Friday, April 23, 2010

Pollution

Today was Earth Day. I guess its all about saving the environment. To most people, pollution means contamination of air, land, or water… anything that “hurts” the Earth. Of course, with Climate-Gate... "An Inconvenient Truth" is looking more like "An Inconvenient Maybe". The debate on climate change apparently isn't over, and the entire discussion on pollution needs a reboot. There is better way to talk about "pollution", and it involves property rights.

Set aside the simplistic notion that pollution is about saving the animals and the planet. Consider “noise pollution” where motorcycles or parties disturb neighbors with loud decibels. Consider "electromagnetic pollution", for example if power lines installed on your street interfered with cordless phone and wifi reception. You see, pollution is simply contamination of "public property" (for lack of a better term)... meaning anything of shared, common, or collective use. This includes: the air and water around us, the paths we share, the sun shining on us.

While private property is produced, traded or earned... public property is just there. Public property can be owned by people in varying degrees based on variables such as proximity, frequency of use, and right of way. If someone dumps toxic waste on your lawn it’s not considered “pollution”. It’s damage to your individual private property, and tort law lets you sue them for damages. However, if someone dumps waste into a river it is considered pollution. It affects anyone downstream, or potentially even those who fish upstream. In both cases, the individuals holding rights to property deserve compensation for damages. It doesn't matter whether property is owned by an individual or shared by many.

On this Earth Day, I hope our culture will learn how pollution and property rights go hand-in-hand. This would do much to improve our laws and freedoms. Today, we have government created "freeways", which are polluted and congested messes because they are provided for free. Every car on the freeway near my home spews fumes into my neighborhood without compensating me. If highways were privately run toll roads, at least communities could seek compensation from the business for polluting the air in the same way they would sue a factory with a smoke stack. However, such pollution lawsuits are not even permitted. Instead, we have bureaucracies which attempt to regulate and fine pollution away. Government takes the money instead of the polluted individuals who deserve compensation. Everybody loses.

Happy Earth Day.
Now I will shed a tear with my native american friend, for pollution caused by failed enforcement of property rights.




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