservatism" with a fairly attentive eye. I know Lew and some of the crew are quite religious, but I actually give them a lot of credit in keeping the two issues separate. Having cut my libertarian teeth on Ayn Rand, I would hope that I could identify a personality cult when I see one.

And I think Hoppe was put through the PC wringer unjustly. I'm satisfied that his comments clearly differentiated between "all" and "average" and were not offensive. (Do gay people actually have lower time preferences? I have no idea. Maybe.)

Obviously you've had closer interactions with LRC than I have, so I do appreciate your comments and will keep my eye out in the future. I mean... isn't that why I always stop at STR, too?

hacksoncode's picture

By way of exposing my biases: I will start by saying that I'm on the minarchist side of libertarianism, and feel that Pigovian taxes are an appropriate way to deal with this problem and funding the minarchist government voluntarily.

Let us, for the sake of argument, stipulate that global warming is a real problem, is caused by humans emitting excess CO2 (i.e. releasing CO2 that which was until recently sequestered away from the atmosphere), and that it causes widespread damage to a double-digit fraction of the individuals around the Earth. Let us further stipulate that this can be proven scientifically beyond a reasonable doubt.

Further assume that any one emitter of carbon contributes only slightly to the problem and thus would have small, but non-zero liability under strict libertarian property rules. Further assume that most victims of this damage are likely to suffer relatively small damages, but that there are so many of them that the total damage is huge. Further assume that the people suffering the damage are not all the same as those causing it.

Finally, assume that while the existence of widespread damage and identification of general categories of damage is proven scientifically, tying any one *specific* instance of damage to a particular victim is difficult if not impossible (hurricanes do happen, and that one might have happened without global warming, for example).

What would be an appropriate market force that would create a solution to this problem? I would argue that there's no one to sue, and that there's no conceivable justice system with global scope and that has low enough transaction costs that could resolve this problem. Hopefully the market comes to the rescue and justice is done for the victims of this crime, but how?

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Hello, H: It's possible that Murray Rothbard has the outlines of an approach in this piece, which I think can be adapted to the situation you explained. Even the transaction cost of it might be easy to resolve with current technologies. Sadly, I left this great link out of the original essay:

hacksoncode's picture

Sadly, the only conclusion that I can draw from that essay is that there's no possible way to hold people accountable for actions that damage others properties in a diffuse and indirect way, even if that damage is extensive, and the causal connection between the behavior and the class of damage can be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. According to Rothbard, if you can't prove a causal connection between one specific attacker and one specific victim, you can't hold them accountable, and you can't join attackers in a suit unless they acted in concert. The reasoning for this seems to be no more than "because I think it's wrong".

This is one of the many reasons I find Rothbard's particular flavor of libertarian ethics both logically inconsistent and morally offensive.

It's also incredibly ignorant of science. Air pollution eventually has a direct (if small) impact on every square inch of the planet, much of which was already homesteaded by the time the industrial revolution started. There can logically be no such thing as "homesteading a right to pollute" in the case of the air. In other situations, such as water or ground pollution, and certainly noise pollution, that argument might be possibly valid (though one would have to conclude similarly that some parts of the ocean have been homesteaded since antiquity, and there are very few areas on the Earth that are hydrographically completely isolated).

tzo's picture

This certainly isn't a complete answer, but in a truly free market the huge monopolistic behemoth corporations, creations of government, would not exist in their current form. A company in a free market would have to rely on its customers, period. If a company was even suspected (forget having to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt) of polluting or carrying on in some unacceptable manner (Unacceptable to whom? Their customers. Actual human beings who can choose to purchase a service or not from a variety of sources), then they would lose business and quickly go out of business if they did not remedy the situation.

If human beings actually demanded electricity without the unwanted side effect of spewing mercury into the air, I guarantee that ingenious individuals would solve that problem in a free market. I would venture to say that the solution exists right now, but since there is no free market, we don't see it.

Our scientific achievements have ground to a halt due to IP and government enforced monopolies. Schools, cars, roads, trains, postal service, utilities, all look pretty much the same over the last century because there are no competitive markets to drive them forward or evolve them into something else. If every home had a power generator that ran on water or a magnetic generator, there would be NO power companies spewing crap into the air.

The problems we see in the world are CAUSED by government interference, and the only solutions, we are told, are more government regulations. This is false. Humans do not need government to stop greedy humans from crapping in the nest, they need the nest-crapping government to go away. Most of the self-destructive behavior we see in our species is because someone is waving a gun around to cause it, to their great profit.

Stop enabling the sociopaths seems to be the best solution.

Also interesting related reading:

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

For those who thought I was too hard on Lew Rockwell and his acolytes in this article. Here he is again at the following link, praising empire and Catholicism when they are linked to Austria. These are the 3 magic words of his sect at, and when they occur in close proximity, it becomes catnip to lew. Note how Lew drowns his brain in the holy water font in the following equation:

Catholic + Empire + Austria = Good

as in this link:

He clearly gushes over the imperium when it touches a female imperial parasite, as he says himself in the post about the burial of the son of the Austrian Emperor, Otto von Habsburg:

"His Body Interred in Austria, His Heart in Hungary...My favorite newspaper these days, the Daily Mail, has its usual stunning photos of the funerals of the great Catholic liberal Otto von Habsburg. Don't miss Otto as a boy, and if you want to know what a real queen-empress looks like, see his wife to be."

Can he gush any more fully over the empress? While it is true that Hoppe has made a good case that private governments have a tendency to act more responsibly than democratic governments (Democracy: The God That Failed), this is yet another example of paleolibertarianism run amok.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

For those who thought I was too hard on Lew Rockwell and his acolytes in this article, here he is again (following his overriding interest) at the following link, praising empire and Catholicism when they are linked to Austria. There are 3 magic words at, and when they occur in close proximity, it becomes catnip to the Lewciferians:

Catholic + Empire + Austria = Good

as in this link:

Note how he gushes over the imperium when it touches upon a female empress to be, as he says himself in the post about the burial of the son of the Austrian Emperor, Otto von Habsburg:

"His Body Interred in Austria, His Heart in Hungary...My favorite newspaper these days, the Daily Mail, has its usual stunning photos of the funerals of the great Catholic liberal Otto von Habsburg. Don't miss Otto as a boy, and if you want to know what a real queen-empress looks like, see his wife to be."

While it is true that Hoppe has made a good case that private governments have a tendency to act more responsibly than democratic governments (Democracy: The God That Failed), this is yet another example of paleolibertarianism run amok.

This is particularly sad because Lew does so much good, but then he paints a mustache on the Mona Lisa.