Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part IV

“Strong property rights and fairly shared property. ” As Han Solo would say, “Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?”  Shared property tends to scare people.  When the very phrase “shared property” is uttered, the first thought which jumps to most American minds is “shared at the point of a gun.”  And not without reason.   Socialism claims lofty ideals about sharing, but in the end, some people will not share, and to them, in varying degrees and forms, force must be applied.   Marx took the philosophy of socialism, and found what he thought was the perfect form for its ideals, a form he believed could be reached basically peacefully, requiring violent change, but not necessarily violence. Stalin and Mao disagreed.  In the name of Communism (suggesting property is held in common) more dictators seized power and millions died.  

The idealist Communist rightfully says communism didn’t fail the people, the leaders failed both Communism and the people.  Fair enough.  The trouble is, the bureaucracy required to force Communism upon people has the power to force almost anything upon people.  The great failing of Communism is that its incentives are counterproductive.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  Every person is called upon to work to the best of his ability for the people, and the people will make sure all of his needs are met.   Under capitalism,  if there is something I need, I can communicate to others how much I need it by how much I am willing to pay.  I can communicate to others how much I value my time by how much I attempt to charge for it. Since I trade money made by working (time) for things I need and I can choose how much I work, I can decide for me personally, how much work I want to do, and I what I think I need for it.  Under communism, others must determine the value of my work, and what I need.    Under capitalism, there was incentive to work as hard as possible to get what I need. Under communism, the quality and quantity of work I do have been disconnected from what I receive for doing it.  There is no incentive for me to work very hard.  An outside force must motivate me to work.  The most popular one is terror. The Communist government must be able to cause terror to function.  It is the greatest enemy of its own ideals.

Democratic socialism seeks to achieve many of the same goals of communism, but produces and applies force in a different manner.  By and large, democratic socialism is a pro-capitalist system.  The people must have personal property because the force applied is most often in the form of taxes.  The decision to apply this force is undertaken by democratic, rather than by single party process.   The incentive issue still exists, but to a much smaller degree. Progressive income tax is an example of  a socialist policy.   Capital is removed by threat of kidnapping (imprisonment for tax evasion) from the capitalist, and given to those in need.   The wealthier the capitalist, the larger percentage of wealth he must pay.  The incentive issue is making sure the taxes are not so high as to dissuade capitalists from earning more money.  If the capitalist refuses to work to collect capital to the best of his ability the economy stagnates. 

When any property is shared under any system, incentive is always an issue.   Even in the capitalist, outwardly anti-socialist (but admittedly socialist) U.S., shared property is unavoidable.  Schools, parks, libraries and roads are all shared property.   They all must provide a service, but the incentive structure is strange.  Libraries for instance, must not dissuade people from coming, least they reduce the number of patrons and reduce their grant from the city.  On the other hand, if they are too attractive to people, they will suffer wear and tear incommensurate to the grant they receive.    Parks suffer from the same difficulty.    We attempt to remedy these problems of shared ownership with a bureaucratic apparatus incorporating varying degrees of democracy.  (The city of St. Paul, for instance, has been very successful with an elected rather than appointed parks commissioner.  Her city parks are considered some of the finest and most cost efficient in the U.S.) 

There is, however, already the basis of a shared property system incorporating democracy, very limited bureaucracy, and high price efficiency.  It works towards the benefit of all the members, and has extreme respect for property rights.  It’s called shares.   If everyone who owned part of a shared ownership system was given a singe common stock share, then they would not need to trust a bureaucracy or even a democratically appointed leader to execute the fair use of the property.   There is no disconnection of self interest and group interest.  If the price to use a shared property is too low, dividends will go down for the owners.  If the price is too high, dividends will go up, but so will cost more to use.  Since the owners are the users, Adam Smith’s guiding hand works to maximize use and minimize price.  

Obviously, stock is not a perfect system for shared owner/user systems because stock can be sold to anyone.  When the ownership is passed from the users to others, the quality of the service would not matter to the new owners. Owner/users are concerned both with tangible profit and intangible profit. Owner nonusers are not concerned with intangibles, and the overall quality of the service will go down to the most price efficient level.  There are many specifics to to the owner/user share system which would depend on the nature of the shared property.   This fine tuning is dependent upon the shared property in question.   The specific example I want to give is of air.

Regardless of legal status, 1/6 billionth of the air on earth belongs to each person.  If it is denied to them, they will die.   It is theirs by birthright.   The owner/user share system applied to air does not create a new property right, but codifies one of the oldest.   To ensure that no person or group gain more than their share of influence over the air, the common stock share cannot be sold, only rented.  Companies cannot own air shares, only individual people may own one each.   For a company to displace one’s air they must pay rent to the air’s owner.  For instance, if a factory was made which produced a chemical byproduct  which was measurable in a 100 mile radius around the factory, then everyone in that radius has a right to charge the price they see fit for space in their air to the company.  If the company produces a byproduct which is measurable all over the wold, then all the owners must be paid.

This system tends to raise people’s ire, but it is not a secret attempt to control air pollution, or “back door socialism,” as I have been accused.  If a company made ping-pong balls as a byproduct, and running their plant caused thousands of ping pong balls a day to pour onto one’s lawn, legal action would be quick and decisive.  How is the air you need to breath less your property than your lawn?  Pollution is a property rights issue.  Polluters do not pollute people’s living rooms, because they would have to pay to use what is clearly someone’s property.  They pollute the air because it is not clearly anyone’s property. Making air legally belong to it’s rightful owners is a capitalist step, not a socialist one.  

Post industrial society is founded on a fallacy: the open loop.  There are no open loops.  Everyone is downwind from somewhere.  Everyone is downstream from somewhere.  Earth is a closed loop.  Would this share system enormously impact industrial society?  Yes and no.  The monetary cost of doing some kinds of business would skyrocket.  However, the real cost would remain the same.  The reason the monetary cost would increase is that the existing market hides true cost due to market distortion.  When everything is owned, and and every owner can rent, the real cost is the purchase cost.  Companies are not prevented from producing anything the market will bear, they are merely prevented from selling it with the real cost hidden.  This form of environmental protection requires no unique environmental police; civil courts are are already well adapted to process storage without payment suits.  This system allows democratic process of purchase in a perfect market to decide the cost of pollution.   Environmental responsibility with greater freedom, and less government. 

In Part V I will cover global government, an obvious necessity to discourage the Netherlands Hypothesis, but again, with a focus of freedom, and human rights.

December 13, 2008 - Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. Truthwalker, I think your point that there should be “…no disconnection of self interest and group interest…” for managing our shared environment is a good theoretical one, but fails in practical application.

    In the US alone, you would need some huge Army of bureaucrats to measure and administer price and violations of air quality. As well, once you identified a violator of my local air quality ‘rights’, my price or damages would likely be something like 1/100 of a cent or something like that.

    So, the cost of the army of government bureaucrats would likely be millions of dollars and the financial incentive/benefit to the average person would probably be in the ‘who cares?’ range.

    That being said, your idea to manage our shared environment is interesting and might be applied in other ways and maybe more locally (rather than on a global scale).

    Comment by pracphilosblog | December 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. You’re probably right. I still think it is a step in the right direction, and I plan on strengthening local government in the next part of the paper, as well as some other ideas.

    Price is market determined though, one of the reasons I think this would work is because it keeps the bureaucrats out. As to measuring air quality, that is the person or community’s job. If they can’t be bothered to see if a property is occupied (air) they really don’t deserve any money for rent.

    That said, it would very quickly not be the individual against mighty corporations. (Who’s products those individuals are buying, but that’s another story.) Class action suits would form very quickly.

    Now would people get their money? No, not at first. Lawyers would take the lions share, but the pressure of those lawsuits would create an environment in which it was more cost effective to pay the owners.

    Right now, pollution is a tort issue and not a property issue. That’s tricky, because torts are based on the idea of “the reasonable expectation of a reasonable person”. As such, in the average Joe doesn’t care about pollution, he can’t sue for it, unless it has done something really horrible and photogenic.

    If pollution was a property law, that places violations of it within the realm of criminal law, and makes the violation a little more objective.

    Comment by truthwalker | December 13, 2008 | Reply

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