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August 02, 2005

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I think that's a losing attitude, especially seeing that both China & Europe have solved their population growth problems (not like there aren't nasty side effects...) and societies have in the past succeeded in saving resources. For instance, the biggest resource for most of human history has been wood, and the ability to keep an abundant supply the life or death of many societies. Easter island went ahead & cut down all the trees & died out. Japan, the same guys recycling today, imposed draconian regulations on its free-market loggers & now has the highest (75%) forest cover in the first world.

The issue here isn't consumption, we're always going to consume resources, the issue is waste, & we need to attack it. I do give that our current method is not the best, but something is better than nothing.

If you want a more free market model, try one of Germany's: they require certain products (plastics, newspapers) to consist of a certain percentage of recycled goods, thus creating a captive market for recyclers. I like that because then the companies will come up with the most efficient methods of collection & production, but I'm not going to trash our system until I know we're getting something better.

If you want a more free market model, try one of Germany's: they require certain products (plastics, newspapers) to consist of a certain percentage of recycled goods.

Arbitrary laws dictating how goods have to be manufactured is NOT a free market solution.

The only thing resembling a free market is taxing certain goods which then causes the free market to use less. But you'd have to convince me that this wouldn't just lower the price allowing other countries to consume more, thus not having much effect on the total amount used.

Here's a free market model for all you enlightened central planners out there who just know when the world will end:

Leave companies alone to produce the products that consumers are willing to buy, using the resources the companies need. If/when the scarcity of resources makes recycling profitable, then leave the companies alone to develop incentives to the consumers to return/sell/whatever the products after use, to reclaim a portion of the resources.
This includes companies that produce sign-making materials, so that the moonbats can march down the streets while holding up banners claiming that man is destroying the world.

I don't see a reason for pessimism. Yes, it's possible we humans could really make a mess of things, but it's not inevitable that we will.
One thing I see is people saying, how come there's not a free market solution? The answer's simple: lack of resources is not *really* a problem, yet. Most people in the world who are deprived of the necessities are in that position because of political restrictions, not because of a shortage of natural resources.
And a side note: I've noticed that scrap metal places are paying 45 cents a pound for aluminum cans.

Hi- this comment is unrelated to your post right now but I wanted to tell you that a year ago I read your website "calico cat" an entry called "Law School- The Big Lie" The first year of law school I read it as I was entering almost dropped out after reading it, then this summer I came across it again as I was googling for information on law school... Jut out of curiosity, do you still think it's a waste of time.... you have no idea how much your comments affected me... it must mean you're a powerful writer... in any case I was hoping to get some insight from you. Thanks:)

I think this problem is a global concern and really needs a lot of attention...I've seen some companues that can convert trash into construction materials. People using alternative form of gas etc. I hope this gets a good attention to whomever is the Head of State.

Ok, I'll try and make points to make this a more clear & constructive discussion. I also apologize if long posts piss you off.

POINT 1: We only have a limited amount of resources to work with. We agree on that.

POINT 2: You are of the belief that the free market will best allocate resources. I disagree. I think that there must be a balance between the free market and regulation.

On one hand, when given a task & a reward, capitalism will find the most efficient way to execute that task to get the reward. On the other, companies will go for the short term profit, sometimes taking actions that are detrimental to society on a whole.

For instance, at the Bougainville copper mine in New Guinea, the company's best interest was to get the copper out to the paying customers, not caring that they were screwing over the environment. It just so happened that isle's residents (whose livelihoods depended on the environment), did care, leading to a 9 year civil war & 20,000 dead. This extreme example shows where the government can step in and provide moderatation between exploitation and society's needs.

A more successful (aforementioned) example of government moderation is Japan in the 1600's, when the government faced deforestation on an epidemic scale. Over the course of the next 40,50 years the government imposed draconian restrictions on use of wood. For instance, they encouraged alternatives in the fireplace, like coal, and had people build with stone, while at the same time protecting vast tracts of forest to the point of catologuing every tree. Today 75% of Japan is forested, a feat only accomplished by regulating capitalism.

POINT 3: Today we know there are finite resources, and we know that we have to produce some kind of plan to promote sustainability with those finite resources, whether they be metal or oil.

An example of such a plan is to recognize that whereas driving a hummer is not a neccessity, whereas producing fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics are, and thus hinder the burning of oil so we can still have some in 100, 200, and 300 years (right now we have 50, 100 tops).

REBUKE: Arguing that restricting our consumption would be neutralized by other countries increased consumption is foresaking the fact that we are the biggest, most powerful, and most materialisitic society. If we're going to go through the pains of restricting consumption, we can get others to follow along.

REBUKE: Lack of resources isn't a problem now, but we all know it will be in the near future, and these things are alot harder to solve when they're upon you then from a distance. Also, if those political restrictions are to be lifted (which I think the US should strive towards), then we could see a whole world aspring to our consumption rates, and that's not sustainable.

CONCLUSION: I have produced one example of laissez-faire capitalism screwing a society, one example of regulated capitalism saving one, and one plan for a future of regulated capitalism. If you can only produce more empty rhetoric (or refuse to respond), then you cede the point, whether you agree or not. If you can rebuke history and produce an example of pure capitalism solving society's problems, then we've got a discussion.

It's not rebuking history, it's challenging the strawman that a civil war is an example of the free market gone awry. Part and parcel with a free market is the concept of private property and an understanding of rights and their violations. If I start a coal mine in my backyard, there are definite health risks and pollution that will impact my neighbors - which infringes on their rights (person and property) and which gives them a say in what I do - whether that is compensation for the damage that will occur (or has occured) or a stoppage of the operation (if there is no way to maintain the mine without causing harm). What if I refuse to acknowledge the rights violation and damage claims? Then the neighbors will use whatever legal system is in place (public or private) to force the issue. If I still refuse? Well then force will be required - same as if I refuse to stop when asked by the cops. It's like saying that a bank robbery indicates a failure in a capitalist society - if someone breaks the rules, then there is a price to pay. Having an impotent or corrupt government that has a monopoly on the legal enforcement system, and so lets rights violations happen because special interests have their ear, is another matter. One that can't be wished away by pretending that government is somehow more noble than business.

As for the short-sighted nature of companies, I find it funny that those whose livelihood depends on keeping the company in business cannot see past the next quarter, but enlightened bureacrats 1000s of miles away know the future - and more importantly care. A logging company that cuts down all their* trees without replanting any deserves to go out of business. That this does not happen should only surprise people like you and Hillary Clinton.

To repeat - and if you don't respond this means you lose the argument, whether you agree or not!! - when it is efficient to recycle - ie, when a company can make cheaper products by using recycled materials rather than purchasing (or mining) new ones, then you will see people with the means and the interest in making recycling happen. Until then, it's hippy-dippy feel-good nonsense.

* - since they own the land they log, or obtained logging rights on other's land, it is "their" trees - not yours to save or hug. Nothing in the free market would stop you and your buddies from buying land with trees and doing nothing with it but beating drums and communing with the Goddess.

Excellent, we have a discussion, and what's more good points brought to the table.

Thankfully, our government owns and administers most of the remaining forest in our country (I suppose our buddies have bought the land... seen any drums on capitol hill lately?). If our government were to go out and say, give short term leases to companies, then the companies would go ahead & strip the place clean. That would amount to poor regulation. Smarter bureaucrats give out long-term leases that tie the company's welfare to the land's welfare. What's more important is that our government made the decision to take control of the forest for the purpose of regulation in the first place. This is because a nation's welfare is also tied to the welfare of its resources, and thus it is the nation's duty to ensure that its resources are at the same time utilized and preserved. This is the balance between capitalism and regulation, for where the government is too inept (Haiti) or stupid (China) to do just that, it will lose those resources.

Yet in this increasingly globalized world, it is not enough to merely look after those resources that lie within your own boundaries, especially if you happen to be the richest and most powerful nation out there. No, it is in our best interests to insure that all the world's resources, which are already being utilized to preserve our standard of living, are preserved for future generations. This is a complex and daunting task, but one that has been tackled successfully many times in the past, and one built of small, seemingly humble initiatives, like recycling, that ease the strain on this planet and save future generations the cost of going through our dumps for their resources.

Now to put this in terms of private property (which is, as you have pointed out, a much more logical approach). I say that the private property approach justifies more or less half of "why do we care about the environment?", as you have already explained. The other half has to do with the government, which is out there to mediate property rights and protect our ideological rights from whomever might threaten them. The most fundamental of those rights is the right to survive. The government (in exchange for taxes etc.) will protect you from enemies abroad and domestic who might hinder that right. Now the right to survive really does not only cover you, but your children, and your children's children, for humanity's foremost goal is to keep humanity alive and kicking. Now if consuming the world's resources today inhibits your childrens' children's right to survive tommorrow, is it not the duty of our government to protect their rights, and thus preserve the resources? Or do you think that the government should only look to the short term, thinking no more than 20, 30 years ahead? Thus speaking, it really is our governments' most fundamental duty to facilitate the utilization and protection of our resources.

Now for some rebukes.

I feel like a broken record, but no matter the price of fertilizer (and thus food) when the oil runs low, there's no way companies' are going to induce the oil to leap back out the hummer's engine. As for more convential recycling, when the resources run low, most of those other resources that could be preserved (recycled) today, would, under laissez-faire, be locked away in dumps (accessible... but not readily). Since it's already the government's duty to take out our waste, is it not capable of making the decision to put some of that "waste" back into the resource stack, instead of going through the expense of putting it somewhere where we all know, sooner or later, we're gonna have to dig it back up again?

Bureaucrats not caring.... I hate to remind you, but it's your government, and if you think someone's doing a lazy job, you have the right and duty to complain about it. 1000's of miles away is pretty inaccurate. The large initiatives, funding, and goals might be dictated from DC, but the nitty-gritty of making sure those initiatives are carried out should go to local governments and bureaucrats who best know the area and the problem. If they aren't... well I have many problems with the execution, but we're talking about the concept here.

As for government nobility vs. business nobility, it is a business's interest to turn a profit, whereas our government's (yes, there are inept gov.'s out there) interests are (or should be) our interests, which include maintaining a balance between the utilization and preservation of our resources.

Good discussion, you've helped me in figuring out the topic, and hope you've got more to contribute.

If our government were to go out and say, give short term leases to companies, then the companies would go ahead & strip the place clean.

Funny you should say that, because you're exactly right. Government-owned lands are "public" property, and one of the problems that they've had was in granting lumber companies the right to make roads and cut trees for lumber. It's been a big problem, because *our government* has allowed companies to clear cut forest areas, and at a very low, under-market price at that.
Privately-owned forests don't usually get clear-cut, precisely because they are privately owned, and they don't want to exhaust their own livelihood, and they are utilized at more or less market rates (within the distortions of environmental and zoning laws).
Thus, government-ownership of resources is not a good idea--the government is a bad environmental steward. Government's duty is not to protect resources, or protect future generations, or protect people's livelihoods. It is simply to protect people's rights, which happens to coincide with protecting privately-owned resources, protecting people's interests in future generations, and protecting people from coercion and involuntary trade in the marketplace or on the job where they make their living.
I'm short on time, so just a couple of brief points. Yes, decentralization of government is good, but the key is in understanding the nature and purpose of government, no matter what size it is. Taking care of waste is not govt's job, either.
And why do people see profit-making as evil? Profit is made by providing people with the products and services they need and want, whether it's food and clothing, oil, or taking care of waste. Recycling fits in very well with this. Furthermore, the greatest profit is to be made by taking the long-term view, especially with respect to natural resources. Privately-owned forests is just one example of that.
Very often, it is the government regulation that interferes and prevents businesses from taking a long-term view. The auto industry, for example, is one of the most heavily-regulated industries in America. They have precise regulations for how defrosters are supposed to work, for cryin' out loud! They simply *can't* make radical design changes or improvements to automobiles unless they get govt. approval or the laws get changed. Regulation is strangling our best hopes for protecting the environment.

Michael took care of the major points, I just want to comment on this:

"Bureaucrats not caring.... I hate to remind you, but it's your government, and if you think someone's doing a lazy job, you have the right and duty to complain about it. 1000's of miles away is pretty inaccurate. The large initiatives, funding, and goals might be dictated from DC, but the nitty-gritty of making sure those initiatives are carried out should go to local governments and bureaucrats who best know the area and the problem. If they aren't... well I have many problems with the execution, but we're talking about the concept here."

The concept of communism is very alluring - who doesn't want to live in a proletariat paradise, where everyone is equal and all needs are met? The execution has so far fallen short of that goal. And so it is with any plan for government.
There are many scare stories about business monopolies, how unfair and damaging to consumers they are. And yet in a true free market there can be no unnatural monopolies - if a company is the only one that provides a particular good/service, there would be no regulations to prevent another company from entering the field. If may happen that consumers choose one company to such an extent that it has a virtual monopoly. Which is another way of saying that the company provides a good/service that most people prefer. A good thing, not a bad thing. Government is inherently a monopoly, and it does not have to meet the needs of the consumers or risk going out of business - it has all the big guns and owns the courts. The US had the most restrictive document detailing what the federal government 1000s of miles away may do, and they broke the control over 3 parts to ensure checks and balances. And what do we have now? A bloated and overtaxing federal bureacracy that lets an a-hole take 250 million dollars to build a bridge to nowhere in Alaska and name it after himself. 99% of legislation passed today would be considered unconstitutional - if that document with a definite meaning wasn't considered "living and breathing" by our modern leaders. And thanks to public (government) education, few people understand the Constitution and fewer people care. So sure, you can have one vote out of a million, or you can buy a lottery ticket - same result.
Which is why relying on government to do the right thing, to care more about a good than the companies who rely on it for their existence and who must compete to maximize efficiency to give consumers what they want, is wishful thinking at its worst.

Two quotes, one a proverb and one from a wise visitor to America who understood our nation better than most of us do now:

"Cow of many - well milked and barely fed" - Spanish proverb

"The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money." – Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

Scott, you're a smart guy. I can't agree with Alexis more, and I think that our government is in deep trouble (and that bridge pisses me the hell off). This is not to say that because our government's in trouble we should give up on it. Nay, the moment you say that in a democracy, that's when you've lost. You may only have one vote, but if your opinion's got logic, you can sway a million. Always hold the government to the highest expectations because it will almost always underperform.

"It is simply to protect people's rights, which happens to coincide with protecting privately-owned resources, protecting people's interests in future generations, and protecting people from coercion and involuntary trade"

We're in agreement here. Of course it coincides with protecting people's interests in future generations, one of those interests being having ample amounts of resources available. So we agree on the concept, we just don't don't agree on the execution. You think we should let the free market go free, I say throw in some well placed regulations, like reigns on a horse.

Privately owned forests- recession comes along, or timber prices peak, owner "liquidates" asset & bam, no more forest. But that's beside a point. Unlike timber, metal & oil aren't renewable. Their (the company's) best interest is to get all the resource out as fast as possible, bringing about a time of plenty, waste, and eventually dependency, and then the resource is out, bringing about high-prices and crisis. It's the governments job to take the long view and cut the waste, while insuring that alternatives are ready when the resource runs out. Sometimes this can be accomplished by simply standing beside, right now it requires some well-placed regulation. Speaking of coercion, what's OPEC & Saudi Arabia doing right now? And what's their only weapon? (our dependency on oil...)

Another straw-man: just because the government over-regulates defrosters doesn't implicate all regulations as a bad thing.

Even the private sector acknowledges the need for gov. help tackling the resource problem:
"At Chevron, we believe that innovation, collaboration and conservation are the cornerstones on which to build this new world. But we can’t do it alone. Corporations, governments and every citizen of this planet must be part of the solution as surely as they are part of the problem."
http://www.chevron.com/about/real_issues.asp

We need laws that make sure that companies take care of their own waste: the disposal certificates on German monitors sounds ingenious, perhaps even privatizing trash service (see if a real company would throw out all the metal). Or laws that just attack it outright, like mpg standards. I can say one thing: we have a problem, and the solution isn't coming from laissez-faire.

I restate: laissez-faire has not solved one resource problem in the past, only a combination of capitalism with well crafted regulations has, and will.

Their (the company's) best interest is to get all the resource out as fast as possible,
But this is only ture if it's a "public" resource. If the non-renewable resource is owned by the company then the statement is not true. Maximum profits are enhanced by conserving the resource until greater demand exists or less supply exists.

It's the governments job to take the long view and cut the waste, while insuring that alternatives are ready when the resource runs out.

As the forest example should make clear, the government does a lousy job of taking the long view. Nor is it clear to me how they can insure available alternatives. Government is influenced and controlled by political decisions, not economic decisions. They have a hard time looking beyond the next election, and even the long-term bureaucrats are strongly influenced by administration changes.
And, as I already said, government's legitimate job is to protect rights.

just because the government over-regulates defrosters doesn't implicate all regulations as a bad thing.
Auto manufacturers can already make more fuel-efficient vehicles, but they can't make them under the government's current restrictive regulations. We don't have laissez-faire in the auto industry. Government and its political decision-making is stifling innovation and preventing auto makers from taking the long view that free-market economics would indicate.
The solution, at the very least, is not to create more regulations, especially those that demand the impossible, but to cut back on the regulations, and allow the market to work as it can. However, if we allow for any regulation at all, we need clear guidelines for what are appropriate and justified regulations, and some effective way of preventing or weeding out excessive regulations.

laissez-faire has not solved one resource problem in the past,

Sure it has. People just tend not to notice when a problem doesn't exist.

"Now I actually do agree with the theory that we are using up our bounty of resources. It’s a simple mathematical fact. The population of the world keeps increasing but the amount of resources that came with the world are finite. I believe that when people far in the future look back in history, the 20th century will be seen as a golden age of man in which resources were abundant."

Yeah, if we stay on this planet and stagnate, we'll eventually run out of fuel and have to go back to the horse-and-buggy stage. But there's no law of nature that says we have to... if we deregulate the crap out of aviation, rocketry, nuclear power, etc. and establish property rights in space, we'll end up with enough resources to support thousands or even millions of times our present population for the next five billion years.

If we don't, then yes our not-too-distant descendants will tell badly mangled tales of the present day (i.e., the "Golden Age" or "Eden") with bitter envy. But conservation won't prevent that, nor will any regulation yet invented.

"Privately owned forests- recession comes along, or timber prices peak, owner "liquidates" asset & bam, no more forest."

More likely "owner liquidates asset & bam, someone else looking for a nice long-term asset is the proud owner of a forest".

Of course a forest is not an absolute good, and sometimes it's better to replace a forest with something else that's more useful to people. At least for a while.

" But this is only ture if it's a "public" resource."
No, unless you're the only one with a resource, or own a considerable block (OPEC), your going to extract like crazy (as long as you're making money). Thus the life of every (non-renewable) resource follows a bell curve, production goes up, price goes down, consumption increases, production goes down, price goes up (with various ups and down in the middle).

"government's legitimate job is to protect rights"
Which, as I already said, incidentally means insuring sustainability in the long term. Government is influenced by political decisions, which are influenced by you and me. If we make it clear to them that we want them to pour (our) money into alternatives research and conserve resources through recyling and fuel standards, they'll do it for our votes.

"Auto manufacturers can already make more fuel-efficient vehicles"
You betcha, there are things out there that can get 90 mpg, and with hybrid development much better is in the works, and yet the auto industry still builds 10 mpg SUVs, because it's economically rational for the auto-industry (who doesn't give a for oil's long term prospect). I think it is a smart idea to come up with a way to weed out excessive regulations, perhaps judicial review? But in the meantime, it is essential that the government take the very easy step of laying down a 20 mpg minimum for fuel efficiency, with long-term plans for better. Keep in mind Japan's economy is probably the most tightly regulated in the world...

"Sure it has. People just tend not to notice when a problem doesn't exist."
A nice thought, but you've still failed to produce one example, although I'll give another gov. regulation one. CFC's were proven harmful to the ozone layer, governments got together and banned them, production & consumption consequently plummetted, despite their great economic value.

Ken, do whatever it takes to get off this planet, but until then I want us to make the best of what we've got.

When I say liquidate, I mean raze, thus making it worthless for 20, 30 years. I'm going to partially concede the forestry point. When in a country with a stable & just government, and an environmentally aware populace, private ownership has been proving itself healthy. When those conditions do not apply (Malaysia, Indonesia, Congo...), the government should do whatever neccessary to hold onto its forests.

If you can't bring anymore evidence to the table, we might just have to agree to disagree: me for regulated capitalism (with a view for sustainability), you for laissez faire. Atleast it's been a good discussion, we'd probably agree on any other subject.

Sometimes one needs to prime the pump.
We do not live in a capitalistic world within a labratory. That is why we educate our citizens, to allow them to learn, expand, and change.
Sometimes more is needed. Example, habits often need a bit more (a bribe) to be broken. once the new habits have been established and markets have been installed, the bribes can be severed to let market forces steer the future.

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