Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Canon and Pollution

I could be wrong, but I think Matt Yglesias is right about this:

[I]f you examine the classic liberal canon you’ll find not a single iota of support anywhere in it—not in Smith not in Mill not in Bastiat not in Hayek not in Friedman not anywhere—for the assertion that it’s an important free market principle that the Koch brothers should be allowed to put pollution into the air without compensating the billions of people around the world who are impacted by this activity. And yet an absolute consensus has developed around this idea in right-of-center American circles ...
Not that it would have made any difference if Smith, Mill, Bastiat, Hayek, or Friedman had advocated the right to pollute the air, but to my knowledge, they did not.

Friedman arguably came close in "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits," his seminal 1970 glibertarian manifesto advocating know-nothing, brazen insouciance in business management. But note the terms closely:
Many a reader who has followed the argu­ment this far may be tempted to remonstrate that it is all well and good to speak of Government's having the responsibility to im­pose taxes and determine expenditures for such "social" purposes as controlling pollu­tion or training the hard-core unemployed, but that the problems are too urgent to wait on the slow course of political processes, that the exercise of social responsibility by busi­nessmen is a quicker and surer way to solve pressing current problems. [emphasis mine]
Maybe Friedman was just laying down rhetorical ground he would quickly gather back up in subsequent scratchings, but he is openly conceding that government -- or, I gather, capital-g Government if you're glibertarian -- acts within its proper boundaries to set limits on pollution.


OleDon said...

First time reader here, and how I wish for the day when you can use smaller words to communicate. Too bad you were not living a hundred or so years ago. Considering the track records of the Vanderbilts, Mellons, Carnegie, DuPont, and others of that era, you would have had so much more to complain about in your blog. I'm not totally disagreeing with your thoughts, but it is our social pressures and government that is here to guide business in proper practices. Nowhere in the business axiom does it state any goal for employee safety, nor the possible ill-effects on the world where it resides. For that matter, there are no standards for government's operation, nor for any personal operation. LOL, remember that document that states, "All men are created equal?" Of course that didn't really mean it! Certainly not in pertaining to women, blacks, native-indians, nor anything white men didn't like or respect. Just my thoughts. TC Don

Dale said...

OleDon -- I'm not sure where you're coming from there, but I appreciate the comment. To be clear: I am well aware of the highly counter-egalitarian origins of this country; businesses are, by their very raison d'etre, amoral (at best) entities that need to be watched and policed very closely; the robber barons of old show clearly the shortcomings of placing too much trust or granting too much power to private wealth; etc.