The Bankruptcy of Collectivist Environmental Policy

The Bankruptcy of Collectivist Environmental Policy

October 04, 2002

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Classical liberals have done much over the last century to revive the ideas and ideals of freedom, scoring important gains in the war of ideas. Our partial success owes something to the quality of our arguments but also (and possibly more importantly) to the disastrous economic experiences of the progressive/socialist state. The result is that many are now convinced that classical liberal institutions – private property, voluntary arrangements, a rule of law –offer a superior means of organizing economic affairs. The frontal socialist assault on economic liberty has been thwarted although mixed economy advocates still dominate most policy debates.

But these gains are now threatened by the widespread belief that classical liberal approaches cannot address environmental concerns. Conservatives, liberals and even many classical liberals hold that view. Most classical liberal scholars have viewed environmental policy as a minor challenge compared to economic or foreign policy concerns; environmental policy is perhaps foolish, but not dangerous. That attitude has been particularly dominant among scholars in the developing world who have viewed environmental concerns as irrelevant to their nations. I do not agree and argue in this paper that our neglect of this increasingly powerful policy area threatens all that we have gained over the last century. Having fought back a red tide, we are now in danger of being engulfed by a green one.