Climate Crackup

While Ronald Bailey's "Climate Crackup" and Jonathan Adler's "The EPA's Carbon Footprint" (March) were interesting, I was disappointed to find no unique libertarian perspective on global warming. 

I believe the uniquely libertarian position is that those who claim harm have the burden of proof. Activists, government agencies, and the courts have tried to subvert this legal requirement of the criminal and civil justice systems for decades by imposing regulatory schemes that require actors to prove they are not harming others. Most recently, they have pushed the "precautionary principle," which in the extreme version would ban all human action if taken to an extreme. 

In March 1981, I wrote a feature for reason about a fictional U.S. Supreme Court decision ("Supreme Court Overturns Saccharine Ban"). The article argued against the use of the police power in federal drug regulation. Since it is impossible to prove a drug is safe, the burden of proof should be placed on those who claim harm. Unless this burden is met, others should be free to pursue their actions. As Chick Hearn, the late announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers, famously put this libertarian position: "No harm, no foul." 

Is global warming real, caused by human activity, and harmful? I don't know, but the burden is on those who say yes. 

Bruce K. Bell 

Moorpark, CA 

The Myth of the Recovery

I was struck by two related observations in Anthony Randazzo's article "The Myth of the Recovery" (April).

First this: "The root problem of mortgage delinquencies has yet to be worked out." 

The "root problem" of mortgage delinquencies is that A loaned $X to B so that B could buy a house. It has become clear that the house is not worth $X, and neither A nor B wants to take the loss. That is a problem for A and for B, but for the rest of us cheap housing should be good news. If a machine were developed tomorrow which could produce houses for free, would that be a national disaster?

Then there is this observation: "But the program [of homebuyer tax credits] has only helped individual buyers and sellers, not the housing market as a whole." 

The program allows up to $8,000 in tax credits for people who buy houses. Since this program is restricted to first-time homebuyers, and many potential homebuyers have bought one already or cannot take advantage of an $8,000 tax credit, it has not succeeded in jacking house prices back up to their former insane levels. There are still lots of houses for sale at historically low prices. 

And that's bad news? What would good news look like? One hundred percent increases in the cost of everything?

What is passing strange here is that a precipitous decline in the price of a very widely used product is regarded as a problem. Is anyone concerned about the failure of the "gasoline market" to "recover," so we can all pay $4 per gallon again? If the price of gasoline were to fall to $1, would anyone (besides Al Gore) regard that as a calamity?

The reality, as we all know, is that the government, through inducements both large and small, both practical and notional, lured large numbers of people (myself among them) into investing most of their savings in the houses they live in. 

Try this experiment: "It makes good sense for everyone with discretionary income to invest at least 50 percent of it in…" How would you finish that sentence? Is there any product or commodity whose price would not skyrocket to unreasonable levels if everyone decided to "invest" in it?

The teeth you hear being gnashed are those of A and B. It is their hope that the government will save them from the consequences of their miscalculation, by whatever means necessary. If the result is both higher taxes (for those without offsetting credits) and a return to insane house prices, that will be fine by them. 

Jerome Berryhill

Eugene, OR