A Bit Of A Ramble

I’ve spent the last view days working more than anything else, and as a result I haven’t really felt like I’ve had a lot to say. I’ve spent most of my time and effort on Twitter, which hasn’t been much to begin with, doing battle with creationist fools, which seems to be something I rather enjoy, but in a strange way. Strange because I’m truly horrified both that people can be as ignorant as they are, but moreso that they may actually wind up with influence.

They confound me for the simple fact that anyone can be so stupid – and yet -they simply refuse to see the facts before their eyes, jumping from silly fallacy to silly fallacy without any thought.

What I’ve really contemplated lately, though, is the idea of liberalism and something I’d not heard of until Rand Paul’s emergence in the Kentucky Senate race down south, the idea of “paleoconservativism”. I think I’m trying to understand how people like Dr. Paul can be tagged as libertarians, when they seem to abide an astounding amount of government interference in certain aspects of society.

I for a while thought I was something of a libertarian. At least in the broad view, I like to think that the government should have a pretty minimal role in my life. I’d like to think that only where the free market, the entrepreneurial spirit fails that government has a role to play. There’s a number of places that markets don’t work optimally – roads and other public works, defence, that kind of thing. For those things, obviously, we need a tax system and everyone to pay in to make sure that market failures are addressed.

I’ve realized since having those ideas that the free market is indeed not totally workable, because the cost structures that exist in the market in its current form do not work. I came to realize this when I started to take more interest in the environment, something I think that was first cued when I was living in Costa Rica and the idea of trading carbon credits was getting going. The whole concept which is now morphed into the idea of “cap and trade” and various other names seemed to have originated there, insofar as I never heard of it anywhere else. Costa Rica was trying to use the idea of selling what are now known as “carbon offsets” to raise capital to preserve its own forests.

The problem as I learned about it is that markets do not adequately incorporate some costs into production. For example, the cost of disposal of a product at the end of its useful life, the cost of the impact of pollutants released during manufacture, transportation, etc. These sorts of real costs with real impacts are not actually built into pricing and therefore not taken into account by the market in setting allocations.

This is something I think we’ll need to get a good handle on in order to actually improve our ability as a civilization to live more sustainably. The fact that we cannot reckon costs effectively is the main reason we make what are essentially poor decisions about how we use resources. This is something that will take innovation to address.

Back, briefly, to these so-called libertarians before I get onto the whole matter of environmental economics.

The whole concept of libertarianism is that the role of the state in the lives of free people should be as little as possible. I’ve always understood this to mean that there should be as little government as possible, and that its power and influence should be extremely limited.

So, then, in my estimation, a libertarian should be pro-choice, since the government shouldn’t have an role interfering with one’s own body. It should be pro-equal marriage , or if not, then it should not allow for the existence of laws which discriminate in any way against those who are unable to marry – no tax advantage, no preference in treatment at all at law should be abided by them. As for immigration – given that it is a function of the free labour market, libertarians should find themselves unable to justify a large state apparatus set up to fight “illegal” immigration. After all, the reason that migration happens is simple – supply and demand for labour. Where better jobs exist at better rates of pay, labour will move to maximize their utility.

Funny enough, this sort of stuff doesn’t seem to make sense to a lot of supposed libertarians, many of whom thus wind up in the “paleoconservative” column instead.

What I’ve come to realize in considering these things is that, as I’ve stated before, I don’t think I have a specific spot on the political spectrum. I’m generally a fiscal conservative (which is different than being a conservative, most of whom seem to be remarkable non-conservative), while thinking that broadly there’s no need for government to intrude into social issues, save to address market failures. I see no reason, for example, for government to oppose the idea of equal marriage, when marriage to me is simply a legal/social arrangement for a couple. What really matters when gay couples are fighting for equal status is the impact that the relationship has on things like access to their loved ones in hospital, division of property on the breakdown of relationship, and various other common law concepts. I couldn’t care less if religions oppose the idea. Sadly, we haven’t reached a point in society where we can look back at religion and wonder why we bothered, but I hope within my lifetime that will be the case.

So what do I think government should be able and stand ready to do? Address market failures – things like making sure that the true costs of goods brought to market at clear and reflected in the process that allows us to make decisions. I think we’ve not done particularly well with this as a society, yet – but not for lack of trying. In some ways, we have. When I get an oil change for my car, for example, I’m charged a fee which goes toward making sure the oil is disposed of properly, and to address pollution issues (at least, that’s the explanation for it – and whether these work in practice is somewhat the issue I’m trying to explore).

We have a variety of laws now that require better stewardship from industry, but they don’t necessarily work well. And there’s constantly political pressure to overturn them, to limit them, to make them toothless. Consider the law in the US which is going to cap BP’s liability for the disaster they’ve created in the Gulf of Mexico at $75MM, a paltry amount given the amount of damage that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is going to deal to the environment and the economy of several states by the time it’s done. There’s no way that will likely even begin to address the mess.

We have examples of the cost of not looking after these externalities everywhere. Near where I live now a massive project is underway to clean up the Sydney Tar Ponds, a vast amount of waste from coke ovens and a steel mill. This site, on a tidal estuary, is contaminated with a myriad of chemicals, and the mess was made worse by the fact that even when people realized the problem nothing was done, and according to some sources, it seems as though more waste from other sources was just dumped there. Near where I used to live in Peterborough, Ontario, sits the Deloro Mine Site, a gigantic nightmare – a mix of arsenic laced mine tailings, combined with radioactive waste from uranium refining, all sitting at the headwaters of a river which supplies drinking water to a numer of communities. In the case of Deloro, the owners of the site are corporations now long gone, and the government is holding the bag.

These sorts of scenarios are not rare, not isolated. We haven’t created an effective way to deal with them, to force business to reckon the cost of their impact on the environment. This to me has become something I think has to be a priority for government – moreso perhaps than anything else. We’ve done so much damage, mostly from ignorance, to our own surroundings, and we have to find ways to alleviate the problems.

What staggers me, then, is seeing so many people in denial of this whole situation. Watching people try to deny climate change is as staggering as watching people try to deny evolution. They want people to think that it’s a myth, a hoax, something designed only to make someone an obscene amount of money or something.

Like evolution, climate change is just reality. There is no evidence to suggest that it’s anything but real. As much as some would like for climategate as it was called to have proven that it was nonsense, they were not so lucky.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that these groups overlap either. If you’re irrational about one particular thing I guess it’s only natural to be deluded about a variety of things. If you’re going to buy into one insane concept, why not go full bore.

Again, this is the way I come to realize I’m just not conservative. I don’t get how people come to think that government shouldn’t interfere in business but can intrude in private lives. It seems that to so many conservatives there is some desire to be free of government but no problem with religions controlling people’s lives. That just drives me around the bend.

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2 comments so far

  1. klem on

    For mines, the mining companies are supposed to provide multi million dollar bonds to the government so that if they go out of business the bond pays for the clean up. Perhaps the bond was insufficient to cover the cost or perhaps there was no bond provided at Deloro. For the Sydney tar pond, no one really wants to clean it up. Why that is is a complete mystery to most people. Otherwise it would be done by now.

    Climate change is a reality but fewer and fewer people believe that humans are a significant contributor. Not enough to justify 1% of GDP as Gore and Suzuki demand. That’s an increase of $450 per person per year, and it would be spread in the cost of everything not just energy. In reality it is just an inflationary activity, people will simply get a raise to cover the increases and continue top drive their SUVs. This will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

    • warriorbanker on

      I wasn’t aware mines were already required to provide performance bonds. In the case of Deloro, the original mine opened in the early 20th Century long before anyone was likely to pay attention to such things, and changed hands so many times that there’s no way to really track down or assign responsibility. It has an interesting thing in common with the Tar Ponds, being that both were substantially controlled or made worse by the Government. The uranium tailings that contaminate Deloro came from Eldorado Nuclear which was Crown-owned, much like the Tar Ponds came from Sydney Steel and it was basically government-run.

      I can tell you, though, that there’s been a lot of work done at the Tar Ponds, and while I’m sure it’ll never really be totally remediated, it seemed last time I passed by that a lot has been done – the ponds have been dug out, though I don’t know where the waste is going, and much of it has already long since contaniminated the estuary anyhow. As for Deloro, I have no idea what’s been going on there lately, I only know it even exists because I happened to notice the fencing and radiation warning signs along Highway 7 and decided to find out what was there.

      As for your last point – you’re more or less right on the problem of a purely market solution. I don’t know to what degree climate change is anthropogenic, but I suspect it’s to a high degree. Some people may not believe it but I’ll side with what science says, rather than public opinion. I think we have to see mandates to reduce emissions rather than just hoping the market will deal with the problem, although the market can help.


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