Thursday, April 8, 2010

Libertarians and the Mitigation of Anthropogenic Global Warming

Ryan Avent has offered a discussion of the Libertarian response to the dilemma posed for them by the "policy implications of a specific scientific conclusion." He argues that Libertarians have rejected the conclusions of the scientific community about AGW. Part of that dilemma faced by Libertarians can be attributed to a a conflict between property rights and other civil rights, and the mistaken notion that those rights should never effect the operation of free markets.

Libertarians offer us abstract concept of property rights which fails to identify the source of such rights in society. In practice property rights cannot exist apart from a social arrangement that acknowledges and protects them. Libertarians quote Milton Freedman in arguing that the sole duty of business is to make a profit. Yet theory of property must acknowledge that society must impose limitations on property right, regarding uses of property that inturde on the rights of others. In fact Freedman's view is that the obligations of business include obeying the law, and respecting the freedom of choice of others. In a society that honors and protects property rights, and the rights of businesses to make profits, do not accord to businesses the right of businesses the right to violate the rights of others, including the rights of others to make choices.

It is also the case that even in a libertarian social order the property rights and the right to make a profit, should not conflict with the survival of society. If a libertarian society cannot survive, then the fruits of that society including property rights, the rights to profit, and all other human rights are in danger. Thus libertarian societies have the right to defend, themselves, even though self defence involves limitation and restrictions on some rights. Criminal laws, for example, place restrictions on individual freedom of certain choices. The restriction placed on choices by laws protect the rights of other individual to make choices, and to be secure in their person and property.

Laws designed to control pollution are wholely consistant with a libertarian philosophy. Pollution is at least potentially a violation of the property rights of others, as well asthe rights of others to make choices. Hense the right to make a profit does not intail the right to pollute. To the extent that carbon dioxide and oher greenhouse gases pollute - that is cause direct or indirect damage to the property of others, to the physical well being of others, and restricts the right of others to make choices - society has the right to regulate polution.

Taxes collected for purposes that are consistent with the protection of rights are permitted in Libertarian schemes, as are taxes that are collected for national defense and the payment of public debts. Taxes collected to finance education, for social security schemes, and to pay for other forms of welfare, projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority are all justifiable within the context of a Libertarian philosophy. Even social engineering through the use of governmental authority may be justified in some instances by Libertarian principles. In other instances Libertarians may conclude for practical reasons, that fighting every big government measure may have more costs than benefits for Libertarians. Tyler Cowen writes,
We should embrace a world with growing wealth, growing positive liberty, and yes, growing government. We don’t have to favor the growth in government per se, but we do need to recognize that sometimes it is a package deal.

The old formulas were “big government is bad” and “liberty is good,” but these are not exactly equal in their implications. The second motto — “liberty is good” — is the more important. And the older story of “big government crushes liberty” is being superseded by “advances in liberty bring bigger government.”

. . . The major libertarian response to modernity is simply to wish that the package deal we face isn’t a package deal. But it is, and that is why libertarians are becoming intellectually less important compared to, say, the 1970s or 1980s. So much of libertarianism has become a series of complaints about voter ignorance, or against the motives of special interest groups. The complaints are largely true, but many of the battles are losing ones. No, we should not be extreme fatalists, but the welfare state is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

The bottom line is this: human beings have deeply rooted impulses to take newly acquired wealth and spend some of it on more government and especially on transfer payments. Let’s deal with that.
Cowen faces climate issues without illusions,
We need to recognize that some of the current threats to liberty are outside of the old categories. I worry about pandemics and natural disasters, as well as global warming and climate change more generally (it doesn’t have to be carbon-induced to be a problem). These developments are big threats to the liberty of many people in the world, although not necessarily Americans. The best answers to these problems don’t always lie on the old liberty/power spectrum in a simple way. Defining property rights in clean air, or in a regular climate, isn’t that easy and it probably cannot be done without significant state intervention of some kind or another.

Yes, I know some of you are climate skeptics. But if the chance of mainstream science being right is only 20% (and assuredly it is much higher than that), we still have, in expected value terms, a massive tort. We don’t let people play involuntary Russian roulette on others with a probability of 17% (one bullet, six chambers), so we do need to worry about man-made global warming.
But then what is the difference between between Cowen's Libertarianism and and my Liberalism? I would argue that Liberals like me are simply libertarians who have bought into Cowen's arguments. Other people who accord themselves a liberal label, are far less concerned about protecting human freedom, and the right to wealth. I would deny that such individuals are really Liberals, because they do not regard protection of human and civil rights as being important. Does this make me a liberal of a Libertarian? Does a label really matter?

Cowan diagnoses a problem of anti-big government Libertarians. Some of their beliefs may lead them down paths that contradict Libertarian principles.

Libertarians should be concerned about is the violation of the rights of others in the pursuit of partisan objectives, the violation of laws, and the distortion and manipulation of information in pursuit of partisan objectives. The behavior of many Libertarians as a consequence of the so called "climategate" scandal contradicts their profession to believe in Libertarian values.

"Climategate" involved a violation of the right of people to privacy, to be secure in their personal communications. The protection of privacy rights are very much a part of a Libertarian philosophy, hense the origin of the climategate furor ought to have been thought reprehensible by Conservatives and Libertarians. Yet in "climategate" emails obtained by hacking, that is without the permission of the parties to the communication, were used to attack those individuals. Secondly, subsequently commentators misinterpreted words and passage lifted out of the stolen emails, and used those misinterpreted words and passage, to argue that something untoward had happened. In fact, it had not. The British House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee determined
The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—“trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.”

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.
Finally we have the oft repeated claim that those misinterpreted words and passages prove that AGW is a hoax and a fraud. This is not true and it is not even honest. I hope that the investigation by the Science and Technology Committee and other investigations will put this to rest, but unfortunately Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit, has totally discounted its findings already, ,as well as telegraphing his objections to the future findings of an independent investigation of the "climategate" controversy. McIntyre suffers from a huge case of the "I have my mind made up, don't confuse me with the facts" mentality. But as another investigation of allegations made by McIntyre against Michael Mann matters related to the "climategate affair. This investigation was conducted by an Inquiry Committee of Pennsylvania State University which concluded.
In media reports and blogs about Dr. Mann and other paleoclimatologists, those who are named in the CRU email files are purported to have been engaged in conspiratorial discussions indicative of a misuse of privileged or confidential information. Although it is not clear where the exact accusation lies in this with respect to Dr. Mann, it is inferred that the emails prove the case. Those who have formed this view feel that, in their capacity as reviewers, Dr. Mann and his colleagues had early access to manuscripts from other authors with whom they disagreed, and that they could somehow act on those to reject them for publication. Actually, when one does due diligence on this matter, and asks about what papers were involved, one finds that enormous confusion has been caused by interpretations of the emails and their content. In some cases, the discussion and related debate centered on papers that were about to emerge which members of the purported conspiracy had written, but which were simply under embargo. In other cases, the discussion and related debate centered on papers that have emerged in otherwise notable scientific journals, which they deemed to have been published with a lower standard of scholarly and scientific scrutiny. The committee found no research misconduct in this. Science often involves different groups who have very different points of view, arguing for the intellectual dominance of their viewpoint, so that that viewpoint becomes the canonical one. We point to Kuhn as an authority on how science is done, before it is accepted as “settled.”

As there is no substance to this allegation, there is no basis for further examination of this allegation in the context of an investigation . . .
In fact Mcintyre's contentions about climate science have for the most part been repeatedly rejected by independent investigators. (I know that some of my readers will disagree with this.) Even when McIntyre has correctly pointed out some errors, investigators have concluded that the existence of some errors do not proved that climate science is wrong, or that it is based on a conspiracy of deliberate lies. It is possible that Steve Mcintyre himself has made mistakes, if those mistakes have been demonstrated, are Climate Audit and the Libertarians who support its contentions engaged in an intellectual fraud?

There is a existential danger here that Libertarianism. As Cowen has pointed out, AGW skeptics have not eliminated the risk that climate scientists are right with apodectic certainty. As John Stewart Mill long ago pointed out
No judgment aiming at such truth can, however, ever attain apodictic certainty, and so we ought, as reasonable beings at least, to be satisfied with less than that.
Thus it is in the interests of Libertarians to not discount the possibility that climate scientists like Michael Mann are right, and to support climate mitigation efforts. I would also argue that some mitigation schemes are far more in keeping with Libertarian principles, and that I would expect Libertarians to prefer such schemes. I would also argue that being right on climate change is a whole lot less important that insuring that mitigation efforts lead to consequences favored by Libertarian principles. Furthermore, I would argue tat Libertarians should be practical enough to seek allies from beyond their ideological community, in furthering acceptable mitigation efforts, and that they be prepared to accept some compromise as an inevitable cost of those alliances. Such conduct is a part of the belief of Libertarians in individual responsibility for ones conduct.


Finrod said...

I remember reading an essay from the 50s by Ayn Rand. The point she was trying to make was that many of the standard moral dilemmas used by the Catholic Church and others about how logical ethics change in emergency situations are being misapplied and extended to cover all situations at all times. Fair enough, but I believe that this indicates that even she implicitly acknowledged that there were some situations where standard libetarian (or objectivist) ethics needed to be modified in order to provide a rational response to them.

Konstantin said...

Part of my comment to your previous post bears repeating here:

About the solution to global warming, I think that the free market would choose the most reliable efficient energy dense technology which is 4th gen nuclear. Even if there were no global warming threat, I think the free market would still choose 4th gen nuclear over other energy solutions.

It's not the free market that's impeding mitigating global warming but rather it's big government that's the problem.

Imagine the delay big government can cause when politicians are influenced/bribed by special interests into spending the people's money on what we know are inefficient unreliable energy systems like wind and solar over nuclear; money that's taken by taxes when when the free market would would likely invest it in nuclear which works in reality not the mythical fantasies of T. Boone Pickens. For example, you mentioned Bill Gates on the Huffington Post and his investment in the traveling wave reactor.

Charles Barton said...

Konstantin, Free markets cannot be always counted on to do the right thing. This has been illustrated over and over again by banks that attempt to increase their rate of return by speculative lending, I saw this in Dallas in the 1980's. We witnessed it in Japan during the 1990's. And of course we have we have had seen huge examples of outright criiminality from the banking sector at many levels, during the subprime mortgage episode. These are all examples of what happens when government does not regulate markets. Business large and small are capable of behaving like criminal enterprises, and even libertarians recognize that a legitimate role of government is to regulate criminal conduct.

Charles Barton said...
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Charles Barton said...
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