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George Monbiot really should read some Ronald Coase

So George has found an argument which he thinks is terribly persuasive. Libertarians, right wing loons generally, face a horrible problem because they believe in property rights.

The problem being that pollution affects property so therefore libertarians should be very much against pollution because of property rights but they\’re not. In fact, they go all denialist over pollution precisely because they can\’t bear to be confronted with the conflict between pollution and property rights.

Well, yes. Perhaps. Good enough for a bit of GCSE reasoning I suppose.

It does however betray a certain lack of knowledge about libertarianism, right wing loons generally and even such trivial matters as economics.

For, you see, exactly this argument, this point, has been made before. That there is indeed a conflict between property rights and pollution and so whadda we gonna do about it?

A point made in The Problem of Social Cost published in 1960. The answer being, to keep it short, that where transactions costs are low then private property rights will solve pollution problems and where they are high then regulation is needed.

So it isn\’t that this conundrum is a new one for libertarians and right wing loons generally. It\’s one that has been raised, assessed and answered: answered sufficiently that the man who raised, considered and answered the point was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1991.

Jeez, if you\’re going to wibble about pollution and property rights you really ought to be aware of the seminal work on the point, no? And it\’s not as if the UK has so many Economics Laureates that you could overlook Ronald Coase, is it?

14 thoughts on “George Monbiot really should read some Ronald Coase”

  1. It seems to be a common trait of Kurdistan like Monbiot to misrepresent what they think of as the free market position.

    Monbiot ought to know that there is a lot of “free market environmentalist” thinking out there. But one has to remember that he wants to portray classical liberals as evil.

  2. George Monbiot is a lot like Richard Dawkins, who also puts up ridiculous straw men instead of actually doing any research. The obvious reason for this is that they have already determined their own position and do not want these to be disturbed by the facts

  3. Surreptitious Evil

    Are we talking about Dawkins’ opinions on religious people, which are based on the anti-evolutionary septic zealots who attacked him in his previous career rather than ‘normal people’; or his opinions on evolution or the wider primacy of scientific discovery rather than myth?

  4. I’m not sure which particular straw Dawkins Mr Dent is talking about, or even why the subject came up in the first place.

  5. This geezer Coase got a Nobel prize for something that can be explained in one sentence of fairly plain English? No algebraic formulae?

  6. George Monbiot is a lot like Richard Dawkins, who also puts up ridiculous straw men instead of actually doing any research. The obvious reason for this is that they have already determined their own position and do not want these to be disturbed by the facts

    Monbiot has on at least a couple of occasions (nuclear power springs to mind, but I think HS2 as well) changed his mind and not been shy to declare it so, rather than continuing with his position, or trying to rewrite his history.

  7. Pingback: The different kinds of libertarians | MattBruenig | Politics

  8. Pingback: Two different kinds of libertarians | MattBruenig | Politics

  9. Does every other libertarian really believe that “property rights are absolute”? I certainly believe they are vital, even basic, and such any interference with them must be both minimal and justified. But “absolute” and “cannot be intruded upon by the state or by anyone else.”?

    Just as an example – a vicious and contested divorce – with kids. In order to be a ‘proper libertarian’, do I really believe that, especially in the absence of a valid pre-nup, the state should not enforce an equitable distribution of the marital assets?

    Or that there should be no mechanism to force a property owner to carry out such repairs as are necessary (important word there) for public safety?

  10. Anyway, isn’t this just a restatement of the “tragedy of the commons”? With “the environment” considered as a resource.

  11. SE: As I just commented over at Matt Bruenig’s, as a libertarian you should also believe that personal freedom is absolute. But I’m guessing you are comfortable with the idea of imprisoning (at least some) criminals.

    I don’t think libertarian absolutes are as absolute as Matt says: libertarians, if they accept the existence of the state, must accept that the state will sometimes deprive people of liberty or property.

    But then, I’m not a libertarian (as you will know), so it’s not an argument in which I’m much invested.

  12. Big question here is really is back in the day when George was writing about the evils of pollution and greenhouse gasses did the assembled libertarian massiv:

    a) Write a lot of polite blog posts proposing market/property rights based on Coase’s ideas
    b) Call the man a raging moonbat

    Seems fair to say than an awful lot chose option b. There are also a lot of the Conservative Libertarian types out there (not yourself obvs) still doing the climate change denial thing.

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