Attempts to cure pollution through legislative fiat are worse than hopeless, the author contends. By analyzing pollution in economic terms, Dennis Turner shows that political "solutions" will only worsen things, at best only exchanging oppressors. In addition to the current situation in which we are used as cannon fodder (cancer victims) for the power plants of the industrialists, new laws and constitutional amendments also would make us into cannon fodder for the power plans of countless bureaucrats. At the same time, due to the coercive nature of the state, such laws can be expected to aggravate ecological imbalance. As Ramparts magazine recently so accurately put it, with the perfect touch of irony: "The world is dying; write your congressman today."—ed.
To many, pollution seems a hopelessly complex problem, beyond the grasp of anyone not totally devoted to the field—perhaps not even within the grasp of the experts. How much pollution is acceptable? To whom and for what purpose? Can the benefits of technology be weighed sensibly against the benefits of unperturbed nature? Are the doomsday predictions accurate, or panic stricken predictions of bitter men with an axe to grind?
Our senses provide our first estimate of the problem. We can smell the pollution of air in our cities, and can see the exhaust from automobiles and factories partially causing it. On smog filled days we are short of breath; our eyes burn, our clothes become sooty. And there is more. In many cities the drinking water tastes like waste from a chemical plant. On drives through the country we see wide expanses laid waste from mining, junkyards, oil stained beaches; garbage and litter, everywhere.
Everyday reading brings a second estimate. Who has not read of the species of animals become extinct in our lifetimes? Or explosions in animal populations caused by indiscriminate killing of predators? Articles on atomic radiation fill the media. Warnings of preservatives bombard us. Is our food poison? Are our resources being irrevocably depleted?
On the other hand we recognize the convenience of technology. Do we really want to desert the automobile? Most Americans enjoy the mobility it offers—visiting Aunt Jane on Sunday, living far from work, the trips to the ski lodge, the beach, or the mountains every other weekend.
The house we live in, the clothes we wear, the softdrinks we use, and the machines that make them all create the pollution we deplore.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: Is there some method of determining how much we gain by technology, and how much we lose by the destruction of the resources which accompanies growth in technology?
Most environmentalists have concluded that this question must be answered before a second question, concerned with seeking solutions; can be intelligently considered:
What sanctions are to be imposed to reduce pollution to acceptable levels; who should impose them, and against whom?
Government experts are usually proposed to answer the first question. Fines and injunctions, bureaucrats, and large corporations are common suggestions as answers to the second question.
But will these answers suffice? The government's failure to solve inflation, unemployment, Vietnam, race, dissent, poverty, slums, and education should make us wary of another political solution. Federal urban renewal programs have destroyed homes for the poor; the farm program raises the price of food while undernourishment is widespread in some parts of the country. Can the same bureaucrats who designed these obvious failures be expected to do anything but fail again when given the task of saving (literally) the whole earth?
Here I begin to differ with traditional analysis of pollution. My differences will lead to unconventional and some radically different ideas for the proper cures. Not everyone suffers from an act of pollution. Any particular case of contamination is not an attack upon "society." Individuals, not "society," suffer; some individuals more than others. An example is the Santa Barbara oil spill: local residents were affected more than frequent visitors, and infrequent visitors were affected very little. Among those who live in Santa Barbara, those who watch birds and frequent the beaches were affected more than those who do not. People who live in Maine, or for that matter, Moscow, were contaminated so slightly as to have no claim to restitution.
Similarly, not everybody affected will have similar reactions. The drag racer feels less oppressed by exhaust fumes than does Ralph Nader. What constitutes "contamination," then, is not intrinsic; rather, it depends on the values of those affected, Americans in 1970 feel more disturbed by gum wrappers in parks than did Americans in 1955. Japanese are more incensed by rock-painting in national monuments than Americans. A specific act of altering the environment might be considered irrelevant by one, and deleterious by another.
A successful solution must take into account these two characteristics of pollution, and provide mechanisms which satisfy potential and actual victims. Solutions which impose a one-value, across-the-board restitution will be supported by those for whom the restitution exceeds the loss, and opposed by those for whom the loss-"profits" exceed the restitution. Inevitably, some will resent others, and feel exploited. This category of solution is being proposed now; oil companies are being fined by the Federal Government—which supposedly represents all those who are affected greatly, slightly, or not at all. The solutions have only lukewarm support from those not directly affected—why should they think about it?—and heavy opposition from those directly affected?—the solution will still leave them worse off than before the oil leak. Thus the beaches remain dirty, the fines unlevied, the pumping operation inadequately corrected.
Pollution can be described by means of well-known economic analysis. Economists in the Chicago school (Milton Friedman: Capitalism & Freedom; Alchian & Allen: University Economics) or the Austrian school (von Mises: Human Action; Rothbard: Man, Economy, State) have provided all the necessary tools.
To use a description borrowed from Murray Rothbard, technology is a recipe for rearranging natural resources to produce a desired end. An automobile is a combination of natural resources put together in a particular way, to perform a set of functions—personal motive power, among others. The rearranging of the natural resources has costs. It takes time to produce the automobile, time which could have been spent elsewhere.
Human energy is required to transform the resources from their natural state to their desired state—energy that could have performed another task. And the resources themselves have cost—they could have been used either in their natural state, or could have been transformed. For example, some of the materials used to produce a refrigerator could have been used in construction of a dishwasher; similarly, a mountain which could have been used for hiking and looking at might be used for mining, to extract materials from which to produce the refrigerator.
Here is the kernel of our analysis: whether or not the costs of production—all the costs—have to be borne by the producer will influence his decision whether or not to produce. The more expensive a product is, the lower will be the demand for it. Thus fewer people are buying chuck steak at 79¢ per pound than at 39¢ per pound. The smaller the numbers of a good produced, the less rearranging of resources in their natural state the production will cause. The cost of a resource used to produce a good is defined as the most valuable alternative use to which it could be put.
Among the alternative uses to which a mountainside now used for mining could have been put is cattle grazing. But if the mountainside were steep and rocky, had little appropriate brush, and consumed large amounts of the cattles' energy to reach, its value as a grazing site might be little. And thus the mining company could purchase it from the rancher for an amount that would increase the cost of the ore little. If, to pay for the mountainside near a city, the mining company had to outbid a home-developing company, the price of the ore would be higher, the market for it smaller. The mining company would be less likely to buy it. Thus on mountainsides near large cities we find few new mines.
The remote mountainside has an alternative use besides grazing; some people like to hike on it, and a larger number yet like to look at it. And this use has a real value—people are willing to spend their time and energy to do these things. Some people travel days to very special mountainsides.
We must find some method of providing a common denominator for the costs in time, energy and alternative uses of the physical natural resource. We haven't space here for a detailed explanation of the evolution and economic role of money as a medium of exchange. The best explanations include Rothbard, "What has government done to your money?", Hazlett, "Time Will Run Back," and von Mises, "Theory of Money and Credit."
Briefly, however, the evolution of money arises from the exchange of resources, time and energy by people to attain a desired end more efficiently. Thus if I have time and you have apple trees you grew, I might pick the apples for you, and we would in some manner divide the total picked. Common ratios for similar exchanges would evolve; if you offer me 30 apples per 100, and elsewhere I could get 35 apples, my labor time will move towards the place where I got 35 apples.
However, the number of exchange ratios between different goods is astronomical. For a society of 15 goods, the number of exchange ratios required for two-way exchanges is 105. The total number of ratios required would be 32,768. People will tend to find a few very common articles, whose ratios with other goods are very stable, and which are generally regarded as desirable goods. Eventually one good will become the common denominator, such as gold. This we call money.
Thus the campers will be willing to pay a certain amount to use the mountainside, each hiker a smaller amount, and perhaps the lookers nothing at all, since there are many free sites, and the mountainside would be difficult to hide from view. If the value of the ore is marginal, and the site far from market, the campers and hikers could outbid the miner, or cattle grazer. The campers and hikers could bid with the cattle grazer, for rights to use the mountainside for these purposes.
In some instances the bid of the miner would still be higher than the other alternatives, and mining would occur which would damage the benefits of the resources in their natural state. But this is the method by which the perceived benefits of technology assert their control on the rate and extent of rearranging the natural resources. For any improvement in living conditions, some resources must be rearranged. If in a given condition the ultimate customers of the mine are willing to pay more for the use of the mountainside than the hikers, campers, and sightseers, this means they have committed a larger representation of time and energy than have those desiring the natural condition. The total utility of the mountainside as a mine is higher than as a campground and trail.
We must not forget to include another cost of production which is at present hardly ever paid—pollution. What is precisely meant by contamination of the environment? An operational definition would be that pollution is an act of rearranging the environment in such a way as to lower its value to some specific person or people. Contamination thus consists of altering a resource so as to make somebody less able to perform a desired function. However, there must be a method of sensibly comparing the lost value of the resource contaminated to the gained value of altering the resource.
Let automobiles be an example. The exhaust they produce contaminates the air while the energy they generate makes possible a far greater amount of personal motive power than would otherwise have been feasible. Both the increased motive power and the loss of the air as a source of oxygen and pleasant smells have value. Additionally the polluted air is deleterious to health—current research indicates polluted air is related to cancer, heart diseases, shortened life, loss of daily energy, and other health hazards. How shall we measure one against another?
Again, the only rational method is by determining the value of the loss in the use of the resource to the affected person, that its, what would the person suffering the pollution be willing to exchange in order to regain the preferred state of the air. Whatever he is willing to exchange can be figured in terms of a common medium of exchange, money.
If an act of polluting the air creates a condition affecting several people by decreasing the value of the air to them, the cost contamination is the sum of the amount of money that each would be willing to pay to restore the clean air.
Each of the victims has had his environment devalued by an amount determined by his preferences and proximity to the pollution. Yet he has received no compensating value from the person who benefited from the technology which caused his victimization.
As previously indicated, who must pay the costs of production influences how much production and use there will be. In a society where mechanisms existed to gain this restitution, it would be a cost of personal motive power naturally included in the decision to buy or not buy an automobile. If 1000 people were affected to the tune of $1.00 each, the automobile owner would suddenly find himself with a prohibitive cost, and far fewer people would then buy and operate automobiles in urban areas.
The potential user of personal motive power in an urban area would have a number of choices if all costs of rearranging resources were paid. First, the potential user could decide that the benefits to be gained from the technology were not worth the costs imposed. Second, the potential user could buy the technology and pay the victims for the contamination caused; third, the potential user could buy the technology along with a device which eliminated pollution. Presumably this would occur only if the device were less expensive than the costs of contamination. In the case of the automobile, the driver has the following alternatives; not to buy the car, to buy it and pay damages to everyone affected, or to buy a smog device.
Let us review. There are two costs of technology which are not now being computed or paid, and are therefore not considered in controlling the allocation of resources. This is because there are no established mechanisms for determining the amount of these costs or for enforcing payment. The first is the value of a resource in its natural state to people who use it. The second is the effect which rearranging the resource has on the environment, or ecosystem. If these costs were actually paid, things would be different. In the case of an automobile, the costs of mining materials would increase, thus increasing the price of the automobile irrespective of the pollution cost. And there is the pollution caused by the factories making the automobile, and the pollution caused by using the automobile. This would increase the costs of using the automobile, an alternative being a device abating pollution, which would raise the cost either less than or equal to the pollution cost. As the cost of purchasing and using an automobile would increase, the number of automobiles in use would decrease. If a cheap device could be developed to abate automobile pollution, the use of the automobile might decrease only slightly. In either case, resources would be rearranged less drastically than they are now, and the deleterious effects of technology on the ecosystem would also be reduced. The effect that remained would be paid for. Drastic technology would be sparingly applied in heavily populated areas, as the cost would be prohibitive.
It is important to distinguish between the pollution caused by the production of a technology, and the use of a technology. An analysis which does not recognize this fact is unsatisfactory. Suppose the fallacious analysis blames only the producer of the technology. In this case measures might be taken to force the producer to install devices to abate the pollution, or to curtail use in certain populated regions. Although devices are installed before sale to the user, there is no incentive for the user to appreciate the device, as he still remains exempt from paying the cost of pollution caused by using the automobile in an uncorrected form. Thus there is no incentive to maintain the device, and law avoidance in such matters is remarkably easy. Additionally, if the user can purchase an automobile without an installed device, he will do so, to save money. A black market in uncorrected automobiles would be created. The more expensive the corrective device, the more quickly the black market would develop, and the less likely that the device would be maintained. Eventually, inspection and penalties would have to be imposed on the user; but this recognizes that pollution of production is a separate act from pollution of use.
In the event a blanket curtailment were imposed, an inequity of value would be created. Those for whom the value of the technology exceeded the cost of a corrective device or actual restitution to pollution victims would be victimized. Those who would actually prefer restriction to elimination of pollution wouldn't be able to make that choice. Whether with books or cars, absolute bans seldom increase the total amount of satisfaction in a community.
An ecologist might read this analysis and judge it to be myopic. "The economic analysis is correct as far as it explains discrete and definable uses for the mountainside. But the mountainside has uses in addition to those of the miner, the home developer, the cattle grazer, and the hiker. It is part of an ecosystem, say one that includes the villagers in the valley below. What happens to the mountainside will affect them. How will your economic analysis ration between the needs of the village and the needs of the miner."
What could possibly determine sensibly how much contamination of the ecosystem of the village should be permitted, let alone suggest a mechanism by which this principle could be applied? First, it is reasonable that we judge only by what we know about the effect on the ecosystem of a particular use of the mountainside, and what we can predict from analogous or similar events. But we can't judge for the people in the village what values they ought to put on this knowledge and prediction. As previously mentioned, people will react differently to contamination of the environment. And the value they put on preserving the environment is meaningful only insofar the person can describe how much time and energy he is willing to use to preserve the state of the environment he prefers, there is no way of knowing how his "value" can alter his behavior. Thus we have no hard information which will be useful in suggesting mechanisms for curing the environment. The ability to describe the amount of time and energy one is willing to use will increase with knowledge of the effect of the proposed use of the mountainside on the ecosystem of the village. Later it will be argued that a mechanism can be constructed through the use of modern cost accounting methods, which will effectively determine these effects.
If those who wish to preserve the ecosystem can place a value on their desire and this value is combined with the value placed on the mountain by campers and hikers, this will be the total alternative use which the miner will have to bid against. If the value of the mountain as a campground, hiking trail and scenic wonder is slight, and the villagers feel little threat from the damage to the ecosystem, the miner might still find the production cost of ore will not increase sufficiently to prevent him from purchasing the mountainside. The total value to the miner depends on how much consumers are willing to pay for the end product of the mined ore. Thus the mountainside might still have more total value as a mine than in its natural state, even when the measurable effect of the mine on the ecosystem is included.
On the other hand, with improved methods of determining ecosystem damage, it is likely that people would feel far more of a threat, and would value preservation or only minor modification more highly than they have in the past. With social mechanisms for expressing and using this value, technological uses might decrease tremendously. This would be a method of making the producer consider all the costs when deciding whether or not to produce a product. Since the costs involved in each decision will be higher, as heretofore they have, existed no mechanisms through which the cost of pollution was determined and levied, the decision to alter the environment will be made less frequently, less drastically so.
But our problem is not yet solved. Even if this economic analysis is applicable to contamination of the ecosystem, it is explanatory rather than prescriptive. We still need to construct a mechanism for allocating resources intelligently.
We will consider this problem from two viewpoints. First, tracing the approach by which a state attacks pollution, we will find that institutional barriers tend to prevent us from making those distinctions about cause and extent of contamination which are needed for a successful solution. The mechanisms needed to make these selections are unnatural to state apparatus; it is not in the interest of either bureaucrats or bureaucracy to construct them.
Second, we will discover the correcting mechanisms would arise from the nature of the ecosystem, of which man is a part. It will be in the self-interest of free men to construct these mechanisms.
Lastly, the problem of obtaining reliable information regarding the effects of contamination on the ecosystem, and the cost of corrective devices and direct restitution, will be mentioned throughout the discussion.
Businessmen don't like competitors; nor are they happy about a substitute good appearing on the market. The truckers and railways are not what could be described as best of friends, and the steel producers abhorred the rise of the aluminum companies, even as business machine companies hated the entrance of the computer.
This negative reaction can be expected in any human domain. In each case the newcomer is a threat to the established business. It is not because the aluminum business was new that the steelmakers had trepidations; it is because the aluminum business was a threat to the existence of the steel company. Whenever someone performs a particular function, he identifies with that function, and received from it a sense of identity. When an alternative institution initiates another method of performing that function, the first feels a threat to identity.
Bureaucrats are no different from businessmen in this respect. As a part of the State, they identify with a certain method of controlling or "helping" people. Any alternative method will be perceived as a threat, and a threat which removes control from the bureaucrat is a very dangerous threat indeed. Under free trade, with independent capital accumulation, human energy, and time, no one authority allocates resources. Thus an aluminum company need not request permission from the steel company to initiate production. On the other hand, under the state, there exists a central authority for allocating resources. For a bureaucrat to establish an alternative procedure, he must receive permission from other bureaucrats who have a vested interest in the current methodology to a greater or lesser extent. That chief bureaucrat must consider his own relationships with all who would be affected by the new procedure, including those whose functions would be reduced or eliminated.
There is usually a large disincentive for initiating new procedure. The opposition to change is always larger than the support, because the established procedure almost invariably has more people identified with it.
Alternative methods which increase the bureaucrat's power have a good chance to be executed. If the established procedure is failing, pressure from distant parts of the bureaucracy, or from revolt of the controlled people will make change which satisfies the bureaucrats desirable. The need of modifying identity will be compensated by an increased feeling of importance when the modification is complete.
The natural processes of bureaucratic structure, then, avoids changes if at all possible, but among those which occur, they select away from those that increase it. Notice the aluminum company need not modify its proposal in any way to please the owners of the steel company (under free trade). But only one type of solution will be satisfactory to bureaucrats.
The state has always preempted the fields of restitution, enforcement, and control of the environment in the United States. Laws against polluting waterways have been on the books for 90 years; rewards were legislated for detecting violators. Mandatory $2,500 per day fines were to be imposed.
Most of the land in the western part of the country is owned by various levels of the state. In Nevada 96% of the land is owned by the federal government. In providing camping, hiking, and scenery to interested parties at either zero or nominal cost, the state has preempted alternatives, none of which can compete with the state subsidies. Permission of the state must be sought to build dams, to mine, to build homes, to build resorts, to hike or camp, the beaches in most places are owned by the state, as are the national parks, and mountain ranges. Sites of oil production must be approved by the state; in many areas the amount of production must be approved. Offshore oil drilling, safety procedures, and all associated activity need be approved by the state.
The state controls traditional restitution procedures—through the courts, the prosecutors, the laws, the politicians who decide the allocation of resources. The courts or administrative agencies decide what contamination requires restitution, who should pay it, who should receive it. The ecosystem has been primarily in the hands of the state for 100 years; the failures are theirs. Can we trust them to correct their errors? Or is the error in the structure itself?
The bureaucrat, like every other person, seeks to control his surroundings; this way he can predict the future, and be secure. He will act in such a manner as to maintain and extend this control. When choosing courses of action to solve the ecology problems he will opt for those in his interest, that is, those course of action which increase his control of his surroundings. In this he is no different from the scientist, the artist, the businessman, the student.
When the amount of contamination was lower, and the information on the amount of damage it causes less developed, voters generally preferred additional technological goods to the natural goods. Conservation groups were among the few who stood in the way of the bulldozers. Compared with issues of inflation, war, race, education, the issue was unimportant to most voters. When they did disapprove of particular rearrangements of resources, this disapproval weighed only slightly in their selection of candidates for whom to vote. The state did not concern itself with the issue; only the conservation groups and the rearrangement interests allowed their behavior towards the bureaucrats to be altered by this issue. The oil companies (and their employees) donated more money to campaigns, and bribed them much better than did the conservation groups. As voters were concerned with gross national product and not "quality of life," the bureaucrat extended his control by selecting for technology, not nature.
As new data began to suggest that the threat to existence from contamination was large, that the amount of contamination was astounding, that pollution had become a threat to health, voters became concerned enough with the issue to alter their behavior towards the bureaucracy. At that point when the behavior of the voters could be more damaging than the behavior of the oil companies and automobile manufacturers, and when voters became as concerned with contamination as with gross national product, the bureaucracy began to adjust itself to the new power relationship, finding it can enhance its control by appealing to the voters' desire for more natural goods relative to technological goods. To do so two types of action may be employed: Actually provide for decontamination; or impose penalties which will arouse minimum resentment among the voters.
So, suddenly the corporations, which had previously paid none of the costs of contamination, must pay all the costs of contamination. Determination of differentials, so crucial to a just solution to contamination, is outside the scope of political action.
The most common technique of the state is to blame a small group of people, and act as "protector" of a more powerful group of people against "exploitation." By this method the bureaucracy increases its power to justify the change of procedure. The solution must be uniform; if each person were permitted to calculate his own loss by contamination, and the violators add corrective devices, abate production, or provide direct restitution, the state would not have increased its power. There is no incentive for a bureaucracy to admit to a problem and attempt solution except to increase its power, even as there is no incentive for a businessman to change his procedure or manufacture a new product except to increase his profits.
The state itself is one of the worst contaminators of the environment. Have you heard what the U.S. Navy is doing to the bays in San Francisco and San Diego? And in New York City the only industries not meeting the anti-contamination requirements are the city owned power and water plants. The Army regularly contaminates large areas with nuclear tests (in spite of protests throughout Nevada) and chemical and biological warfare tests. There is no incentive to cease this pollution. First, abatement costs money, meaning increased taxes, which causes friction with the voters. Only when voters find pollution more oppressive than taxes will the U.S. government consider decontaminating its own resources. Second, decontamination requires change of procedure without increase in state power; there exists no incentive for such a change of procedure. This is important; the more the resources are directly controlled by the state, the more difficult will be decontamination. When resources are largely in private hands, the bureaucracy increases power by enforcing decontamination. When the resources are in state hands, the bureaucracy loses power by decontamination, by causing friction through increased taxes.
There is no incentive for the state to provide solutions with differentials. They will only do so when the cost in power of failing to do so will be greater than the cost in power of doing so. Compensation for those most directly affected requires an admission that the contamination was not a crime against society, but against individuals: this decreases the role of the state as protector of the oppressed voters. It costs the bureaucrats power they could otherwise assume.
Additionally, differential restitution provides funds directly to individuals; average compensation provides funds (in the form of fines) to the general fund, to be dispersed as the state finds conducive to increasing its power. For example, a Federal Grant to clean the beaches of Santa Barbara enchances the role of the state as protector. But the cleaning does not have to satisfy the users. It is more important that all the taxpayers be informed of the use of the funds. The grant is constructed not to rectify the damage, but to maximize the power of the state, by construction an image as protector.
Differentials will only be provided when the particular damage is so severe and definable that the protest by those affected will exceed the possible increase in power by general solutions. Thus in the case of Santa Barbara beaches the state might act. But not on auto pollution. Those who live in ghettos near main highways will receive no more restitution than those living in the protected hills of a wealthy suburb. The solutions will always be opposed by those finding the cost of the solution greater than the cost of the contamination. Most contamination is in this category—only certain people directly affected, usually by proximity, find the cost of the contamination higher than the cost of the solution. Each solution increases the size of the state, and requires more resources to be allocated to the state. The resources allocated to the state itself cause contamination of the environment; but the state has a disincentive for decontaminating these.
The state is not the agency to solve contamination. Nowhere in its structure is there to be found a method for sensibly determining the amount of the contamination, for compensating those most affected, and for providing a solution which itself does not cause social friction.
But are there spontaneous forces of the ecosystem that would permit just solutions of the contamination? Every organism seeks equilibrium with its environment. There is a particular arrangement of the environment that will prove most satisfactory to the organism. Organisms without memory and reason will migrate to environments most suitable to their capacities. A lion placed on a craggy mountain won't stay there; he will return to the African plain. An insect placed in the water will attempt to escape and fly to the bushes.
An organism with memory and reason can change his environment. A human being can do two things to attain equilibrium—he can migrate to more hospitable surroundings, or rearrange the environment. For any level of data, that is, for any given state of technology, there is a unique arrangement of resources that will satisfy a particular human being the most. He will consider all costs of moving; in winter the choice might be repairing the heater as opposed to vacationing in Miami. As a human being most normally alter his environment in order to survive, those human beings disposed towards seeking equilibrium were those that best survived and reproduced. Thus natural selection has determined that homo sapien, as with all other organisms, seeks equilibrium.
As each rearrangement of resources will have a cost in time, energy, and lost value of the resources in their natural state, homo sapiens will not always choose to rearrange his resources. Costs of rearrangement and lost value of the natural state will cause the person to limit the rearrangement of resources for any given level of technology. For a given technology, every given rearrangement causes an increasing decline in the value of the natural ecosystem. At some point additional rearrangement will produce an increase in satisfaction so small that it will not justify the loss of natural value. At that point man will stop using the technology. Always in search of a more satisfactory use of the environment, man will be forced to improve his technology, either to provide devices that mitigate the contamination and make more efficient use of the resources in their natural state, or to provide new recipes that do not cause as much contamination. If no state exists to permit avoidance of the costs of contamination, the search for improved technology is stronger, begins earlier, than when the State interferes.
Technology would develop sooner; because the costs of any given level of rearrangement would be higher than currently; any given level of technology would cause a smaller amount of rearranged resources and any level of rearranged resources would require a more advanced technology. There would exist positive incentive to develop rectification of contamination simultaneously with the product causing it. Until recent ecology publicity, under dominance of the state, there was little incentive to develop contamination-rectifying or preventing technology. In a free society, however, incentive to develop accurate data on the effect of any proposed technology on the resources and ecosystems would exist; any catastrophe or gross miscalculation would destroy the existence of the producing agency—the costs would exceed the assets of the agency in many cases and cause it to be liquidated. If all costs had to be paid, data indicating the effects of technology would develop simultaneously with the technology itself; both would be part of the same package. Their separation is due only to the state specifically allowing pollutors to pass off pollution costs on unwilling or unknowing victims.
How would payment of the costs be enforced? No differently than payment of bills is now enforced. Companies which don't pay their bills lose their credit and reputation. Confiscation of assets, proceedings against those in charge, and boycotts all serve presently to insure usually payment of costs. Ecocontamination is another cost. Including it within the scope of economic analysis is a first step toward the evolution of agencies specifically functioning as contamination rectifiers and contamination preventers. These would facilitate resolving the problem consistent with a free society.
What are examples of agencies which could develop without the specific permission of the state, which is not likely to abdicate its power in the field of ecology?
The time is ripe for a Clean Air and Water Union, for example. People would join, pay dues, and the union would function to persuade polluting agencies to cease their attacks on threat of widespread bad publicity, boycott of their products, and filibustering at stockholder's meetings. Civil rights groups have used this method to force desegregation of some companies (notably U.S. Steel) with less bloodshed, resentment, and effort than state methods.
Companies could be persuaded to sign a non-contamination treaty with the Union or other agencies. Those that did would be recommended to the membership and the general public; those that did not could be boycotted.
The Union could contract with aggrieved individuals to gain restitution for specific acts of contamination; companies that pollute, people with smoky automobiles, housewives who allow their dogs to defecate on other people's lawns, could all be persuaded with a small amount of bad publicity to cease and desist. Companies could receive special recommendation for promising not to deal with other companies which are notable contaminators.
Notice this method only works when competition exists: they will not work in persuading the state to decontaminate. Perhaps, though, a Tax-strike might. If 25,000 San Diego residents refused to pay taxes until the Navy decontaminated, it would shake the bureaucracy.
It was not the state, after all, which invented the computer, the radio, game theory, cost accounting, or the acoustic guitar. They were invented by individuals who stood to gain by their invention. The state can only regulate what already exists. Corrective technology does not yet exist—the same cannot cause it to be produced. Only we can. By acting on our own.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline ""Quick! Into This Catapult!"".