Libertarians Can’t Save the Planet
January 28, 2020 11:02 AM   Subscribe

John Quiggin, Jacobin: Libertarians Can’t Save the PlanetLibertarians once claimed they had the answer to the environmental crisis. But the reality of climate change has simply exposed the futility of their creed.
posted by tonycpsu (69 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Affluent white men who don’t like being told what to do are by far the most important constituency for libertarianism.

Yup.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:07 AM on January 28 [46 favorites]


My favorite approach is cap-auction-rebate-per-capita, which leaves a lot to private preference and the free market and innovation etc etc - everything libertarians of my youth vaunted.

Heck, they used to say "no free lunch" all the time, where’d that go?
posted by clew at 11:13 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


Ron Paul spilled the beans in 2011. The libertarian answer to the environmental crisis is that people will die if they can't afford what's needed to survive in a environmentally ravaged world. Can't afford clean air, clean water, nutritious food? Sorry Timmy. You're surplus to society and nature will take its course.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:14 AM on January 28 [50 favorites]


Thinly intellectualized selfishness isn't much use in a real crisis - not exactly a head-slapper
posted by ryanshepard at 11:14 AM on January 28 [52 favorites]


Thinly intellectualized selfishness isn't much use in a real crisis - not exactly a head-slapper

This is why I'm always amazed that libertarians assume they'll survive in some post-apocalyptic scenario. Contrarian smugness has no value in a society that has no formal patriarchal structure enforced by the church and state.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:17 AM on January 28 [55 favorites]


I loved this article, although I was left shrugging a little bit, because it's not like the libertarians vanished in a puff of brimstone...they just shed some of the "we can fix this through the mysteries of the free market" camouflage, so it's not like the problem has gone away!
posted by mittens at 11:17 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Also, water is wet.
posted by acb at 11:18 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


This is why I'm always amazed that libertarians assume they'll survive in some post-apocalyptic scenario.

They see themselves as having positioned themselves in a place where they will be sitting pretty when everything collapses (see also: prepper culture.) Of course they tend to forget that organization is the force multiplier, so an organized group with the ability to assert force...is not going to care much for their arguments.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:29 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I'm always amazed that libertarians assume they'll survive in some post-apocalyptic scenario

The most powerful libertarian in America barely survived an encounter with his neighbor in a dispute over a shrub or whatnot.
posted by srboisvert at 11:30 AM on January 28 [94 favorites]


Contrarian smugness has no value in a society that has no formal patriarchal structure enforced by the church and state.

That and they're largely pudgy suburban white guys in Dockers and polar fleece that would be eaten alive by your average Lord Humungus type.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:32 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


An ideology that can adequately be summarized as "fuck you got mine" isn't good for anything, really.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:32 AM on January 28 [20 favorites]


It has taken thirty years, but this undeniable fact has finally killed the propertarian movement in the United States.

I don't know about that. It was always eugenecist in spirit. Widespread burning isn't a catastrophe to libertarians, it's an opportunity. The displacement and destruction of people and wilderness offers a chance to streamline the process of redrawing boundaries and reassigning ownership to those who -- via merit, of course -- have the means.

It won't work, of course, they'll burn and starve with the rest of us. But libertarianism was always rooted in hypotheticals to begin with. Believers are most fervent when evidence is scarce.
posted by klanawa at 11:34 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the problem the article is discussing is something that always confused me about the Coasian argument. I'll quote Wikipedia:

If property rights are well defined and if there are no transaction costs, then market participants can negotiate to a solution that internalizes the externality. Moreover, this solution will not depend on who is allocated the property right. For example, a paper mill and a resort might be on the same lake. Suppose the benefits to the resort of a clean lake outweigh the benefits to the mill of being able to pollute. If the mill has the right to pollute, the resort will pay it not to. If the resort has the right to a pollution-free lake, it will keep that right, as the mill will be unable to compensate it for its pollution.

We'll ignore the zero transaction costs and jump straight to what I think is the real problem - does the paper mill have the right to pollute? It's either "yes" or "no" and you can't progress until you get a firm answer. But who gives the answer? There are two answer. The first is the owner of the lake gives the answer. Is there one? Just one? What about the air. Alternatively, the government says "yes" or "no" to pollution. But, the government sucks and we don't want it answering that question.

So that means the resort pays the mill.

That also means that you can make some money by starting factories that do nothing but pollute and then having the resort pay you not to. Heh.

Then you realize that that's the situation we are in, except there are tens of thousands of mills and billions of resorts in our real-world scenario and any fiction of having zero transaction costs has gone out the window. Plus, coordination problems of this scale are going to need government (coercion) and that's bad, too.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:54 AM on January 28 [25 favorites]


Libertarians can’t.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:55 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


The resort won't have the high-powered friends the mill has, so when the lake is now a Superfund site, well, everybody learned not to trust the mill and they know better for the next environment...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:01 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Relevant Bob the Angry Flower.
posted by jquinby at 12:03 PM on January 28 [19 favorites]


Since the last presidential election cycle, every time I hear the word Libertarian, I think of that idiot whose name I now forget who answered on camera, "What's Aleppo?" days after this photo was on the cover of a million newspapers and web sites. I can't imagine ever not associating that level of ignorance with libertarians.
posted by dobbs at 12:10 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


coordination problems of this scale are going to need government (coercion) and that's bad, too

The tenet of libertarian thought that has always given me the shits beyond all others is the conflation of coercion with government.

They always start by explaining with great care, in a manner that makes it clear they think of their audience as both three years old and dim, how wonderful it is for both whenever two parties freely choose to transact with each other. And then they make this massive conceptual leap straight to the preconceived conclusion that a market free of government interference therefore has to be the Best Possible Thing.

They never acknowledge that there may be, and in fact usually is, a cost incurred by bystanders not directly involved in any given transaction, and that since there will in general be more bystanders than traders, those costs will frequently aggregate to something pretty bloody significant and will often be imposed coercively.

I might not want a pack of feral libertarians mutually advantaging each other outside my window all day, but without the fallback coercive powers of a representative body constituted to protect the public interest, I will inevitably end up coerced into dealing with their fucking noise whether I want to or not.

But no, coercion is only bad if you're the government. It's OK if you are a libertarian.
posted by flabdablet at 12:17 PM on January 28 [48 favorites]


My favorite approach is cap-auction-rebate-per-capita, which leaves a lot to private preference and the free market and innovation etc etc - everything libertarians of my youth vaunted.

A fossil carbon mining tax funding a universal rebate scheme has all the same advantages and lower administrative complexity, as well as putting decisions about the price of pollution in the hands of a publicly accountable representative body where it belongs rather than in those of a pack of unscrupulous self-serving rentiers.
posted by flabdablet at 12:27 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


They never acknowledge that there may be, and in fact usually is, a cost incurred by bystanders not directly involved in any given transaction,

That's not fair. Academic Libertarians spend quite a lot of time thinking about this (IDK about the random libertarian yahoo you meet in the street, but that's a different matter).

The problem I see is that they equate "There is a theoretical solution to this problem" with "This will actually work". Which is probably a tl;dr for libertarian arguments about pollution.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:28 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Libertarians Can’t Save the Planet

Librarians can.
posted by Fizz at 12:30 PM on January 28 [51 favorites]


Freedom is money to most libertarians, as such they can't be trusted because honesty, truth, decency, and integrity are mutual or social concepts. If they can bastardize freedom to mean a limited resource for the most powerful few, then they can reverse the meaning of good and evil as social ideas, which they might have already done. My biggest concern is how Evangelical Christianity has caved to their doctrine, through idolatry and its relation to sudden riches.
posted by Brian B. at 12:30 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


I am imagining as hard as I possibly can and it is still far outside my ability to imagine the Jacobin reader who needs to be convinced of this.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:38 PM on January 28 [16 favorites]


Y’know, the ancient Athenian punishment for people who made strong arguments weak and weak arguments strong doesn’t seem so bad these days.
posted by Maecenas at 12:51 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Or metafilter, as far as that goes. :)
posted by sjswitzer at 1:00 PM on January 28


Present-day American Libertarians are conservative Republicans with social anxieties. They'll spend all their spare time bashing every and all Democrats, while tut-tutting and stroking their chins at the lunacy in the White House for "balance."

They're nearly all pro-police state anyway. Go check out the comments sections at Reason dot com if you can stand the stench.
posted by SoberHighland at 1:04 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


> I am imagining as hard as I possibly can and it is still far outside my ability to imagine the Jacobin reader who needs to be convinced of this.

Not everything published in a magazine, even Jacobin, needs to be a wake-up call or a call to action. In my view, the piece eloquently tied together the American right's bait-and-switch on environmental issues, the emerging consensus on anthropogenic climate change, and the birfurcation of libertarians into a full-on Trumpist majority and a tiny minority of true propertarian believers who are increasingly irrelevant in US politics.

I think most are aware of the long, slow decline of libertarian ideology, but declaring that it's essentially dead, and that the dead-eners have no viable path toward relevance now that their institutional backbone has been subsumed into Trumpism... I think there's value in that. We need not trouble ourselves with spherical cow libertarian logic any longer. It's been proven false. We can move on and confront the nativist, anti-intellectual, Machiavellian majority now.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:06 PM on January 28 [14 favorites]


I have only met three hardcore libertarians. A surprise since I was living and working in Silicon Valley. Two were Scientologists and the third used it as a pickup line at a Unitarian church. All three were proselytizers of what was for all intents and purposes their religion. One of the Scientologists loaned me a book by someone he said was the leading philosopher of libertarianism. I read it. There was a whole argument about the nature of property. But there was a fatal flaw in the argument. When I returned the book to the owner I told him about the flaw I found, that if I broke his leg I would owe him damages, but if I killed him there would be no property owner to collect. He agreed and said that the author was working on that.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:14 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


In my early twenties my politics were fairly unformed. I thank an enthusiastic Libertarian who thought he saw a prospect in me for clarifying my views by constantly trying to persuade me. I've been hard Left ever since. I raise my glass to Libertarians, may they annoy people into good sense forever!

He actually cajoled me into reading Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. That was sure an eye-opener.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:25 PM on January 28 [15 favorites]


Most modern-day libertarians I meet can be boiled down to some versions of two core tenets: (a) I don't want to pay tax; (b) I don't want anyone telling me I can't (i) indulge in my drug of preference, (ii) dump mercury in the river that goes through my property, (iii) discriminate against whomever I want.
posted by slkinsey at 1:44 PM on January 28 [16 favorites]


Someone actually thought Libertarians would do *anything* that could potentially benefit anyone other than themselves? A brief visit to Wikipedia could have saved them the trouble.
posted by tommasz at 1:54 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Once I'd read something by a libertarian blogger who very carefully detailed what they thought the government should and shouldn't be doing--not just the general tasks, but the precise degree to which each task should be executed--I came up with my own definition of libertarianism: people who believe that there should only be precisely as much government as they could use, personally.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:11 PM on January 28 [39 favorites]


this undeniable fact has finally killed the propertarian movement

If only. The earlier bit about "affluent white men" was far more on track. (Though all the libertarians I personally know are just white men who wish to preserve their options for when they someday become affluent.)

The thing is, there's not really anything for libertarianism to do or say during a Republican administration. It'll get dusted off and re-erected as soon as there's a Democratic one.
posted by zompist at 2:48 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


Maybe libertarianism plus homeopathic medicine will show a synergy and save us all.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:24 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


The problem with externalities is that you probably can’t internalize them all. Yes, actuaries have a precise value for a life, but not reallllly. In the mill and resort example, having an unpolluted lake could reasonably be argued to be a basic human right, and thus to not be convertible to currency. Once you accept that everything can be thought of in dollars, you’ve missed the point about what humanity is and what it is for. Take this absurdist example: Bob likes cutting off ears and places a high value on it. I don’t like my ears cut off, so if I value it more than Bob values it, I will pay Bob to not cut off my ears.

We talked a lot about externalities in my classes at East Anglia in the 80s (we’ve known about all these ideas like cap and trade foreeeeeeeeeever, Jesus) and that was a hot topic. Can everything be expressed as dollars, or not? If not, maybe you just say the value of not burning fossil fuels is infinite / axiomatic and go from there. I’m not saying market incentives are not helpful in a Capitalist society, just that money:value is an imperfect analogy.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:44 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


Libertarians Can’t Save the Planet

Very true! But neither can the Jacobins.
posted by overhauser at 3:47 PM on January 28


I don't think I understand the thesis of the article.

By the time of the Kyoto conference in 1997, support for carbon prices as the most cost-effective long-term solution, to be implemented through internationally tradable permits, had become the dominant view. Twenty years later, this vision is finally being realized in the European Union, where high permit prices are driving coal-fired power out of existence.

So the libertarian approach seems effective? And the remaining criticism is that the American right-wing stopped wanting to do the libertarian approach. Seems accurate, but that's not "the reality of climate change [exposing] the futility of their creed" or "the failure of mainstream libertarianism to formulate an honest response to the climate crisis." The response was formulated and found politically unacceptable in the US.

By the way:

But the cultural barriers standing in the way of free-market environmentalism were even greater. Affluent white men who don’t like being told what to do are by far the most important constituency for libertarianism. Such men would consider it a dreadful imposition to have to pay, whether directly or indirectly, for the right to drive a car or use air conditioning.

Those same affluent white men already pay a bunch of money for all kinds of things related to driving a car and using air conditioning. Why would paying a carbon tax for gasoline be beyond the pale, but existing gasoline taxes are apparently not? I don't think this psychological explanation makes sense.

(My alternative explanation is simple -- Republicans decided that if Obama was in favor of something, they had to be against it. Obama was in favor of market-based emissions regulation, and therefore they are now against it, and with 8 years of propaganda in the books, they aren't going to become un-against it again for no reason. The exact same sea change happened with Republican opinions on health care and immigration, for the same reason.)
posted by value of information at 5:02 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I think most are aware of the long, slow decline of libertarian ideology, but declaring that it's essentially dead, and that the dead-eners have no viable path toward relevance now that their institutional backbone has been subsumed into Trumpism...

A similar critique could be made of Evangelical Christianity. Like libertarianism, evangelicism is a reactionary movement whose founders rejected what they saw as unreasonable superstition and oppression. But each of these movements have been notoriously susceptible to hucksterism and fraudsters. That doesn't mean that other groups are necessarily better; they just have different failure modes. That is, they're less likely to fall for people who claim to be draining the swamp or expelling the moneychangers from the Temple or whatever.

Anyway, they've both ended up as Trumpists, although by dramatically different routes. Evangelical Christians are apparently developing a form of state Christianity, of which Trump is the avatar, in which the wicked will be punished, the idle will starve, and strangers will be punished and starve. In contrast, libertarians see Trump as someone who breaks rules and conventions and will consequently allow them to be free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. If this goes on, I think they may both get what they want.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:23 PM on January 28 [13 favorites]


OMG Cato Institute!
The institute finally abandoned climate denialism last year, but it still has no answer for the climate crisis. The last remaining cheerleader for the “libertarian moment,” Nick Gillespie, offered a rather slippery response to Tyler Cowen’s criticism: "Whatever your beliefs and preferences might be on a given issue, the scale (and cost) of addressing, say, climate change is massive compared to delivering basic education, and with the latter at least, there’s no reason to believe that more state control or dollars will create positive outcomes."
AHAHAHAHAHA.
(suppressed hysterical sobbing)
What the hell would be the "charter school" version of climate change mitigation policies?
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:54 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


This is my Bio-shocked face
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:18 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


Libertarianism is just a religion for the intellectually lazy. You don't need to spend years studying policy and collecting data on its real-world effects if you conclude ahead of time, based on a maxim, that all government regulation is doomed to failure. It's just a conspiracy theory with a logo t-shirt and a national organization.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:46 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


What the hell would be the "charter school" version of climate change mitigation policies?
You pay me a carbon dividend for planting this tree, but I don’t pay anyone a carbon tax for the gas I use to plant it, or the tree I chopped down and sold to make room .
posted by clew at 8:28 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


Now that this issue has finally been settled, we can turn our attention to more pressing concerns. Namely: when Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran sings that he’s hungry like the wolf, is he referring to a specific wolf or to wolves in general? If it's the latter, why phrase it that way? Or maybe it's a friend nicknamed The Wolf who is known for his prodigious appetite? Either way, I think we deserve answers.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:31 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


It is relatively harmless to indulge in libertarian fantasies when you are 14, for about a week.

Any longer than that requires serious intervention from the adults.
posted by Pouteria at 9:12 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


It is relatively harmless to indulge in libertarian fantasies when you are 14, for about a week.
Obligatory
or maybe that was the joke?
posted by slater at 9:18 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Eh, I gave up on my libertarian phase when I realized that every human on earth is about 2 minutes from death without air, which none of us own. Capitalism is never sufficient for life, and the libertarian solution is that people who cannot afford to live should not continue to do so.

They do have some important things to say about the abuse of government and the perfidy of power, but the rest of it is nonsense.
posted by Richard Daly at 10:47 PM on January 28


I first read "librarians can't save the planet" and I was like how dare you.
posted by ipsative at 10:57 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


Libertarians seem to want the best for the most. Yea? But when you examine what they mean by the best (efficiency) and the most (people like me), it all falls apart.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:59 PM on January 28


Take this absurdist example: Bob likes cutting off ears and places a high value on it. I don’t like my ears cut off, so if I value it more than Bob values it, I will pay Bob to not cut off my ears.

I wonder if Bob will take “keeping his hands” as a form of payment.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:02 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Yes, actuaries have a precise value for a life,

This is totally unrelated to this thread, but actuaries do not actually have a value for a life. We are told the value (when its life insurance, you choose!) and then calculate the risk of having to pay that value in a given period. Actuaries calculate the cost of risk, not the value of things/people.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:12 AM on January 29 [17 favorites]


or maybe that was the joke?

Unintentional.

But I'll take what laughs I can get. :)
posted by Pouteria at 2:50 AM on January 29


I veer randomly between being amused and infuriated when they go on about "State Capacity Libertarianism". On the one hand, it's good that they've abandoned actual Libertarianism. On the other hand the sheer smugness where they claim to still be Libertarians, just ones who now believe in strong government as if that's a tiny detail, is kind of annoying.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:57 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


/me dusts off fifteen-year-old comment

I am the very model of a modern Libertarian:
I teem with glowing notions for proposals millenarian,
I've nothing but contempt for ideologies collectivist
(My own ideas of social good tend more toward the Objectivist).
You see, I've just discovered, by my intellectual bravery,
That civic obligations are all tantamount to slavery;
And thus that ancient pastime, viz., complaining of taxation,
Assumes the glorious aspect of a war for liberation!

You really must admit it's a delightful revelation:
To bitch about your taxes is to fight for liberation!


I bolster up my claims with lucubrations rather risible
About the Founding Fathers and the market's hand invisible;
In fact, my slight acquaintance with the fountainhead Pierian
Makes me the very model of a modern Libertarian!

His very slight acquaintance with the fountainhead Pierian
Makes him the very model of a modern Libertarian!


All "public wealth" is robbery, we never will accede to it;
You have no rights in anything if you can't show your deed to it.
(But don't fear repossession by our Amerind minority:
Those treaties aren't valid--Uncle Sam had no authority!)
We realize whales and wolves and moose find wilderness quite vital,
And we'll give back their habitats--if they can prove their title.
But people like unspoiled lands (we too will say "hooray" for them),
So we have faith that someone else will freely choose to pay for them.

Yes, when the parks are auctioned it will be a lucky day for them
We're confident that someone else will freely choose to pay for them!


We'll guard the health of nature by self-interest most astute:
Since pollution is destructive, no one ever will pollute.
Thus factories will safeguard our communities riparian
I am the very model of a modern Libertarian!

Yes, factories will safeguard our communities riparian,
He is the very model of a modern Libertarian!

In short, when I can tell why individual consumers
Know best who should approve their drugs and who should treat their tumors;
Why civilized existence in its intricate confusion
Will be simple and straightforward, absent government intrusion;
Why markets cannot err within the system I've described,
Why poor folk won't be bullied and why rich folk won't be bribed,
And why all vast inequities of power and position
Will vanish when I wave my wand and utter "COMPETITION!"

He's so much more exciting than a common politician,
Inequities will vanish when he hollers "Competition!"


And why my lofty rhetoric and arguments meticulous
Inspire shouts of laughter and the hearty cry, "Ridiculous!",
And why my social theories all seem so pre-Sumerian
I'll be the very model of a modern Libertarian!

His novel social theories all seem so pre-Sumerian
He is the very model of a modern Libertarian!

posted by Mayor West at 5:29 AM on January 29 [30 favorites]


Libertarians are the political equivalent of the roommate who signs an agreement to share chores and groceries, and then never does his share. When confronted, he argues that the place is clean and there’s food, so what’s the problem? If people want the place to be cleaner, they should clean it themselves instead of burdening others with their overly high expectations.

It doesn’t work in an apartment and it definitely wouldn’t work as a society.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:01 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


I stopped arguing with Libertarians back in the 90s and started asking questions. "Has it ever been tried? What societies or organizations, large or small, have been run on its principles? What happened?" (Similar one of my starting points for debugging programs, "has this code ever worked?") That seemed to take some of the fun out of talking about it, to me at least.
posted by kingless at 6:28 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I stopped arguing with Libertarians back in the 90s and started asking questions. "Has it ever been tried? What societies or organizations, large or small, have been run on its principles? What happened?"

One of the annoying things about libertarians -- one of the many annoying things about libertarians -- is that for all their self-satisfied smugness, they are, or pretend to be, completely ignorant of political philosophy before Ayn Rand. John Locke had that territory covered back in 1651, when he pointed out the historical experience that in the absence of a government you have the war of all versus all, where life is nasty, brutish, and short. Authority is derived from the consent of the governed in part because they know the alternative is worse (and, make no mistake, Hobbes was arguing for an all-powerful king).

There have been plenty of recent examples of countries where there has been no central government, and what results is not some flowering of mutually beneficial transactions but rule by armed gangs.

The problem with libertarianism, like Communism, is not that it's never been tried, but that it has, and it's proven a total failure. At least Communists seem to have accepted the verdict of history.
posted by Gelatin at 7:37 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


At least Communists seem to have accepted the verdict of history.

Maybe those who lived under it (as versus the LeftTube Yung Stalin Posse).

But not even all of them, if you credit reporting on popular politics in the former Eastern Bloc.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:48 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


> So the libertarian approach seems effective? And the remaining criticism is that the American right-wing stopped wanting to do the libertarian approach.

There's very little differentiating this statement from a bizarro version of "real socialism has never been tried!" If your political ideology cannot survive first contact with actual policymakers and actual citizens, then it's not a political ideology, it's a thought experiment.

Propertarian / supply-side / market-oriented solutions have been the Republican brand for decades. The fact that a market-oriented solution was effective at improving air quality and was then immediately abandoned by market-oriented conservatives means that effectiveness at improving air quality was not the metric on which it was ultimately being judged by the political faction that put it forward.

This waning influence of libertarian true believers is precisely what Quiggin is articulating in the piece. The "futility of their creed" was their inability to accept minor inconveniences to capitalists who profited off of externalities (e.g. the Kochs), while the " failure... to formulate an honest response to the climate crisis" refers to the almost immediate flip-flop they did on market-based environmental regulation when Koch-ism took over the apparatus of the GOP. He is not saying libertarian ideology cannot solve problems in a vaccum -- he's saying that their attempts to do so outside of that vacuum have led to a swift and increasingly irrevocable separation of those who'd rather be right on paper and irrelevant in the public sphere from the mainstream (Trumpist) conservative movement.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:05 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


There was a Planet Money podcast a while back about this place just outside San Antonio that decided to form itself as an independent city - just a little freeway exit and a square mile of houses. The mayor was a rabid libertarian who decided there would be zero, no taxes. They hired this idealist kid just out of grad school to be the city manager. They wanted someone who wasn't corrupted by any experience running a city.

They realized that they couldn't provide any services without money so they came up with this scheme where they would bring in Walmart and Target and make the place a shopping destination for out of towners and they would charge them a sales tax.

But the stores wouldn't build there because they had no sewer system. Everything was septic. So the kid city manager worked for a year to get a deal where they could hook up to the nearby San Antonio system. But the deal fell apart because the mayor wouldn't pay their share of the construction for the pipe. No taxes.

So the coda to the story is that the city now is getting by on $100,000 a year they pull in from a speed trap they set up on the mile of freeway that goes through town.

Turns out libertarians are just pirates.
posted by JackFlash at 8:08 AM on January 29 [30 favorites]


I meant to respond to this as well:

> Those same affluent white men already pay a bunch of money for all kinds of things related to driving a car and using air conditioning. Why would paying a carbon tax for gasoline be beyond the pale, but existing gasoline taxes are apparently not? I don't think this psychological explanation makes sense.

This is nonsense that assumes that (a) these affluent white men care equally about taxes they pay as a consumer vs. those that harm their business interests, and (b) human beings respond to different categories in a binary yes/no fashion, irrespective of both the amount of the tax and where the revenue raised by the tax goes.

The gasoline tax, of course, has never included the price of carbon, has not been raised in 25 years at the federal level, and only covers a fraction of what's needed for transportation infrastructure alone. The true costs of the infrastructure are spread thinly across a number of funding mechanisms at all levels of government, and it's still not enough.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:31 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]


There have been plenty of recent examples of countries where there has been no central government, and what results is not some flowering of mutually beneficial transactions but rule by armed gangs.

The problem with libertarianism, like Communism, is not that it's never been tried, but that it has, and it's proven a total failure.


Exactly. Back in the 90s, making Libertarians explain why Somalia was not an example of their system was one of the pleasures of requesting examples.
posted by kingless at 9:03 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]


It's fun to refer to 90s-era Somalia as a Libertarian paradise until one realizes that a lot of people died and many more suffered, all for the benefit of a few, which is, of course, what all this is about.
posted by Gelatin at 9:24 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


My biggest concern is how Evangelical Christianity has caved to their doctrine, through idolatry and its relation to sudden riches.

My biggest concern is that it's idolatry all the way down.
posted by sneebler at 11:08 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Turns out libertarians are just pirates.

Freebooters of the Land
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:31 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Sorry if it's mentioned upthread without the term (at work can't scroll through it all yet), but "Tort".

There is a fundamental flaw in their argument for personal lawsuits (ignoring the issues of disparity of power which is fundamental to... well... the entire flaw of their ideology (ok - maybe if i overanalyze this disparity of "who makes the laws" itself is a sort of meta "disparity of power" beyond the individual vs the corp).

Point being:
1) Libertarians espouse the idea of land/air/water as "property" and thus conceive of pollution (of course that's the only thing they care about, visible pollution and maybe some toxins in the soil) as a violation of an individual property owners rights.

2) Libertarians have also thrown their lot in with "Tort Reform" - witness the massive blaming of "greedy" victims against those poor oppressed corporate hospitals that are the supposed real source of health care costs increases.

Re: Part 2 - I haven't looked into enough to know whether this is all Libertarians (including "Bleeding Heart Libertarians") or merely the subset we would call "Paleo-Libertarians" (reactionaries like Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard & von Mises) - which, frankly is the larger set of Libertarians in the US. (We can debate the validity of BHL ideology another day).

So - we have on one hand, rhetoric that states "We don't need government regulation, just a system to ensure property rights are already enforced via the courts to incur damages against violators of ones property" - but on the other, a rhetoric that (quite usefully) denies those very same avenues of justice and recompense.

And there we see the fault lines and bullshit within any Libertarian "solution" to the environmental issue.

It is precisely the flaw of Libertarians ego-ism and individualism that it cannot (at least in a purely theoretic way) deal with collective traumas to our society and planet, for they will deny such a thing exists. And their solutions to mitigate this only are haphazard and piecemeal, while pollution is not static and will flow where mother earth's chaos takes it.

Their belief in some universal, static "land" or "property" as an object, not a living, moving, dynamic force denies them an opportunity for appropriate remedies.

Moderate/BHL types may be able to find a compromise or some other explanation or perhaps won't push Tort reform so much.

But in the good ol Propertarian USA, The Paleolibs carry the day.

Meanwhile, as always, the rest of us, the poor, the minorities, those who can't afford lavish separation from the commons get to suck the smog out of the air and work those coal mines while the pushers of the capitalist ideology benefit.

Til Mother nature washes their beach front houses away. Sadly there is no joy, for how many themselves who are not rich and wealthy but trapped on islands will succumb to this blind ideology, this madness of "equals".
posted by symbioid at 1:42 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


This is why I'm always amazed that libertarians assume they'll survive in some post-apocalyptic scenario.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:17 PM on January 28

It's the Dunning-Kruger effect applied to survivalism.
posted by symbioid at 2:21 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


You can't blame med mal tort reform entirely on Libertarians when it's massively lobbied for by physician and hospital associations and insurers. That's who defeated the attempt to reform MICRA in California recently, which is more or less the model legislation.

And while the original justification for MICRA was a supposed "litigation crisis" inflating the cost of coverage and so of care, it just so happened that the big insurers had also taken a bath on their own poor investment decisions and were hurting badly in the '70s economy.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:04 PM on January 29


There's a classic SF short story, And Then There Were None, by Eric Frank Russell. The protagonist is part of a colonial survey team charged with investigating former colonies. This team (made up of bureaucrats, soldiers, and grunts) lands on a planet that had been settled by very ideological anarchists and Hijinks Ensue.

The story is a lot of fun but it's very noticeable that the author carefully ducked difficult questions like pollution and social welfare by explicitly setting the story on an empty colony world, where people can just move away from annoying neighbours and there's a surplus of exploitable resources. It makes me wonder to what extent libertarianism is a specifically American thing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:07 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


The thing that strikes me about the rural libertarians I know is that there is a blindspot with scale that they don''t understand. Combined with a general sense of their understanding of the physical world it is a recipe for disaster.

So many of my people live way out in the country and don't have a sense of the outright devastation that is going on. "The world is so big", they say, "humans are so small", they think, and their conclusion is "there is nothing humans can do to alter the nature of, well, nature". Combined with this religious sense of "God gave us the earth to use as part of His gift of creation" and you have a real mess. These aren't idiots, just people who are disconnected with the scale of things because of their place and the way things work around them.

I can't speak to libertarians in the more urban modern context like the Silicon Valley folks - I almost feel like they are just trolling and outright thieving because they have tools and resources to know better. But they are talking the talk and the rural folks look around them and say "Yes, that sounds right".

The only times I have really gotten some good interaction talking about politics with my rural libertarians is when I have used this one Metafilter comment about a user's experience during the siege of Sarajevo. It has been SO useful over the years because it is an honest and concrete example of that point where libertarianism and individualism fails in a specific way.

Also, every time I find and then have to clean up an individual rural trash/burning pit/pile from the 19th or 20th century or have to fix some construction issue in a barn, cabin, or shed because there is no functional building code I think about the libertarians and how absolutely nuts it is to scale the mess up to national and then global proportions.
posted by Tchad at 3:06 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


« Older “You Guys Are Scaring Me”   |   "Ah" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments