Capitalism: The Great Anti-Pollutant

by Don Boudreaux on July 11, 2007

in Environment, Standard of Living, Technology

We modern folk are fortunate to be able to worry, if we choose, about environmental problems such as global warming, species loss, and whether or not companies drill for oil off of the coast of California.  A principal cause of our good fortune is the fact that capitalism makes our daily lives so clean, sanitary, and healthy — and, generally, wealthy — that we can afford to stew in concern about environmental problems that are more speculative and far more distant than were the environmental problems that plagued our ancestors — problems such as houses with thatched, bug-infested roofs and no indoor plumbing or hard flooring.

I call capitalism the great anti-pollutant.  Our lives truly and thoroughly are cleaned by capitalism.  This realization first hit me several years ago as I stood at an automatic-flush urinal in LaGuardia airport.  "I don’t have to touch this thing to flush it; how wonderfully sanitary!" I marveled.

Well, here’s a further development along these lines: no-touch dispensers of toilet paper.

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python July 11, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I have thought about this concept as well. We can now enjoy organic foods because of capitalism. Ironically, advocates of organic food publicly appear to be anti-corporate, anti-capitalist types. Whole Foods would be unable to deliver such "natural" products if it wasn't for recent (last 50 years) improvements in technology, transportation, business, etc. that are all directly related to modern capitalism. Yeah, you could eat organic foods pre-1990, but what kind of selection did you have, how much did you have to pay, and how easily could city folk get it?

There was an article published in the NY Times a couple years ago by an educated women who was commenting on how her blood was analyzed and found to have something like 70 non-naturally-occurring pollutants. Her summary was something fatalistic like "alas, that is what happens when one lives 70 years in the industrial age." She didn't see the irony that she probably wouldn't have lived anywhere close to 70 years without her modern environment (pollutants and all).

One need only at the enviros' "solutions" to global warming (less usage of modern technology) to see how they mistrust technology. They don't understand that the solution is exactly technology spurred from market pressures that will create solutions. Of course they are trying to tell us we don't have time to wait for the markets to develop, we must act within 5 minutes or the planet will be sent down an unrecoverable death spiral of feedback warming.

I fear that in the near future either we will realize that the planet will not become mortally overheated or that a new technology will be created to help the lowering of temperature, and the greenies will take all the credit for their hard work at having concerts and wearing hemp t-shirts.

methinks July 11, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Here's another irony – organic produce isn't so good for mother earth. It requires more land to grow the same amount of food as "conventional" high yield farming, which means more deforestation. Technology provided by the dreaded capitalist pigs in search of an evil buck allows us to grow more food without cutting down more trees. Bastards!

M. Hodak July 11, 2007 at 5:42 pm

This theme is echoed in a sideways manner in this article of the NYT:

I say sideways, because the NY Times blames China's pollution on free markets, but their own government seems to think that non-government solutions are the only thing that will clean it up.

As a Chinese friend recently told me, there are no longer any Communists in China.

M. Hodak July 11, 2007 at 5:43 pm

Oops, wrong version. This linked to the Washington Monthly.

methinks July 11, 2007 at 7:26 pm

"..because the NY Times blames China's pollution on free markets"

Really? Somehow I'm not surprised that the New York Pravda would say that. I wonder how they would explain why a model of socialism and classless "fairness", the Soviet Union, ended up such an ecological disaster.

Yuri Markartsev said "The territory of the entire country is essentially an ecological disaster zone." in an April 8, 1989 article in 'Trud' (Trud ="Toil", a workers' periodical)

Another Soviet 1989 article stated that air pollution in 70 Russian cities "approaches life threatening levels".

In Magnitogorsk, measurements of of benzene were nine times the legal limit and the population had highly elevated levels of heart, lung and respiratory disease.

The rivers that fed the Aral Sea of Central Asia were diverted and the sea began to die, dropping 13 meters, with only 40% of the water remaining by 1991.

According to a Soviet documentary, 17 billion gallons of toxic petrochemicals were released into the Caspian Sea in 1988 alone!

Drinking water was highly polluted with fertilizers. As a result of this (and other examples of socialist/communist economic stewardship) cancer rates approached 261 per 1,000 inhabitants in parts of the Soviet Union. Need I even mention what the odds of surviving the cancer for five years were?

There's a whole lot more but I'm betting those examples are more than enough for the folks here. Proof positive that the socialist system New York Pravda propagandizes on behalf of is infinitely better than horrible, evil capitalism!

ben July 11, 2007 at 8:31 pm

It just occurred to me: if organic farming really is more land intensive (and how could it not be) then doesn't it follow that, other things being equal, the "environmental footprint" of an organic foods eater is necessarily larger?

NancyB July 11, 2007 at 11:22 pm

I am 71, and remember visiting relatives in Chicago in the 1940s and seeing the grime on the downtown buildings. Those buildings and a lot of the houses were heated by coal. You could dust every day according to my grandmother.

Sam Grove July 12, 2007 at 11:59 am

Where are the A-C trolls?
This just seems like such troll bait.

shawn July 12, 2007 at 1:16 pm

air conditioned trolls? well, they're happily living in their cool air.

shawn July 12, 2007 at 1:17 pm

…we took the money we saved from not following kyoto protocols, and bought them air conditioners.

methinks July 12, 2007 at 2:12 pm

"we took the money we saved from not following kyoto protocols, and bought them air conditioners."

Too bad for the 35,000 people who died in the 2003 heat wave, Europe didn't do the same!

shawn July 12, 2007 at 2:27 pm

…yeah, a friend of mine actually used the a/c as a "look at the unintended consequences of regulation", or "what could we do with the money we spend on complying with questionable standards" situation.

"yes, environmentalism can kill".

Mr. Econotarian July 16, 2007 at 12:28 pm

Non-organic farming probably drops a lot more fertilizer in rivers and bays as non-point-pollution (which causes losses of a wide range of larger aquatic species, but the algae love it), so it is tough to say whether the increased land mass required for organic is "a worse footprint" than a smaller but more over-fertilized non-organic produce.

The pro-organics might also say that the land freed up by non-organic farming just gets paved over as a parking lot anyway, it isn't always released back to wilderness.

Robert Kidder October 10, 2007 at 5:30 am

You brainwashed idiots.

There are hazardous materials in foods, furniture, the air, all sort of products. It would usually cost a matter of a few pennies to replace the hazardous substances with harmless ones, yet this is not done.

More money is spent on marketing products than ensuring they don't harm people. Why? Because profit is the goal, and if it makes people sick it's just an "externality" of no concern.

Your life has ZERO value to the market. Go back to your lead painted homes, eat your hydrogenated oils, get cancer, get overcharged by your "free" market and die.

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