Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Markets and Ecology

I received the following question today in regards to an article we ran last year by Gus DiZerega entitled "Natural Capitalism Vs. Free-Market Environmentalism."

As the editor of the Free Liberal do you see libertarian thought generally accepting the idea that market structures will come in to concert with ecological systems, and indeed mirror them, if a truly rational market were to exist?

My reply:

I believe that mainstream libertarian thought is not terribly concerned with ecological processes. There are those, such as the folks at PERC who see markets as being better than government management at assigning values to natural resources, and thereby conserving them, but I think the general libertarian concern is not ecology but "liberty, liberty, liberty." This is a major area where free liberals diverge. Liberty is a core value, but it isn't alone.

First, we recognize that markets are what people make them... If we don't individually seek to promote certain values, they don't get promoted. It is not enough to say, "the market will solve it." As a very libertarian-minded person, I'd like to see people choose rightly of their own volition, not from being forced to do something by government. However, in terms of ownership of natural resources, I'm somewhat given to the Georgist view that no one can own the land simply because they are already there. Further, if you are doing something that could have an impact on denying or destroying other peoples' environments, you should be subject to regulation or sanction that discourages negative externalities.

In practice, I don't think it is appropriate to say we'll always serve the interests of ecology or always serve the interests of the market. I prefer the concept of the market basket which maximizes both goods when they are not exclusive, but provides necessary amounts of both when you have to choose between them. Being completely anti-market would impoverish us and being completely anti-ecology destroys our world.

In summary, I don't think a simple dichotomy exists -- that we have to be for one or for the other. Also, I don't accept the libertarian notion that whatever is good for the market is good for ecology. I think the market could evolve, but only when we adjust our individual thinking. As free liberals we would like to see both promoted.

-- Kevin D. Rollins