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Libertarian solutions to the CO2 problem?
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 5:51 pm    Post subject: Libertarian solutions to the CO2 problem? Reply with quote

It occurs to me that situations in which the actions of a small few end up impacting almost everybody are a good test of different social contracts. How well can someone's political ideology deal with problems that affect everybody, not just a conflict between a small party of individuals? Mostly inspired by Scott Denning's presentation to the Heartland Institute's 6th International Conference on Climate Change.
So the topic for now is how would a Libertarian society deal with the issues surrounding human CO2 emissions?

Let's assume two conditions:
1) The negative effects of the problem are not in serious doubt.
2) Letting the negative effects play out is not an acceptable solution. Some type of action is needed to avert them.

The most obvious CO2 problem is global warming, and for the sake of discussion we'll assume that the IPCC's projections for the next 100 years are not in serious error. The other, less well-known side of the coin is global ocean acidification, which has serious implications for the global food chain (including us). All nations have been carbon emitters, but over the last century the biggest emitters have been the US, China, India, and Europe. So we have a problem where there's been unequal contribution to the problem that we're all facing.
Though these issues apply to everybody, the parts of the world expected to be impacted (by AGW at least) the most are typically those who have contributed the least. Letting it all play out with Business As Usual will only exacerbate these problems, not solve any of them. So some kind of action is needed, at all levels of governance and internationally.

What solutions would be consistent with Libertarian ideals and social policy?
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Willem



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They wouldn't deal with it, unless they found a way to make green energy more profitable than other sources. And even then, it'd probably be too late.

But really, in Libertarian society, that'd be the least of your worries.
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ShadowCell



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My understanding is that the individuals in a libertarian society would have to voluntarily decide to reduce their own CO2 emissions, after making the rational calculation that reducing CO2 emissions will help prevent or mitigate the consequences of global warming, and preventing or mitigating those consequences is of significant enough value to them to outweigh the costs of adopting new practices and technologies. The government would have no power or right to make it happen. It would depend on individual initiative.

Essentially, the market would have to decide that reducing CO2 emissions is more important than, say, making more fossil fuel-burning cars or coal power plants or whatever.
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bitflipper



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The determining criterion for the market--what makes certain choices more or less "important" than others--is exactly as Willem pointed out: profitability. Until "green" energy sources are more economical and profitable than fossil fuels, fossil fuels will continue to dominate.
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Now I thought Libertarianism was less about market values and more about individual rights. The implications with these market arguments are that someone can decide that their money is worth more than villages dying of famine because they've had drought for the last fifty years, or that the whole world can do with a little less food fish because ecosystems collapse when all the plankton die off. The question here is about how one person exercising their liberties restricts or denies the liberties of others.
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Willem



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

WheelsOfConfusion wrote:
Now I thought Libertarianism was less about market values and more about individual rights.

It depends on how you want to define Libertarianism. I'd define Libertarianism with a capital L as extremely right wing on the economic scale and very anti-statist on the political scale. But libertarianism is also used to refer to every anti-statist ideology, regardless of economics. That's slightly confusing, however, and it makes more sense to refer to left-wing 'libertarianism' as anarchism and just call the right wing variant 'Libertarianism'.

Quote:
The implications with these market arguments are that someone can decide that their money is worth more than villages dying of famine because they've had drought for the last fifty years, or that the whole world can do with a little less food fish because ecosystems collapse when all the plankton die off. The question here is about how one person exercising their liberties restricts or denies the liberties of others.

Yeah, that's one of the reasons why Libertarianism is a Bad Thing.
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bitflipper



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

WheelsOfConfusion wrote:
Now I thought Libertarianism was less about market values and more about individual rights.

A valid point. But, then one comes to the flaw of Libertarian idealism: governments do not actually protect the rights of individuals to exercise their liberties; governments can only restrict individual liberties. The social contract is the willingness of governed people to forego some of their individual liberties in order to secure the benefits of a greater general welfare.

In terms of an issue where an imbalance of benefit compared to consequences exists, Libertarianism cannot offer a solution that will respect individual liberties; no ideal of governance can. All that can be offered is to restrict the liberties of those who most benefit from the imbalance--which, incidentally, also restricts the potential liberties of those who suffer from the imbalance by removing any possibility that they could someday become members of the elite who benefit from it--in order to protect the welfare of the larger population. If a government is not willing to thus restrict the liberties of the elite and the potential liberties of all, or if those governed are not willing to forego their liberties for the greater welfare, then there is no effective solution that can be offered at that time. The issue will have to wait until the consequences of allowing the elite to enjoy their effective privilege come to bear enough upon the elite that they become willing to change their stance, be that the suffering of the direct consequences of their choices, or be it via revolution of the masses directed against the elite.

It comes down to this: the poor in Bangladesh do not have enough influence on the rich in the U.S., China, or Europe to change the choices being made by those rich, and the governments involved will pay more heed to the desires of their wealthy constituents than to the desires of comparably destitute foreigners. Libertarian philosophy may say that should change in order to protect everyone's individual rights, but it will have very little effect on actually making it change.
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Snorri



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

WheelsOfConfusion wrote:
The question here is about how one person exercising their liberties restricts or denies the liberties of others.


Libertarians generally don't believe that that is an issue outside of police and military matters.

I magical fairy land no company would pollute because consumers wouldn't buy their products.
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CTrees



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, negative externalities. One of my favorite tools with which to troll libertarians.

Serioulsy, if you can get a libertarian to admit that there's a problem, the only real, workable solution is to compromise the liber ideals and use some regulation.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 4:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

CTrees wrote:
Ah, negative externalities. One of my favorite tools with which to troll libertarians.

Serioulsy, if you can get a libertarian to admit that there's a problem, the only real, workable solution is to compromise the liber ideals and use some regulation.


Seth Finklestein explains why the House of Cards issue is fun like this.

Quote:
The fanatical opposition of Libertarians to anti-discrimination laws also illuminates a crucial aspect of the effects of the philosophy. They can never admit even one instance of government intervention doing good overall for society as opposed to the effects of the market. This isn't a matter of preference, it's absolutely crucial to the function of the ideology. If they ever do that, then it's an admission that social engineering can work, the market can fail, and it's just a matter of figuring out what is the proper mixture to have the best society.

This is what sets it apart from Liberalism, Conservatism, and so on. One outcome against prediction will not send those intellectual foundations crashing down, because they aren't based so heavily on absolute rules applications. Libertarianism, by contrast, if it ever concedes a market failure fixed by a government law, is in deep trouble.

So this in turn leads Libertarians into amazing flights of fancy, for example, to deny the success of civil-rights laws. They must say institutional segregation was somehow all the government's fault, or it would have gone away anyway, or something like that. Rather than racism, it's being made stupid by ideology-poisoning.

Libertarian logic is an axiomatic system that bears very little resemblance to standard deductive thought - which is in part why it's so debilitating to people. It's a little like one of those non-Euclidean geometries, internally valid results can be derived from the postulates, but they sound extremely weird when applied to the real world.


to wit, as i have had it described to me and others: it fundamentally is a market failure (and would be a free-market failure even moreso) in that people are not necessarily able to intelligently determine the personal economic value of all things. The free market won't make it magically so that 'liberated free market consumers' can be trusted to value things correctly, even in their own self-interest.

So, the tragedy of the commons occurs. Waters are overfished without Force and Fraud at work.
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nathan



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WheelsOfConfusion wrote:
Now I thought Libertarianism was less about market values and more about individual rights.

As always I've been drinking. That said...

Libertarians, by and large, support national defense so long as it remains national defense. They don't support empire, but they do support necessary defense. Your premise presupposes the legitimacy of negative results (we'll leave aside Freeman Dysonesque wonderings about the potential positives that might counterbalance). To the extent that this represents an inarguable assault on American prosperity, I can't see any way in which Libertarians oppose authoritarian regulations which clearly benefit the economy as a whole, at the expense of particular parties. After all, what's a national army but that? It's unequivocal national defense, but the aggressor here is nature.

That said, I think you've negated the primary argument. It's the indeterminacy of outcomes that gives a libertarian perspective the teeth with which it would prefer to gnaw off its own leg. When the future is indeterminate, psychology takes over - and that's the fatal flaw of libertarianism.

Every man would risk his neighbor for the greater good, but nobody risks their own family unless it's a sure thing.
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Bart



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sam wrote:
CTrees wrote:
Ah, negative externalities. One of my favorite tools with which to troll libertarians.

Serioulsy, if you can get a libertarian to admit that there's a problem, the only real, workable solution is to compromise the liber ideals and use some regulation.


Seth Finklestein explains why the House of Cards issue is fun like this.

Quote:
The fanatical opposition of Libertarians to anti-discrimination laws also illuminates a crucial aspect of the effects of the philosophy. They can never admit even one instance of government intervention doing good overall for society as opposed to the effects of the market. This isn't a matter of preference, it's absolutely crucial to the function of the ideology. If they ever do that, then it's an admission that social engineering can work, the market can fail, and it's just a matter of figuring out what is the proper mixture to have the best society.

This is what sets it apart from Liberalism, Conservatism, and so on. One outcome against prediction will not send those intellectual foundations crashing down, because they aren't based so heavily on absolute rules applications. Libertarianism, by contrast, if it ever concedes a market failure fixed by a government law, is in deep trouble.

So this in turn leads Libertarians into amazing flights of fancy, for example, to deny the success of civil-rights laws. They must say institutional segregation was somehow all the government's fault, or it would have gone away anyway, or something like that. Rather than racism, it's being made stupid by ideology-poisoning.

Libertarian logic is an axiomatic system that bears very little resemblance to standard deductive thought - which is in part why it's so debilitating to people. It's a little like one of those non-Euclidean geometries, internally valid results can be derived from the postulates, but they sound extremely weird when applied to the real world.


to wit, as i have had it described to me and others: it fundamentally is a market failure (and would be a free-market failure even moreso) in that people are not necessarily able to intelligently determine the personal economic value of all things. The free market won't make it magically so that 'liberated free market consumers' can be trusted to value things correctly, even in their own self-interest.

So, the tragedy of the commons occurs. Waters are overfished without Force and Fraud at work.


This is indeed hilarious as it doesn't even have to be a real life example. It's great fun to bring up the prisoner's dilemma in conversation with a libertarian, there is no ambiguity, no way to spin it so regulation can be blamed. On a forum I frequent the resident libertarian has flat out stated he rejects all economic theory, probably because his fairy land theories of more freedom always leading to better outcomes have so often been beaten down by it. I think by now he's devolved into "more freedom is always better, because it means more freedom"
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Willem



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really hate the usage of the word freedom. It's such a meaningless term, especially in the hands of Libertarians.
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Bart



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Willem wrote:
I really hate the usage of the word freedom. It's such a meaningless term, especially in the hands of Libertarians.


It's overused. I really love freedom, it gives me the opportunity to make choices that benefit me. I don't see any reason why I'd need the freedom to make decisions that are monumentally stupid and will seriously harm me or others though. Freedom is just a way to achieve goals and shouldn't be one in itself.
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 3:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the input everyone.


nathan wrote:
That said, I think you've negated the primary argument. It's the indeterminacy of outcomes that gives a libertarian perspective the teeth with which it would prefer to gnaw off its own leg. When the future is indeterminate, psychology takes over - and that's the fatal flaw of libertarianism.

Exactly the issue I wanted to avoid, too. From what I understand of the ideology the issue of individual liberty is paramount and compromising it for anything less than certain threats is considered an unnecessary evil. There'd be no sense in proposing a solution if the problem is imaginary, so in order to wring out possible Libertarian solutions we have to assume the problem is real. I'm looking for any answer besides the obvious "government action unnecessary, every man for hisself!" response, since this isn't a case of one person's actions affecting just that one person.
If Libertarianism wants to claim any legitimacy as a social philosophy it will have to deal with society-wide issues like pollution.
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