Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Green Party

Nov 10, 2006 5:11 pm

The Green Party

The Greens strike me as a very loose alliance of populists of all sorts. There is a decentralist, libertarian streak in some of them. There are socialists, as well. But I remember seeing a poll that said that 2/3 of Nader voters favored war after 9/11, compared to smaller portions of Buchanan and Libertarian voters. I've found in Berkeley a few Greens who defended the first Gulf War, even.

This is to say that the Greens believe all sorts of things, with anti-conservatism being their main, unifying purpose. The ten core principles appeal to a wide variety of people precisely because they are so vague and even self-contradictory. You get more anarchist-leaning Greens as well as ambitious central planners, and, because of the culture war and obfuscatory left-right divide in American politics, they all get along relatively well with not much more of a common belief than that the Republicans are the root of all evil and the Democrats are not much better.

Some Greens will be open to libertarian arguments and are potential converts. Others are a lost cause.

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Gus diZerega - 11/15/2006

Thanks for your reply, Otto. I list two urls on the democratic peace issue below.

As to anarcho-capitalism and law as a replacement for the government, seems to me it is a government by another name. That is, what property rights really define are appropriate relationships into which I may enter. Robinson Crusoe didn't need property rights till Friday came along. But how do we decide what is appropriate?

The fair/just/appropriate standards for ownership theoretically need to be developed to avoid disputes and facilitate cooperation - all the more necessary when we deal with strangers.

But property boundaries are not self-evident, and when one is established in unclear cases where several different levels are theoretically defensible (such as appropriate noise or pollution levels) someone has to do the establishing and someone has to see that it is enforced. The usual dodge by anarcho-capitalists is to go to common law and competing courts for the first part.

But if courts compete, why should both side to a dispute be compelled to agree as to which court they go to? Courts presumably need to dfifferentiate themselves to market their services, and in the differentiation, canny litigants can guess where they will receive a hearing most to their liking. Two canny litigants are therefore unlikely to agree as to which court to consult, especially if one benefits from the status quo. And if they do not agree, doesn't the possible aggressor win by default?

If they are forced to go to a particular court, isn't that the equivalent of a government?

So either the dispute is not settled, or it is settled coercively from the standpoint of at least one side.

Then, when we get to enforcement - on what grounds can an enforcement agency compel obedience to a ruling that only one party has agreed to in advance? On what grounds can an accused person be incarcerated when he or she claims innocence, unless it be by the equivalent of government action that is indistinguishable from government?

So I think in practice anarcho-capitalism ultimately turns into naive political theory. It seems plausibkle until the hard cases arise.

as the the environment-

Environmental issues, some of them, have been reasonably well settled by political institutions. The CFC problem was settled. Alaska successfully regulates its wild salmon fishery after both the unregulated market and the US government failed. Air is markedly cleaner per capita and per car in most - maybe all - urban areas in this country. In all these cases I cannot imagine how an anarcho capitalist society would have achieved similar (partial) successes.

For example, Murray Rothbard's "solution" to air pollution was either too stringent (ban ALL pollution and thereby closing down industrial society because our bodily boundaries were violated by someone's emissions) OR useless (ban only pollution where an individual polluter could be located and sued, making CFCs and auto pollution incapable of being effectively addressed due to prohibitive organizing and information costs.

An early argument by me on the subject of the Democratic Peace is at

As to whether there are enough democracies to make the claim something interesting is happening here, check out statistician R. J. Rummel's work, especially

Otto M. Kerner - 11/15/2006

Well, there does seem to be a lot to be discussed here, and I suppose we don't have space here to get to the bottom of everything, I'd like to touch on a few points.

You write, "Regarding global warming, a great deal lies in how bad it will be if it happens." Quite so, but I think we can agree that it's not simply "how bad will it be?", but "what are the chances of it causing X level of bad results?" for each level of X. Then, we try to balance that out against the positives and negatives (mostly positives, in my view) of abolishing the government, and also figure in the degree and likelihood of beneficial results from CO2 emissions (quite possibly exaggerated by our side, maybe insignificant, but probably not completely made up) and the chances that a stateless society could come up with some way to prevent global warming. So, this is by no means a simple calculation to make. If we begin by stipulating that CO2 emissions will make the Earth uninhabitable by humans and that the state can prevent this but a stateless society cannot, then I suppose I must agree that no state is likely to be worse for us than the environmental threat.

I do agree that environmental problems are relatively difficult for anarcho-capitalist societies to deal with. It seems to me that they are difficult for anyone to deal with, but the average person wants the government to handle them because they assume the government can do things like that competently. In your case, I trust it's not a mere assumption, but you have reached the same conclusion: that the government can perform this task competently enough to justify its intervention in the matter. I’m not so sure that’s true.

I don't see anarcho-capitalism is not an "ideal” of some abstract sort, but a suggestion for improving the lives of people, although it does involve taking the ideal of “private property” a lot further than we conventionally do. I suppose that the preceding means it was already prudential all along; I know that, personally, I would definitely not affirm that “the worst forms of aggression should not be effectively opposed simply because the aggression is not able to be handled by anarchist means”.

I certainly agree with your points #3 and #4 (and by extension #5), toward the end. However, I’m not sure what the salient implications are; they seem to me to be basically implicit and accepted in any legal procedure that goes to court (of course, a lot of criminal and civil trials involve at least one party who knows him- or herself to be wrong, but I’m sure there are also a lot of trials that involve two parties who think they are blameless). I see anarcho-capitalism, by the way, as essentially a court-of-law-ocracy; or, to avoid the unintended implication of some sort of God-given (or king-given, or president-given) powers inherent to the court, it might be better to think of it as an arbitrator-ocracy.

This clearly is not the forum in which to hash out the implications of your statement, “Democracies are not states, except in a purely legal sense. This is why they do not act like states internationally”, although it is certainly interesting and provocative. Can you link to some writing of yours where you develop this idea more fully? Incidentally, the “democratic peace” theory seems suspect to me, simply on the grounds that there has historically been a shortage of democracies in a position to fight each other.

Gus diZerega - 11/13/2006

When I wrote "a word of warning" to Otto, I should have said "point of clarification." I did not mean to sound ominous.

Much more importantly, regarding CO2,aggression, and anarcho-capitalism, even if we ignore all the evidence in favor of global warming, or continue arguing it is happening independently of what we do to the atmosphere, this is still worth considering...

Gus diZerega - 11/11/2006

Thank you for your reply, Otto. It really clarifies the issues. And while the confines of a blog post do not allow us to explore all the issues, at least we can explore a few. Before going farther, a word of warning. I have been asked to participate on this list because I know and respect anarcho-capitalist positions, was one myself, and still see myself operating politically within a broadly Hayekian/Austrian approach to social science. I guess am a kind of semi-official gadfly.

Regarding global warming, a great deal lies in how bad it will be if it happens. I imagine not even the most committed anarcho-capitalist will prefer not having a carbon tax and as a consequence having the world become uninhabitable. On the other hand, if its impact is negligible, or even beneficial, then it is better simply to adapt. Where the answer lies between these extremes is impossible to tell for sure, especially by laypeople such as ourselves, although scientists who study the issue are usually more concerned than optimistic.

But let's look at this issue from another angle. I was an anarcho-capitalist, and am no more. Why? Several issues to be honest, but one of them is directly related to our discussion.

Anarcho-capitalism depends on a legal system that relies on enforcing property rights being able to internalize all significant negative externalities. Otherwise some are aggressed upon by the actions of others against which they have no legal recourse. The CO2 I emit is not aggression if it has no significant negative impact - but if it does, then there is a serious property rights issue, yes? This is obviously the case if I emit chlorine gas from my property, and the standard here is not intent, but rather whether harm against others has occurred.

If the seriousness of the impact is what matters, it does not matter whether I am injured by the collective emission of one person with enormous power to pollute, or the collective emissions of millions, perhaps billions, of people each of whom has an insignificant power to pollute, but whom collectively can do real damage. They can also injure not only innocent others, they also can injure themselves. But if, knowing this, any individual stopped emitting CO2 pollution, it would have no impact because every individual’s impact is negligible. This is the ultimate free rider problem. In smaller and more manageable form this has already been an issue regarding fireplace and wood stove smoke in Missoula, MT, and smog in many cities.

For the life of me, I can think of no solution to this issue in a anarcho-capitalist world.

Unless you are willing to see human life extinguished rather than have a government (should this extreme alternative be the case) then your anarcho-capitalism is a matter of evaluating the harm done and the costs of mitigating the harm. It is prudential. This does not mean it is utilitarian, but results do enter into the equation.

The solution I posted in my blog would lower taxes and internalize costs – actually moving the world closer to a libertarian ideal (externalities are better internalized and taxes are lowered), though admittedly not to one. But the anarcho-capitalist approach is helpless against the problem either where it currently exists regarding other substances (Missoula) or in this potentially more catastrophic instance.

And if you are willing to see human life extinguished in order to remain true to an ideal, are you not saying the worst forms of aggression should not be effectively opposed simply because the aggression is not able to be handled by anarchist means?

As an alternative perspective, let me only briefly state what I have often argued on this list as further mitigating these circumstances:

1) Democracies are not states, except in a purely legal sense. This is why they do not act like states internationally. Most importantly, democracies do not fight other democracies, nor do they kill large numbers of their own citizens.

2) In an important sense democracies are better thought of in their domestic capacity as collective insurance agencies, and thoughts about reforming them are best put in that context. They also provide a means for defining contested property rights, which brings me to

3) Any means of defining property rights and enforcing them involves the very real possibility of employing coercive action against people who regard themselves, and may be regarded by those around them, as peaceable individuals. Therefore any definition and enforcement of property rights involves coercion and the possibility of aggression as sincerely experienced by those who lose the dispute.

4) There is no objective means of determining the details of specific property rights such that aggression is rendered impossible. Procedures reasonably regarded as fair therefore become more important than an impossible ultimate solution.

5) Therefore the task is to try and figure out what institutional framework minimizes the likelihood of aggression while still being able to handle issues involving the definition of property rights.



Otto M. Kerner - 11/11/2006

Thanks for your comments, Mr. diZerega. I can certainly agree that Liberty Fund's behaviour in the case you describe sounds rude at best. However, with regard to your second point, it sounds as if you want radical libertarians to moderate their positions. But, this is not the sort of alliance that I'm interested in; I'm happy to work together with people who agree with me on some topics in order to achieve our mutual goals. When it comes to global warming, I don't know which side is right; I'm not a climatalogist. I will agree that I am frustrated by the sense I've gotten that I can't trust everything libertarians say about the matter (I certainly don't trust everything the other side says, naturally). However, I'm an anarcho-capitalist. In the unfortunate case that it came right down to it, given a choice between global warming or the state, I'll take my chances with global warming. Are any environmentalists ever going to be willing to make the same choice?

Gus diZerega - 11/11/2006

Otto's observations are well taken to a point. But only to a point.

For some years I frequently wrote for the main deep ecology journal, The Trumpeter. If time allowed I still would. A great many Greens/environmentalists who once were skeptical of market based solutions are much less so now. My own work made a difference for some,including some fairly important ones, or so they have told me.

On the other hand, orthodox libertarians and their allies such as PERC and so-called classical liberals have generally refused to enter into good faith dialogue with Green points of view. I know of only one exception: FREE. And they have benefitted from that effort - for example, having very strong enviros writing letters of support for them when they were attacked by the left a few years back for their judges' program.

Let me give two illustrative examples of the problem. One I am personally acquainted with, the other is public record.

I tried some years ago to get a Liberty Fund gathering together where classical liberals sympathetic to environmental issues and environmentalists open to the market could read and discuss a mix of ecological and Hayekian style pieces.

LF made sure that no one from the free market side other than those involved in the actual organizing would be remotely sympathetic to the readings. None of the environmentalists I recommended were invited. Not one. It was a very strange group where one jerk from a college in Illinois that LF had invited began the discussion by asking "why are we reading this crap?" or some such thing. He was there for the $1000 and decent food. It convinced me that LF today is less interested in ideas than junkets for their favored connections.

LF torpedoed much (happily not all) of the potential good to come from such a gathering at its very beginning.

My second example is the utter garbage published on the right about global warming. Yes - the issue is complex and scientific findings are tentative. But the increasing bulk of the scientific community is speaking in one voice. And it is a voice of concern. And anyone visiting the far north as I have cannot in good faith ignore the issue unless they never left Anchorage.

Rather than taking a nuanced view or seeking to find the least coercive approaches to adddressing the problem the general response among classical liberals has been to make ad hominem attacks on scientists' motives. Just as they do with enviromentalists.

There are many possibilities for addressing the global warming issue (or many other Green issues) short of increasing government control over our lives. See my most recent post on discussing Tom Friedman for a not very imaginative example. My approach isn't orthodox libertarianism because, to be blunt, no libertarian to my knowledge has even attempted to deal with the problem intelligently. I welcome a libertarian solution. I just can't think of one myself, so I do the best I can.

I imagine my solution will be rejected by many or most of those who look at it from this list not because there is a better approach but because, scientists to the contrary, there is no such problem or, again scientists to the contrary it is a minor problem, or like the Pope and Galileo, because it is ideologically inconvenient to think about it. In other words, ideology trumps the world.

Denying the problem exists because it is inconvenient to an ideology puts libertarian anti-environmentalists in the same company as "creation scientists."

The common ground libertarians and greens can find will not be found in pushing pure market institutions because such institutions are geared to feedback entirely originated within the relations of consumers and producers, disconnected from natural cycles. But it is a strange definition of freedom that finds it beginning and ending there.

Where there IS common and fruitful ground to explore concerns institutions rooted in civil society, such as land trusts, community based watershed restoration groups, and other voluntary organizations that can make use of but are not subordinated to market price signals.

For example, I have done a great deal of work on democratic forest trusts as alternatives to national forests. Many Greens like the idea. If implemented it would shift a large percentage of national land ouside of governmental control, and create a precedent to shift the rest, both BLM and National Park land, into better institutional proterction free from Congressional corruption. Most classical liberals so far have been utterly uninterested.

The real issue to my mind is that Greens are ultimately issue oriented - which is why they are willing to entertain market friendly approaches when they hear them expressed in a way showing respect for their concerns - whereas most on the classical liberal/free market/PERC side have little sympathy with Green concerns and seek only to make converts to their ideology by weaning them away from taking these issues seriously. Greens are not stupid.

Without letting them entirely off the hook, I think the primary problem here is not with the Greens.

Otto M. Kerner - 11/11/2006

I have to say, I've associated with a fair number of Greens in my time, and I've found a lot of them to quite warm and likeable people. Much more so than LP members, on average. However, I've yet to notice this purported "libertarian streak" that people sometimes moot. I've seen all flavours of socialism, though, from Marxism (Rich Whitney, the flash-in-the-pan Green gubernatorial candidate in Illinois, was a member of the Socialist Labour Party into the 1990s, and Peter Camejo, his California counterpart, was a Socialist Workers candidate back in the day) to the relatively less toxic American populist tendency.