This is an excerpt from an article I’m working on for publication. This should be enough to show where my thinking’s running on something fairly theoretical.
Sometimes the most complex, thorough sets of facts and figures miss their mark, and miss the point.
It’s an important element of libertarian theory that touches on the way we deal with the environment. We free market types fundamentally don’t believe that any government bureau is capable of dispassionately forecasting for the economy or the environment. Conversely, it requires blind faith to believe the alternative. One would have to be willfully ignorant of history to think that governments generally get it right. Look no further than the failings of the Federal Reserve, Department of Agriculture shortcomings, the urban blight entrenched by Housing and Urban Development or the travesty that is Fair Housing Policy. Why do the bureaucrats fail and require infinite re-calculation and demand infinite growth for their departments?
Because sentient humans can not be calculated. All of our minds work in mysterious ways that resist central direction, elude mathematical models and seek opportunity in new circumstances.
We’ve imported socialistic thinking to the environmental realm, assuming that central planning is the only way to go with something as big and complex as ecology; not realizing that an opposite logic is at least equally tenable. And the failings in the natural realm began near the birth of environmental thought with policies that encouraged fishes to be imported to places they didn’t belong – irreparable and state sanctioned introductions. The government placed bounties on top-level predators and even on bison. And so we lost wolves and buffalo. Land-clearing was subsidized and we lost the northern prairie. State hatcheries proliferated in the east and fish diseases, and again, exotics, spread to the detriment of native fishes. In a more recent era, the unbridled expansion of the cost and authority of the EPA is itself the greatest example of the fallacies of socialistic thinking for environmental ends. The environment is infinitely complex. How expansive would a bureaucracy have to become to effectively regulate the infinite nuance of earth’s biomes? The actions of the EPA generally cause as much harm as benefit, depending on your perspective.
The EPA and various environmental advocacy groups rely heavily on models which give numbers to their prognostications of continued environmental decay, on many fronts. We, the few of us who deal seriously with the environment from a libertarian perspective, often quickly reach for competing data sets to juxtapose to those of our opposition, thinking, I guess, that better numbers will shut the other side up and end it in our favor.
I’ll leave off for tonight with a few thought questions:
Do we make our best case against the environmental left with reams of hard facts and figures or does competition by math pull us into their realm from the argument’s outset?
When we present numbers as our evidence for the success of free-market thinking (in the environmental realm and elsewhere), are we conceding that it can all be calculated, hence offering our support to central planning?
If not by math, how would we best make our alternative case for freedom and self-rule?
I explore all of this in a more substantial article that may run this winter.