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Only the Free Market Can Stop Government Pollution

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career with a passion for all things libertarian to become the Libertarian Opinionizer.

End pollution by Ending Government

Asking government to stop pollution is like asking Mafia to stop corruption.

Asking government to stop pollution is like asking Mafia to stop corruption.


Some people are immersed in the conviction that if government doesn’t do everything, nothing will possibly get done. When libertarians try to explain how private sector solutions work, they immediately cherry-pick their way to the most seemingly impossible concepts they can imagine. Old people will die, the poor will be thrown into the streets, there will be no cops, no courts, no national defense, and that granddaddy cliché of all: “Who will build the roads?”

The slightly more thoughtful statist will insist that big corporations will pollute us into oblivion without government to stop them. What they fail to confront is that all governments everywhere on the planet and throughout history are run at the very top of the power structure by psychopaths.

But let’s take one issue at a time. How do we handle the widespread problem of air and water pollution without government? We can start by accepting the simple fact that the statist’s sacred big government is the biggest polluter of all.

In 2015, the Foundation for Economic Education pointed to a report that showed governments—federal, state, and local—are the worst polluters. Looking at both “public and private entities’ compliance with the US Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act,” the report found that “compared with private firms, governments violate these laws significantly more frequently and are less likely to be penalized for violations.”

A year earlier, Newsweek told us, “The US Department of Defence [sic] is one of the world’s worst polluters. Its footprint dwarfs that of any corporation: 4,127 installations spread across 19 million acres of American soil” in 39,000 contaminated sites.

The Tweedle Twins

The Tweedle Twins -- you don't get one without the other and you get pollution with both.

The Tweedle Twins -- you don't get one without the other and you get pollution with both.

Of course hardcore statists will contend that without government the pollution would be even worse. But they’re living in a fantasy. They pretend that the very politicians with the most power to actually do something about pollution won’t just sniff the air and sip the water and then do nothing once ReallyBiggCorp Mfg. offers a few million bucks for their re-election campaigns or threatens to shut down operations in the politicians’ districts and lay off thousands of their constituents.

Asking the biggest polluter to stop pollution is like asking the Mafia to protect us from the Mafia.

So how would a laissez-faire free market in a libertarian society handle this problem? Begin by understanding that a “corporation” is a business enterprise that has gone over to the Dark Side. They’ve filed papers of incorporation and thereby gained a bundle of special privileges, protections, subsidies and guarantees. In short, a corporation is simply a politically corrupted business.

There would be no corporations or “corporate persons" in a “minarchist” libertarian government because such a government’s only obligation is to maintain police, courts, and a military defense, nothing more. In a voluntary “post-statist” libertarian society, there would be no government at all in its traditional sense, having been replaced by non-coercive “governance.” Not only is there no coercive government to create and protect corporations but there is no government to stop people from fighting them either.

As in any other non-government situation then, pollution would be handled by the people with the most to lose from it: Everyone except those aforementioned psychopaths. The very absence of government protection and the mere threat of unrestricted competition should prevent a smart non-corporation ReallyBiggBiz from jeopardizing its position in the market in the first place. But if they’re not smart and they begin spiting glop into the air and slop into the water, people can easily and effectively organize against it.

First imagine a totally free Internet that can’t play favorites with anyone. It becomes a powerful organizing tool. Websites, webzines, social media pages, and activist sites spring up to expose and denounce ReallyBiggBiz. The word can spread exponentially across all digital messaging devices. Boycott them! Picket them! Ostracize them! Condemn them! Shun their products! Support their competitors!

Certainly the environmental movement, if they’re worthy of the name, will immediately get involved. Like the biggest eco groups such as the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, EarthFirst!, Greenpeace, et al. Many have members worldwide, some wealthy and influential, all working together to motivate their memberships to bring social pressure to bear. Pollution harms all living things, not just humans.

Who else cares about air pollution? People with medical breathing problems. People with loved ones with breathing problems. Everyone else who breathes. Who cares about water pollution? Everyone who drinks water.

But what if ReallyBiggBiz doesn’t have competitors and doesn’t care about their reputation? How about creating a new direct competitor with a clear anti-pollution business plan? That will take money of course. But that isn’t necessarily a problem either.

Back to the Internet, and to people with business contacts. Find bankers. Backers. Financiers. Entrepreneurs. Tycoons. Industrialists. Investors. Venture capitalists (the laissez-faire free market kind, not the crony corporate kind). Use crowdfunding for smaller contributors, Wall Street for the big money.

The new company will be at a disadvantage, possibly needing to sell their competing products at a higher price to offset their enormous expenditures on pollution control efforts. But anyone worthy of the title “Green”—or just “intelligent human being”—will gladly pay more to support them, thereby forcing the hand of ReallyBiggBiz or forcing them out of business.

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And don’t misunderstand the term “forcing” here. There is no violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle against the initiation of physical force, intimidation or fraud. Social, economic, business, psychological, or cultural “force” is not coercive force.

There are likely many more things that can be done to control would be monopolists, and that includes people finally understanding the fact that no business concern has ever gained and kept a monopoly on anything without the direct connivance of politicians who saw that they could benefit from the conniving. Government itself is the biggest and nastiest monopoly of all.

Yet statists keep thinking that decent people can “fix” government, unaware that such people by definition can never climb high enough up into the governing power hierarchies to fix anything, even assuming that government is “fixable.” It’s estimated that there are 70,000,000 psychopaths worldwide living among us today. These are the people who control governments and they have no desire to fix it because government power works perfectly for them. And psychopaths themselves are “unfixable.”

Political Psychopaths

There are psychopaths among us and they exist to serve themselves at our expense

There are psychopaths among us and they exist to serve themselves at our expense

As long as good people cling to governments, good people will be ruled by psychopaths, those “with an emotional deficiency that keeps them from feeling bad about hurting others.” Psychopaths are “opportunists motivated by self-interest and greed, and inclined to dominate or subjugate those around them through manipulative means.”

Such people don’t care about pollution or any other problem decent people care about. “A psychopath wants what a psychopath wants.” Nothing else. Until people get over the idea that a violent power structure like government can solve their problems, their problems will never be solved. By their very nature, psychopaths are incapable of caring about you.

The only possible solution requires that the 99% of people who are not psychopaths must learn to work together voluntarily while tearing down the organized power structures that have made it possible for the psychopathic 1% to rule humanity since the beginning of civilization.

This article “How Will the 99% Deal with 70 Million Psychopaths?” from Cognitive Policy Works is probably the most enlightening article most people will ever read about psychopathy and its devastating impact on our planet. Libertarians will note that the author doesn’t clearly take the final step to the ultimate solution, that only a truly voluntary post-statist society based on a clearly articulated non-aggression principle can both promote human flourishing while channeling psychopathic behavior into productive uses.

Without this understanding, if you’re pro state, you’re pro psychopath.

Government heal thyself? Good luck with that!


Garry Reed (author) from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas on August 19, 2016:

Thanks for both your comments. I've often heard that free market libertarians hardly ever discuss big tough issues like pollution so that's why I wrote this, to prod some discussion. I certainly don't have all the answers but the thing I do have is the conviction that if we live in a world of 7 billion people then some of those people do have some good ideas to add to mine and they don't need government shutting them down. Free minds will find more and better answers than politically restricted or controlled minds. To me the free market IS the better idea for solving problems. No politician told Guttenberg to invent and use movable type in his printing press.

Bob on August 18, 2016:

Pollution is a big concern of mine wrt libertarianism (and I've been a devoted libertarian since 1980). Entropy is a law of physics, and it means that making something worthwhile will always create undesirable side effects, i.e. pollution. Fire always creates smoke, and you can't have civilization without fire.

So the first problem is that there will always be pollution and we'll always need to tolerate it to some degree.

The second problem is scale. With a human population of 100 million, pollution is not a big deal. With a population of 7 billion, it becomes a big deal. Activities that were nearly harmless when 100 million people did them become major issues when 7 billion do them. And there's no bright red line we crossed - it was a gradual thing.

For the free market to address pollution, there needs to be a monetary cost to it. And the price of pollution needs to fluctuate: the cost of polluting in a low-population world would be less than the cost in a high-population world; as we realize that CO2, which we thought was innocuous, can have serious effects on the globe, the price of CO2 emissions need to change. Counting on protests, boycotts, activism, or competition from lower-pollution manufacturers doesn't seem like enough to me.

Cap-and-trade and pollution taxes are not perfect solutions: the government determines those costs based on politics, not based on science or the market. But I haven't heard a better idea yet.

Maria Folsom on August 18, 2016:

Great. Got me rethinking my semi-statist psychopathic mindset.

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