Saturday, April 05, 2008

Walter Block on Free Market Environmentalism

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Also of relevance:

On the Ivory Trade

Related fragmemts from discussion:

From Samizdata's group blog

Daniel Hannan, writing on his Telegraph blog, gives a good example of how the free market is more environmentally-friendly than state ownership:

Kenya banned the killing of elephants in 1979, effectively nationalising its herd. At around the same time, Rhodesia (as it still was) made elephants the property of those whose land they were on. The result? Thirty years on, Kenyan elephants have been all but wiped out, while Zimbabwe’s are as numerous as ever.

People say that the market promotes selfishness, but it turns out that it is when things are owned collectively that greed thrives.

From Matt Ridley's
The Origins of Virtue

Leviathan [political authority] creates tragedies of the commons where none were before. Consider the case of wildlife in Africa. All across the continent countries nationalised their game during colonial regimes and after independence in the 1960s and 1970, arguing that it was the only way to prevent ‘poachers’ wiping out this commonly held resource. The result was that peasants now faced competition and damage from government owned elephants and buffalo, and had no longer any incentive to look after the animals as a source of either meat or revenue. ‘The African farmer’s enmity towards elephants is as visceral as Western mawkishness is passionate,’ said the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service. The decline of African elephants, rhinos and other animals is a tragedy of the commons created by nationalisation. This is proved by the fact that it has been spectacularly reversed wherever title to wildlife has been re-privatised to communities, such as the Campfire programme of Zimbabwe in which sport hunters bid to buy rights to kill game from committees of villagers. The villagers rapidly change their attitudes to the now-valuable game animals on their land. The acreage of private land devoted to wildlife has increased from 17,000 to 30,000 square kilometres since Zimbabwe granted title over wildlife to landowners.

Some private game and nature reserves in South Africa.

In the course of discussion of Walter Block's videos, and the examples of private nature reserves in South Africa someone mentioned, "30% of elephants no longer have tusks and thanks to this no body wants to hunt them." I thought that this was interesting: Maybe long tusks is genetic, and so, if long tusked elephants are shot, preventing them from breeding and reproducing, thus breeding out long tusks. Whatever, someone else replied,

A similar phenomon was observed in Pennsylvania some years back. Pennsylvania has a very large deer population and deer hunting is very popular - upwards of a million licenses used to be issued annually. But the hunters went for "trophy" bucks with huge antler racks. Such bucks apparently have become much less common than they used to be, suggesting a reduction in the gene pool of the "large rack" genes.

I asked, "Hmmmm, if the licenses were issued by a private company, I wonder what would have been different?" And my friend responded,

I never thought of that, but I guess they could issue a special, more costly, license which would be required to shoot a deer with more that a prescribed number of "points". This would be perfectly feasible because as it is the season is divided into a 12-day "buck season" (Sundays being excluded) and a two day "doe" season. There is a minimum antler requirement in the buck season and a complimentary maximal antler requirment in the "doe" season - i.e. the criterion is not the gender of the deer. About as many deer are normally taken in the doe season as in the buck season.

But, it would be quite possible to manage hunting so that the "trophy" deer were better preserved. Usual arguments might suggest that private interests would be more desirous than government interests of such preservation.

I did point point out,

There would still be a problem of over hunting the deer, though, and that results from the fact that whilst a company could sell fewer licenses, if anybody could go into business selling licenses, the benefits would be undermined. That is why exclusive control of the land is required. Say, nobody is allowed to hunt deer in that area without a license issued by company X.

Apart from that, there is a proposal for private management of deer hunting.

Friday, April 04, 2008


There is a classic and obvious way of defending the loss of innocent life in acts of war as morally justifiable that draws on the utilitarian or consequentialist tradition. This is, broadly, that "the ends justify the means." In practice, this means that the innocent people are "expendable," in order to achieve a weightier goal, for instance, to take a simple example, the saving of even more lives. The phrase "collateral damage" is used to refer to such innocent casualties, and it lends itself perfectly to this idea: Collateral is what we put up for risk in order to achieve some higher end.

Let's take, as a paradigmatical example, for instance, the idea collateral damage in war is justified so long as the loss of innocent life is outweighed by the lives that would be saved as a result of the military action. So, for example, if fify people will die in a bombing raid on village where a chemical weapon laboratory is based, but the chemical weapons there would be used to kill thousands if the raid were not to go ahead, then the attack, on this consequentialist line of argument, would be justified.

However, what may be problematic in accepting such an argument is that defenders of such casualties in war may well not also be able to reject terrorism as a legitimate means. After all, a terrorist might equally say that a terrorist attack in which fifty people are killed is justified if it fosters public pressure and influence on government to get it to reject a policy that would kill thousands. So, just as with the village example, the terrorist could say, "yes, fifty people were killed, but thousands were saved, so it is justified." The argument is precisely the same: So long as the benefits (in numbers of human lives saved) outweigh the costs (the number of human lives lost), the action is justified. Indeed, terrorists could likewise refer to the lost lives as "collateral damage" in a war. I have no idea if they really do, but terrorist characters did in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. In this film the terrorist leader tells Arnie that his family, killed in a bombing, were collateral damage no different from when the US goes to war.

Another common argument is used to justify "collateral damage," and I think it may be a merit of this argument that it avoids what may be, for consequentialists, the problem of avoiding justifying the use of terrorism. This is the doctrine of double effect, an ethical theory developed by the scholastics and, most importantly, Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas. I am not intending, here, to either justify the doctrine of double effect, or to justify the loss of innocent life as collateral damage. All I intend to do here is show how the doctrine of double effect helps highlight normatively significant differences between loss of life as collateral damage and as terrorism.

Terrorism, for the purpose here, is defined as ideologically motivated violence, or threats of violence, against otherwise innocent or unrelated people (hence different from assasination) for the purpose of generating terror, which, in turn, is for the purpose of generating pressure to effect public policy (either to change from a given status quo, or to reverse a course of change. Terrorism is, then, a means to a means to an end - the initial act, say a bombing, is a means to generating widespread fear or terror, which in turn is a means to changing policy or social habits.

The doctrine of double effects says that a harmful affect of an action is justified, under four conditions:

1) The nature of the act is itself morally good, or at least neutral.

2) The bad effect is not intended, though it may be foreseen.

3) The good effect of the action outweighs the bad effect.

4) The good effect does not go through the bad effect.

So, lets take two cases:

A: The airforce makes a bombing raid on a chemical weapons lab that is certainly known to be located in the centre of the village. The airforce knows that innocent people will be killed in the raid, but also knows that the chemical weapons will be used by the government of that village's country to gas a thousand innocent people. Fifty innocent civilians die in the otherwise successful raid.

B: A terrorist cell bombs the village hall of a village where there is a chemical weapons laboratory. It does this to generate fear amongst the populace of a country that they could become victims in similar events unless the terrorist demands are met. These demands are that the government closes down a chemical weapons laboratory producing a weapon that would a kill thousand people. Fifty people die in the terrorist bombing and the government shuts down the factory.

In both these cases the consequentialist seems to say that the action was justified, whether it is the airforce bombing raid, or the terrorist attack. However, the doctrine of double effect allows us to point out significant and morally relevant differences between A and B.

The most obvious difference that leaps out is regarding conditions 2) and 4): The bad effects, though, foreseen are not intended in A, but are in B, and the good consequences in both cases (getting rid of the chemical weapons factory and so saving a thousand lives) does not go through the bad effect (killing the fifty innocents) in A, but does in B. The air force foresaw the innocent deaths, but did not intend those deaths. Their intention was not to kill the innocents, but to get rid of the factory. They would have gone through with their bombing even had their been no innocents there. On the other hand, the terrorists intended to kill the innocent people. Had there been no innocents there, they would not have bombed where they did.

Likewise, the the good consequences of the air force's raid was not achieved by achieving the bad consequences. The air force did not get rid of the factory by killing the innocents, whilst that was precisely how terrorists accomplished it.

So, to reiterate, I am not intending to either defend collateral damage or to defend the doctrine of double effect as a tool. What I intended, and what I think I have done, is to show that the killing of innocents as collateral damage is not the same as killing innocent people in terrorist acts. Terrorism and collateral damage are different in normatively significant ways.


In interview Democratic Senator, Harry Reid, tries to argue that taxation in the US is not "forceably taking money from some people to give it to others," because the tax system in the US is "not forceable" but is "voluntary."

Check it out.

Now, one commentator there, Kevin T. Keith, responds that Reid is actually correct, saying

Reid is making a perfectly standard - and correct - point about our mechanism for collecting taxes. The US system is "voluntary" in the sense that it is up to the individual to declare their own tax liability and make sure it has been paid by paying any extra taxes owed if their paycheck withholding is not sufficient. As he points out, perfectly correctly, in many other countries the individual has no role in the payment of their own taxes - the government deducts the money without asking them what they owe or what exemptions they may be entitled to. Even with paycheck withholding, in the US the individual must make the effort to reconcile their own taxes at the end of the year.

The standard term used in tax policy discussions for such a system is "voluntary". That's the term Reid used. Of course the system is not optional - and Reid says so explicitly. But it is different from other systems, and there is a standard term used to express that difference, and that was the term he used. (And that term is surely no more euphemistic that Mr. Flourescent Necktie's harping on the word "forced", which US taxation is not.)

You don't have to like the terminology that knowledgeable people use, but you make yourself look like a fool by proving that you don't know what it means.

OK, lets concede this argument. I am not a US tax lawyer, so I won't dispute the terms. However, Kevin Keith is still wrong to say, as he later did,

Complaining that he was wrong because it is not "voluntary" in the colloquial sense, when he was using the term correctly, in this context, in the strict sense, is just buffoonery. You don't have to like the tax system, but it's idiotic to criticize knowledgeable people who discuss it knowledgeably, using the terminology used by experts in the field. There is no "evidence to the contrary" regarding the voluntary nature of US tax policy - the US system is voluntary, as that term is used by people who are trying to discuss tax policy alternatives rationally and not playing silly word games.

He is wrong to say this because Reid is clearly attempting to conflate the two senses of voluntary. He is plainly trying to say that taxation is voluntary in the "colloquial" sense because it is voluntary in the technical sense of people declaring their own income taxes rather than having the taxman deduct it at source.

The fact is that there are threats involves in the tax system. Perhaps not everybody pays in response to a threat. I could give a robber money because I like his face, regardless of the fact that if I don't he would shoot me. However, it is still the case that the government will do nasty things to you, things you presumably prefer less than keeping your money, and things that would be illegal for others to do, if you do not give it your money, and that it intends that its doing these things, or promising to do them, will create an incentive for your to accede to its demands to turn your money over.

Now, perhaps people do "voluntary" accede to threats - they choose to do what the threatener wants because they prefer that alternative to others. But that is plainly not really what people mean when they say that something is "voluntary." In fact, under that terminology, there could be no such thing as forced labour: Saying that people are free to choose not to pay taxes, but will face civil or criminal consequences if they don't, is much like saying that slaves were free not to work, but would face consequences such as floggings if they did.

Taxation is not voluntary.