Libertarians and delusionism
This post from TokyoTom deplores the fact that (TT excepted) supporters of the Austrian School, and for that matter libertarians in general, are almost universally committed to delusional views on climate science. The obvious question is why. As TT points out, there are plenty of political opportunities to use climate change to attack subsidies and other existing interventions. And the fact that the environmental movement has shifted (mostly) from profound suspicion of markets to enthusiastic support for market-based policies such as carbon taxes and cap and trade seems like a big win. Most obviously, emissions trading relies on property rights and Austrians are supposed to like property rights.
On the other hand, given the near-universal rejection of mainstream climate science, we can draw one of only three conclusions
(a) Austrians/libertarians are characterized by delusional belief in their own intellectual superiority, to the point where they think they can produce an analysis of complex scientific problems superior to that of actual scientists, in their spare time and with limited or no scientific training in the relevant disciplines, reaching a startling degree of unanimity for self-described “sceptics”
(b) Austrians/libertarians don’t understand their own theory and falsely believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own views must be wrong
(c) Austrians/libertarians do understand their own theory and correctly believe that, if mainstream climate science is right, their own views must be wrong
While (a) clearly has some validity, most of the comments on climate science made here by self-described Austrians and libertarians suggest that either (b) or (c) is true. But which?
The problem is complicated (but also to some extent clarified) by the bewildering variety of Austrian/libertarian sects. Starting as far out on the spectrum as we can go, it seems clear that, if mainstream climate science is correct, neither anarcho-capitalism nor paleolibertarianism can be sustained. The problem with anarcho-capitalism and other views where property rights are supposed to emerge, and be defended, spontaneously, and without a state is obvious. If states do not create systems of rights to carbon emissions, the only alternatives are to do nothing, and let global ecosystems collapse, or to posit that every person on the planet has right to coerce any other person not to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. For paleolibertarians, the fact that property rights must be produced by a new global agreement, rather than being the inherited ‘peculiar institutions’ of particular societies seems equally problematic.
For more moderate libertarians, who accept in principle that property rights are derived from the state, I think the problem is more that the creation of a large new class of property rights brings them face to face with features of their model that are generally buried in a near-mythical past.
To start with, there’s the problem of justice in the original allocation. Until now, people developed countries have been appropriating the assimilative capacity of the atmosphere as if there was always “enough and as good” left over. Now that it’s obvious this isn’t true, we need to go back and start from scratch, and this process may involve offsetting compensation which effectively reassigns some existing property rights.
Then there is the problem that the emissions rights we are talking about are, typically time-limited and conditional. But if rights created now by modern states have this property, it seems reasonable to suppose that this has always been true, and therefore that existing property rights may also be subject to state claims of eminent domain.
Overall, though I, think that acceptance of the reality of climate change would be good for libertarianism as a political movement. It would kill off the most extreme and unappealing kinds of a priori logic-chopping, while promoting an appreciation of Hayekian arguments about the power of market mechanisms. And the very fact of uncertainty about climate change is a reminder of the fatality of conceits of perfect knowledge.
This seems to be the kind of thing Tokyo Tom is talking about. But so far, it seems as if he is in a minority of one. Any others want to join him?
Note While I’d be interested in comments from libertarians on whether they think mainstream climate science is consistent with their views, comments repeating delusionist talking points will be deleted or ruthlessly edited.