In a recent post, I mentioned the common misconception that the only way to fight global warming is to cripple capitalism.
You won’t find that misconception more clearly expressed than in this op-ed by Donald J. Boudreaux:
Those of us who recognize these important benefits of capitalism — those of us who understand that capitalism’s true greatness lies not (as many critics insinuate) in producing oceans of pointless trinkets and baubles but in making the lives of ordinary people richer and fuller and longer — are reluctant to yield power to governments to tackle global warming. We worry that this power will kill the goose that’s laying this golden egg.
I actually agree with Boudreaux that capitalism is in part responsible for the remarkable rise in living standards and health over the last 100 years (unlike, if comments are any indication, most readers of this site).
Here’s the thing, though. Free markets do not exist in abstraction. There is no pure form of market. They are created by people, given boundaries and rules, with the aim of producing certain social goods. The de facto goals for western markets have been wealth and health. What’s been left out is sustainability; environmentalists want to incorporate it.
Take a carbon tax, for instance. We tax income. We tax assets. We tax sales. Why is it any more (or less) "capitalist" to tax carbon emissions?
The whole premise is stupid. Fighting global warming is not incompatible with capitalism. To borrow a phrase, capitalism is not a suicide pact.
I really think conservatives believe this — I don’t think it’s just a rhetorical gimmick. They’re trapped in the past, when battles over air or water pollution always boiled down to those who wanted to regulate and restrict business and those who didn’t. I’ll admit that the command-and-control mindset went a little far and became a little kneejerk among environmentalists — though I’d also point out that the predictions of economic doom from the right never panned out.
But I just don’t think the global warming debate parallels those debates very closely. Righties haven’t caught up.
Update [2006-8-16 16:14:52 by David Roberts]: Oh, look, Tim Lambert beat me to it, and did a better job to boot. Just go read him.