The libertarian regulation of free enterprise

Free enterprise: An economic system of business governed by the laws of supply and demand with minimal government interference, regulation, or subsidy.
Enterprises range from, for example, Lehman Brothers to a soup kitchen to Occupy Wall Street. Some enterprises are highly structured and highly organized; most enterprises have some structure and some organization; other enterprises are little more than collections of individuals, having no structure and no organization. It is worth noting that realist anarchist enterprises have some structure and some organization even though there are those who believe that idealist anarchist enterprises have no structure and no organization.

In the idealist libertarian position, the enterprise known as “free enterprise” has as little structure and organization as possible – like the idealist anarchist enterprise it is thought to be somehow self-regulating – but the realist libertarian position often calls for strong rules and regulations. Case in point: Ron Paul’s method to curtail pollution requires extreme government interference and regulation, and his ideas in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries match his ideas in the 2008 primaries. For example:
Imagine that everyone living in one suburb, rather than using regular trash service, were taking their household trash to the next town over and simply tossing it in the yards of those living in the nearby town. Is there any question that legal mechanisms are in place to remedy this action? In principle, your concerns are no different, except that, for a good number of years, legislatures and courts have failed to enforce the property rights of those being dumped on with respect to certain forms of pollution. This form of government failure has persisted since the industrial revolution when, in the name of so-called progress, certain forms of pollution were legally tolerated or ignored to benefit some popular regional employer or politically popular entity.
When all forms of physical trespass, be that smoke, particulate matter, etc., are legally recognized for what they are – a physical trespass upon the property and rights of another – concerns about difficulty in suing the offending party will be largely diminished. When any such cases are known to be slam-dunk wins for the person whose property is being polluted, those doing the polluting will no longer persist in doing so. Against a backdrop of property rights actually enforced, contingency and class-action cases are additional legal mechanisms that resolve this concern. — Amanda Little, “An interview with Ron Paul about his presidential platform on energy and the environment”, Grist, 16 October 2007 [My emphasis]
This is just too simplistic.
  • Dumping rubbish on my land is clearly not a good idea – and so it should not be done – but who will stop it happening, and who will give me redress? If the dumper is from my locality then redress might come through the local courts. If the dumper comes from a different locality then to which court do I apply and, again, who will give me redress? What if the dumper comes from a different state?
  • Who owns the water that runs through the stream in my land? Can I do whatever I like to that water, even though it may cause harm to others further downstream? Am I entitled to dam the stream and use all the water for my own purposes?
  • Who owns the air we breathe? If particulate matter carried by the winds from power plants in the west reaches the east coast, is that the fault of the power plants or is it just nature doing its thing. If smoke from that cigarette reaches my lungs, is that just unfortunate?
Defining even the simplest terms in laws can be difficult (see my “What a law should mean: the power of a word”), so Ron Paul, and others who believe in property rights being supreme, have a few questions to answer about pollution, including:
  • What is property?
  • What is pollution? 
When we have decided what is property and what is pollution, there are other questions to answer:
  • What are the regulations?
  • Who enforces the regulations?
Paul is being truly disingenuous, or misleading, when he imagines that “When any such cases are known to be slam-dunk wins for the person whose property is being polluted, those doing the polluting will no longer persist in doing so.” There is no such thing as “slam-dunk” and how do a property owners “win” and collect their winnings? It seems that with his appeal to “class-action cases ” Paul is constructing a lawyer’s paradise.

No comments: