Property Rights and Pollution

July 7, 2021
These conditions are simply these: viz., first, that each man shall do, towards every other, all that justice requires him to do; for example, that he shall pay his debts, that he shall return borrowed or stolen property to its owner, and that he shall make reparation for an injury he may have done to […]

These conditions are simply these: viz., first, that each man shall do, towards every other, all that justice requires him to do; for example, that he shall pay his debts, that he shall return borrowed or stolen property to its owner, and that he shall make reparation for an injury he may have done to the person or property of another.

Lysander Spooner

[Editor’s Note] This is a cut section of a larger piece; with that being said, enjoy

                             Introduction

   I have never met someone who has told me “I have a negative opinion on the environment”. I look at the mountains with those wonderfully scented pine trees when crossing the California-Nevada border with nothing but awe; “This is beautiful”, “I would love to live here”. &c. fill my mind when going there. The environment is something that is inviting and special. It also allows us to catch a glimpse of what life for our ancestors must have been.
    Anytime I mention I am for unregulated free enterprise, however, statists automatically assume that I want businesses to spill their byproducts in the local rivers or pollute the air willy-nilly. To the statist, this is a true dichotomy; if you love the environment, you must oppose commerce and if you love free enterprise you must oppose the environment. This notion, however, is a false dichotomy and a-historical.
    My solution for limiting pollution and the general upkeep of our environment is to let actors own property sans aggression and let the market find cleaner — and more efficient — ways of commerce.

Pollution

“Negative externalities”

    The most standard definition of the term “negative externality” is when an exchange between two parties adversely affects a third party in some way — various forms of pollution fit this definition. As I will evince below, almost all of these externalities are property crime; eo ipso, under natural law, the polluter must recompense the property owner for any damages.
    Suppose a train set off sparks that burned down a farmer’s haystack; this isn’t an “externality”, this is an invasion! If the farmer can prove in a court that the train company was responsible for any damages then the company will have to recompense the farmer.
    How would the farmer prove to the courts that the train company invaded his property? There is a whole field of science called “Environmental Forensics”; the scientists investigate the origins of pollutants. With the help of environmental forensics, the farmer could claim the recompense he deserves from the train company.
    How does this court process limit pollution such as his? Constantly going to court and recompensing people is a drain on resources and thus unprofitable. If a business wants to remain afloat, they would have to discover ways to either limit or eliminate their levels of pollution.

Chicago River Incident

     This is the locus classicus of companies creating ecological disasters that statists love pointing to. Major stockyard companies couldn’t find a use for many of their animal parts, so they decided to dump those animal parts into the Chicago River. The river emanated a foul stench and caused an outbreak of cholera, dysentery, and typhoid; methane gas started to rise from the river. The state’s solution to this problem was to redirect the various pollutants away from Lake Erie; it didn’t work.
     The culpability of such an incident falls wholly on those companies. However, it was the state who owned the river; they permitted these companies to pollute the river. What if, instead, a non-governmental entity owned the river — or at least a portion of it? The pollution would then be a property crime and, ergo, would result in several court sessions. These companies would also have to recompense anyone who caught the aforementioned diseases. The pollution would also put a temporary halt to commerce, so the stockyard companies would also have to compensate the companies who use the river for commerce. Yet another instance of the state failing — imagine my shock!
     What exactly restored the Chicago River back to form? The stockyard companies found new uses for each previously unused animal part. If they found uses for these animal parts, they will have less of a need to dispose of the parts — and new markets to tap into. Some examples include glue and fertilizer. Another examples is the companies fed their pigs inedible animal parts — a demented form of recycling! [1]

Notes:

1. Obviously these companies didn’t innovate out of the goodness of their heart; they did this to make a profit. Turns out profits can help the environment!

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