Richer and Greener-Yes, That’s The Way It Goes

Here’s a great article by John Tierney in NYT(!) today. Love the visual aid from Tierney Lab:

Xiang Dong Qin, 1998 Each line is an environmental Kuznets curve for a group of countries during the 1980s. The levels of sulphur dioxide pollution (the vertical axis) rise as countries becomes more affluent (the horizontal axis). But then, once countries reach an economic turning point (a gross domestic product close to $8,000 per capita), the trend reverses and air pollution declines as countries get richer. In this analysis by Xiang Dong Qin of Clemson University, the green line shows countries with strong protections for property rights; the red curve shows countries with weaker protections.

The best course of action should be pretty clear (notice how the countries with weak property rights protections (communist/socialist/fascist type countries) have a curve which goes much higher?) ; Unfettered economic development invariably leads to a world which is environmentally better off. The idea that we need to “de-develop” or reverse our endless growth paradigm for the sake of the environment is nonsense.

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8 Comments

Filed under Economics, energy, Freedom, Klimacht, Thinkers

8 responses to “Richer and Greener-Yes, That’s The Way It Goes

  1. Andrew, food for thought on enviro Kuznets:

    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=kuznets
    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/01/22/poor-countries-need-capitalism-not-climate-change-welfare.aspx
    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/09/27/too-many-or-too-few-people-does-the-market-provide-an-answer.aspx

    Unfortunately, Tierney simply fails to understand that the enviro Kuznets curve does not tells that problems relating to environmental cost-shifting or to the over-exploitation of unowned commons are best resolved by ignoring them and simply hoping for the best. Rather, it affirms that as people become more wealthy, they care more about protecting the environment and put more elbow grease into achieving improvements (via improved property rights protection, improved information disclosure, greater consumer pressure and even through greater regulation (which is the path the West has largely followed), and reaching agreements with others sharing the relevant resource).

    In other words, the work relating to global, regional and various national commons (atmosphere, seas, forests, water, etc.) is still ahead of us. Libertarians can advocate for property rights (and privatization of public lands) as ways to have a more efficient (and just) path on the curve, or they provide implicit support for powerful and dirty industries by standing by and waiting until citizen pressure groups force government to act in heavy-handed ways.

    TT

  2. timetochooseagain

    Tom, I disagree. The way that richer leads to cleaner is through improved technology, not with the government creating artificial markets and new definitions of property. How exactly is it you think that you can extend property rights to the atmosphere? And what would that do? Spawn lawsuits? Why would you want to do that? You would just jack up energy prices. I am trying to understand your suggestions, but they just don’t make sense to me.

  3. Andrew. I suggest that you start with this short article by Yandle: http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-commons-tragedy-or-triumph/

    I have plenty more links on my blog to him, Terry Anderson, Mises, Cordato, Block, Rothbard and others on Austrian approaches to environmental issues, fisheries, and climate. Ron Bailey (at Reason) has good posts on fisheries; leading enviro groups all agree that more privatization is desirable: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/01/15/for-crashing-fisheries-coalition-of-mainline-us-enviro-groups-calls-for-property-rights.aspx

    Commons remain commons either because government ownership prevents privatization (as in the Amazon, US public lands and most fisheries management) or because full privatization is difficult. There are many examples of the latter case that involve semi-privatization and commons management, like traditional forestries, fisheries and water rights. Ellen Ostrom is the expert on commons; I have plenty of links to her too.

    By the way, you really should read Rothbard on the history of air pollution and the undermining of the common law by industrial interests. The result has been and remains, on net, a subsidy to large polluters, particularly utilities, who have a license to pollute and immunity from most suits from injured persons. If coal was paying its true costs it would have been much cleaner years ago. The American Lung Assn said in 2004 that power plant pollution causes 24,000 premature deaths each year (at least 50% more than annual homicides), as well as over 550,000 asthma attacks and 38,000 heart attacks annually.

  4. timetochooseagain

    “If coal was paying its true costs it would have been much cleaner years ago.”

    And how would it do that without technological development exactly? There are natural incentives in the market to reduce pollution-one can’t sell electricity to dead people, after all. But if the technology to clean up energy does not exist, how are they helped to find it by being sued by people who use their energy and then complain about the pollution? There is not just the property rights of those with a stake in the commons to consider, but the rights of the energy producer, too. What your suggesting, the way I see it, would be defacto regulation of the right of producers to do what they do best-produce. In the Laissez Faire approach, everyone gets richer, they invest in energy research (of their own free will) to develop cleaner energy. Then pollution goes down. What is wrong with that? It seems anything else added on to that is ad hoc…

  5. mrred

    Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

  6. Easy, Andrew. People and firms invest all the time in doing things in response to incentives, both positive and negative; viz. they also try to reduce costs, including the costs their activities impose on others if those they injured have rights of recourse. The effort to reduce costs is one of the chief factors driving technological advances.

    Surely you`re not suggesting that the best way to encourage wealthier societies is to free people from responsibility for the damages they cause others? That`s hardly a Lockean or libertarian view. A “Laissez Faire approach” leaves government out, in favor of voluntary transactions and enforecment of property rights, including rights not to be injured. The regulatory state has in fact been a boon to the most powerful producers, by giving them rights to pollute, often grandfafthering dirty plants, while forcing the highest costs on more nimble and cleaner producers. If you^re interested in learning about libertarian approaches to the environment, again, I suggest you look at Rothbard, Cordato, Block and others, whom I link to on my blog.

    You seem to make reference to the enviro Kuznets curve, and how wealthier societies bring pollution dow, while completely missing the dynamics. Wealthier socieites clean up because they insist on bringing an end to tragedy of the commons-type exploitation of resources. A society that focusses on property rights typically has a lower curve than societies that fail to enforce property rights (needed for Coasean bargaining) in favor of government regulatory approaches. Our own curve remains too high, because wealtheir investors prefer to use regulation to shift costs to the rest of society.

  7. timetochooseagain

    Alright, Tom, I will look into the things you are talking about more thoroughly. You seem to know a lot about this topic.