Government Protect the Environment...or Anything?
by Devin Leary-Hanebrink
In light of
comments by NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen – stating that
climate change is a moral imperative on par with slavery – climate
change is, once again, front and center. Immediately, environmental
alarmists and reactionary extremists on both sides of the political
spectrum started pointing fingers and raising voices.
While the climate
debate certainly has merit and must be studied (scientifically,
not politically, of course), climate change is not the crux of this
overarching environmental issue. The real issue is can government
actually provide the solution?
question requires only a brief look at government’s track record
of fixing problems and protecting things.
History of Environmental Protection
It is astonishing
how convinced people are that environmental salvation can only be
reached through government intervention. As if government – equipped
with the power of Sauran’s
Eye – must be the environment’s final arbiter.
Bear in mind,
this great planetary savior is the same force that destroyed hundreds
of cities and towns while waging total war across half the globe
during a decade of environmental destruction that culminated in
the drop of not one, but two, nuclear devices on Japan. Further,
only government was responsible for the devastation of millions
of acres of present day Belarus, Russia, and the Ukraine when the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Prypiat, Ukraine failed. Subsequently,
this same protector tried, in vain, to cover up the entire disaster.
has a history of introducing invasive plant and animal species to
non-native environments, all in a calculated scientific effort to
"fix" the environment. A great example is the U.S. federal
government’s introduction of the Paper Bark into South Florida over
100 years ago in an attempt to drain the Everglades. Similarly,
in the 1930s, the Australian government introduced the Cane Toad
into Queensland because it would, in theory, protect the sugarcane
fields from destructive insects. Today, authorities in both the
U.S. and Australia spend millions of federal tax dollars to eradicate
these new pests.
may have learned from past mistakes, a concentrated focus on the
eradication of all non-native species would be extremely near-sighted.
Keep in mind, horses, camels, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, cats, and
dogs (just to name a few) are only native to small parts of the
world. Complete eradication would devastate the global economy.
infinity and Beyond
Not to be outdone
by a stellar environmental record, government wants to protect money,
too. In 1913, the U.S. government established a monetary authority
chartered with two main goals: 1) to maintain the purchasing power
of the USD, and 2) to moderate the peaks and valleys of the business
cycle. After 100 years, the Federal Reserve has done neither. In
a few years, 1USD will be worth fractions of a cent when compared
to its century old ancestor and the worst business cycles in U.S.
history have all occurred under the Fed’s watch. Those financial
panics of the pre-Depression era were nothing more than harmless
day dreams when compared to the mess caused by the Federal Reserve.
Congressional meddlers, over the past century, have created a labyrinth
of federal laws to further regulate financial institutions. Each
law, more convoluted than the last, is promulgated to promote "safety"
and "consumer fairness." While these motivations are well
and good, the law of unintended consequences has been forgotten.
To date, the costs associated with all financial activities – from
simply borrowing money to complex corporate regulatory compliance
– are increasing exponentially.
measures neither protect the consumer nor strengthen the U.S. financial
system, but do create systemic problems with rent seeking and moral
hazard. It should come as no surprise that every sovereign state
around the world has established authority to protect money. In
reality, the only thing protected is government entrenchment.
Still not done,
government has manufactured a war on poverty, a war on drugs, and
a war on terror all under the guise of protecting the individual
and the environment. All this, and yet, government fails to keep
the streets safe and property secure. The state even fails to protect
in a court room or prisoners
from each other.
faith in an entity that is one part Mr.
Magoo and two parts Officer
Barbrady? Yet time and time again activists and voters turn
to these omnipotent benefactors as the path to salvation.
Market Alternatives Exist?
when coupled with a system of governance that promotes and protects
property rights, is the most effective way to protect the environment.
Only respected property rights can minimize economic problems such
as the tragedy of the commons and moral hazard.
One great example,
the American Bison, once on the verge of extinction under government
regulation, received a new lease on life due to privatization. Media
magnate Ted Turner, instrumental in the Bison’s resurgence, owns
the largest privately held Bison heard and uses these resources
to support his restaurant chain Ted’s
Montana Grill. Similarly, in some African countries the African
Elephant is facing extinction, while in others, such as Zimbabwe,
was legalized, minor overpopulation concerns exist. Further,
while there is no shortage of cows, pigs, or chickens and there
are always trees at Christmas, environmentally conscience individuals
and private firms, even absent direct financial incentive, are more
likely to protect the environment (including undesirable species)
for pure altruistic gain than government is.
supports governance instead of government. Private
entities such as Brinks, Underwriters
Reports, Goodwill, and
World Land Trust are
certainly capable of protecting people, property, and the environment.
While private firms are far from perfect, these entities must respond
to market demand by providing quality service at reasonable prices.
Government, unresponsive to these forces, answers only to political
pressure, which leads to the problems identified above.
environmentalists or enviropreneurs are the environment’s best bet,
growing state is synonymous with endlessly eroding freedom and,
every year, government shovels more and more responsibility into
its bloated craw. At the same time, it fails the most basic obligations.
Fortunately, politicians and bureaucrats, convinced they know all
the answers, are consistently proven wrong by the laws of economics.
As F.A. Hayek eloquently states in The Fatal Conceit, "The
curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they
really know about what they imagine they can design." Or protect.
him mail], a 2005 graduate of Mises University, is an attorney
residing in New Orleans, Louisiana.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.