Monday, August 11, 2014

Are libertarians really as stupid as they look?

Short answer: Yes.

In the Times, Paul Krugman has a column making fun of the libertarian position, taking off from the problems caused by algae blooms in Lake Erie. It's a good column but as often happens the comments are even more enlightening.

Someone called Baron95 from the 1%er reservation of Westport, Connecticut, had this riposte:

Dr. Krugman completely misses the libertarian argument and what is actually the root of the problem.

The issue is that the government owns Lake Erie, its tributaries and the water authority.

If Lake Erie was privately owned, people would have to pay the owners to discharge items that would reduce the value of that asset - in this case water quality.

Similarly, if the water authority was privately owned, it would have a contract with the owners of lake Erie for minimum water quality, and another with its consumers. All violations would have simple economic actions, and very quickly things would settle.

For example, the owner of Lake Erie would charge more if water coming in had too much phosphorous, and charge less if it had been pre-treated.

Dr. Krugman doesn't seem to get it. A private owner will always be the one that will protect the quality of its assets the most. That is why a home owner takes better care of its home than a tenant or a rental management company.

The source of the issue is that the US, State, Local governments own more than half the land in the US. All the biggest problems, be it Lake Erie or Detroit, invariably happen on Government owned properties.
Did you catch where Baron95 shot himself in the temple? Right at the start, where he wrote "The issue is that the government owns Lake Erie. . ."

See, Lake Erie already has an owner, interested in its good health. And how does an owner like that manage its property? I see a hand in the back of the audience. Yes, by regulation. Exactly the thing that libertarians want to prevent the owner from using.

I could stop there, but let's state the obvious: Privae owners do a lousy job of protecting their own assets and are actually destructive of everybody else's assets when they get the chance, which in a libertarian world would be all the time because -- ha! gotcha! there woudn't be any effective government.

Surely you wonder if RtO can back up this broadly brushed assertion. Why, yes, yes I can.

General Motors.

Or an even better example: Kodak.

Kodak was not deterred by lack of contracts with Polaroid from stealing Polaroid's patented technology; nor did any libertarians, so quick to scold, ever complain about Kodak's highhanded and lawless behavior.

It took a long while but Polaroid, which did object, finally got some justice by -- gasp! -- invoking the assistance of government (for which it paid through taxes). And so Kodak went bust.

Luckily Polaroid was a large corporation, able to afford  to spend millions and millions of dollars and wait over 15 years for satisfaction.

You may not be a large, powerful corporation. If your property rights are abused the way Polaroid's were, will the libertarians go to bat for you? Let's put it this way: They didn't go to bat for Polaroid.



  1. "See, Lake Erie already has an owner, interested in its good health."

    Bollocks. (And just as much an insult to intelligence as Krugman's blather.)

  2. I refer you to Ducktown, Tennessee, for an example of how private ownership works in practice. The entire South, for that matter. The more libertarian the sentiments, the more avoidable erosion you find.

    But it might be interesting to imagine Lake Erie under private ownership. Imagine the western and eastern halves under separate owners. Now apply game theory. (EZ, since the classic, elementary game theory application to economics imagines a lake surrounded by 10 businesses, each interesting in dumping its wastes in the lake.)

    I also note your silence regarding the behavior of Kodak.

    It isn't as if we do not have examples of private businesses oppressing individuals. If not to government, where do they go for redress?

    We know how much GM values its customers: 12 cents. Non-customers: 0 cents.

    If you are going to monetize all behavior the way libertarians do, you need really strict accounting.

  3. But it might be interesting to imagine Lake Erie under private ownership.

    How about imagining Lake Erie as it actually is -- collectively owned. Yet despite that, there are phosphate driven algae blooms.


    Krugman excoriated a libertarian Mr. Erickson for his fury over government regulation of phosphates in dishwasher detergent. Ever the dishonest ideologue, Krugman elided why Erickson was mad; nor did Krugman ever stop to consider the huge and growing regulatory overburden of government, which Erickson was also criticizing.

    Why is it every time I check progressives' sources it appears they are being rather economical with the truth?

    Krugman, and you, are collectivists through and through. It is easily possible to be far more libertarian than you, and still not be libertarian tout court.

    Which Krugman also ignored.

    I also note your silence regarding the behavior of Kodak.

    And I note your silence regarding the Hancock nuclear reservation. Or the legal immunity of government officials: where do we go when they get out of hand?

    Hint: the more government controls, the fewer options there are to government abuse.

  4. Not in a democracy.

    As for Lake Erie (and other common property), our history has been that private interests have abused and ruined it, and it has been a centuries-long struggle to collectivize it and protect it, with libertarians resisting all the way.

    If you try to stop something from happening, and it doesn't happen, you cannot complain that it didn't happen.

  5. As for Lake Erie (and other common property) ...

    There is a case to be made that certain things will pose commons problems. In theory, but only there, it is possible for a private entity to own Lake Erie.

    In reality, that isn't possible.

    The struggle of which you speak is the tradeoff between desirable, possible, and efficient.

    None of which Krugman, or you, mention. Lake Erie is collectively owned. Despite that, and completely undermining Krugman's own point, it had an algae bloom.

    You'd think Krugtron the Invincible would have noticed that.

    Or Hanford, which is a heck of a lot worse than algae.

  6. The state of Ohio is NOT colletively owned. The problems do not originate on the common property.

    Also, as we know (well, I know it anyway), the government has attempted to take measures, while the libertarians are opposed to permitting that.

    What you call tradeoffs, government has to treat as balancing the interests. There is no provision in libertarianism for that.

    A clearer example of that than Erie is the absolutism of the gundamentalists.