Saturday, September 18, 2004


Peter Samuel points out that socialistic activities of governments (such as farm subsidies) are both a major cause of needless damage to the natural environment and a very poor solution to environmental problems. The article was written 30 years ago but the chronic failure of Greenies to learn anything makes it as relevant as ever. Just some excerpts:

"But the first target of conservationists should be those so-called 'development projects' which are not really development at all, because they are likely to require subsidies to make them go. They should be concentrating their anger on schemes which make neither conservation sense nor economic sense. The elimination of these will both improve the environment and increase people's incomes. There are plenty of uneconomic developments which the conservationists could attack. They did this with great success in the Little Desert affair in Victoria recently. But almost every new rural water-storage project in Australia is uneconomic --because of the paucity of market for the produce of irrigated land. Each of these dams is impoverishing the country by consuming resources in the building which could be used productively elsewhere and by putting into business another collection of farmers who will have to be subsidised steadily over the years ahead. Each dam also impoverishes the environment by submerging vast bush valleys and disrupting the whole ecology of the river downstream. Many of Australia's water birds as well as smaller species of river life are threatened by the changes in river behaviour caused by dams.....

In this context, there is no economic logic in further land clearance for farming or for any more rural dams. There is a positive economic case for progressively taking marginal farms out of agricultural production. 'Let the bush grow back' is a sound slogan for Australia in the 1970s. And it opens new horizons for conservationists. Conservationists can demand an end to policies of agricultural expansion and the beginning of reconstruction, and they should be able to get every taxpayer on side. Every acre of land given back to bush will not only improve the national environment but it will save the nation the costs of surplus agricultural production.

But perhaps the most important advice the economist will give the conservationist is that he should harness the price system to his cause. In other words he should try to extend the economic system based on price incentives into the area of 'the environment' and use it to combat pollution. Use of the price system will generally be more effective and practical than use of direct controls or regulations. Take the example of exhaust emission from cars. Being advised by bureaucrats, governments are in the process of introducing a complicated series of bureaucratic controls. All new cars will have to be fitted, for example, with devices suppressing emission of pollutants below one per cent. This regulation may help somewhat in reducing car-exhaust pollution, but it is an extremely crude device. It means that old cars can go on polluting as before. There is no incentive to the car operator, once he has got his car out of the showroom, to maintain his car so that its pollutant emission is kept down. And there is no incentive to the car manufacturer or fuel supplier to get pollution further below the mandatory ceiling emission set in the regulation. Finally, it is an unfair and wasteful imposition on the country man, who lives in an area of low motor-vehicle density.....

The non-economists' answer to the obvious overuse of cars in cities is to say let them congest: do not build the new roads and parking stations which seem justified by the existing traffic flows and congestion. The better answer is to start pricing the use of roadspace according to the cost that the motorist imposes by occupying that space. If he puts sufficient value on the mobility he gets out of using the roadspace at a particular time to pay the costs to the community of providing that roadspace, then equity and efficiency dictate that he should be able to get that roadspace to use. If motorists were charged the costs of the use of their roadspace, and if parking charges were everywhere related to the rentable value of the space taken up by parking, then the car would be brought under control. There would be an indicator of the social value of new roads, and a better use of existing roads, since charges in peak hours would encourage a de-peaking of traffic flows. Public transport would be able to compete on a more equal basis with the car".


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

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