“Rick” Stroup was one of the founders of the environmental economics movement; he was a conservationist of the first rank. “Conserving” resources requires accounting for the opportunity costs of using those resources. But in the 1970s the focus of “environmentalism” was command and control; it fell to economists such as Richard L. Stroup, John A. Baden, Terry L. Anderson, and others to point out that prices embody and enforce a concern for opportunity cost better than any alternative system.
The essence of the environmental economics approach is the need to clarify and protect property rights. If the transaction costs of using tort law and negotiations are low enough, many of the problems of pollution and resource misuse are mitigated. In his book Cutting Green Tape: Toxic Pollutants, Environmental Regulation and the Law (Independent Institute, 2000, co-edited with Roger E. Meiners), Rick makes a powerful and incisive argument for claims that many traditional environmental activists found abhorrent: For one thing, you can be too careful, and that uses a lot of resources. Second, focusing liability on actors with deep pockets fails to reduce pollution, but wastes enormous resources on compliance and distorted incentives. Finally, far and away the greatest violators of environmental prudence and principles of conservation are state and (especially) federal government agencies. But the government immunizes itself from even the most basic accountability, while placing at risk the assets of companies and individuals who create value in the economy.
Reason: Let’s talk about this concept of the “unruly torrent.” What do you mean by that, and why is that a kind of controlling image for this passel of interesting columns that you’ve collected?
Will: Well, it’s unruly in the sense that it is a torrent. That is, most of reality is not governed. Most of the time that’s a very good thing. It’s been well said that the essence of the Bible reduced to one sentence is, “God created man and woman and promptly lost control of events.”
Those of us with a libertarian streak—some streaks broader than others, but mine is broad enough—believe that things being out of control is exactly what we want. We want a spontaneous order: up-from-the-bottom creativity rather than down-from-the-top command structures. However, events can be unruly and turbulent and dangerous as well as constructive. And I think we’re seeing the dangerous side in the last period that my book covers.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees, inter alia, the right of the people to be secure in their “persons” from unreasonable “seizures.” The Mohamud and Byrd cases, however, show that a circuit court can decide, without rhyme or reason, that if a person violating that guarantee possesses a federal badge, the person whose rights are violated has no right to a remedy.
Concurring, reluctantly, in the decision by his 5th Circuit colleagues, Judge Don Willett wrote that the implication of this circuit’s precedent is that “redress for a federal officer’s unconstitutional acts is either extremely limited or wholly nonexistent, allowing federal officials to operate in something resembling a Constitution-free zone.”
Willett said “middle-management circuit judges” such as him must follow precedent, but he hoped that “as the chorus” deploring “today’s rights-without-remedies regime” becomes “louder, change comes sooner.” Sooner could begin as soon as Jan. 7.
Christmas at my orphanage began the week before Thanksgiving. All 225 girls and boys, ranging in age from 2 to 18, gathered in our cottages to write to Santa Claus. There were rules for those letters. We could list three (and only three) suggestions for a gift that Santa would leave under our cottage tree on Christmas. Each gift could cost no more than $10 (or about $105 today), which we considered generous.
The letters were distributed among benefactors and Presbyterian church circles in North Carolina. Recipients were asked to provide one gift, but who could resist sending all three? After all, it was probable many donors had read Dickens and wanted to brighten an orphan’s Christmas.
In eight years at the orphanage, none of my suggestions went unfilled. My orphanage pals and I gamed the system with our rule, “Always ask for a wallet.” Why? Who could buy a wallet for an orphan and not slip in some cash? By the time I graduated from high school, I had a drawer full of nice wallets that had barely been used.
The advance payments to alleviate child poverty were partly or fully eroded by the higher prices caused by President Biden’s policy trifecta of increased demand, crimped supply and an accommodative monetary policy. This year’s resulting 6.8% rise in the consumer-price index isn’t likely to slow down, particularly since 40% of core CPI is shelter, composed of rent and owners’ equivalent rent. This measure lags behind housing prices, which are booming. The 9.6% gain in producer prices will also eventually will be pushed on to consumers.
So rather than romanticizing horse-drawn transportation, the next time you hear the line, “Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!” remember that the lyric is somewhat sarcastic—and with good reason. And as you travel to see loved ones for the holidays, take a moment to appreciate the technological advances in transportation safety.