No! Not a Kennedy!

Just recovering from agreeing with Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, am I to be forced to agree with a Kennedy? Maybe the Rapture did occur on Saturday; I just thought it was about something else.

Robert Kennedy, Jr., long-noted as an environmentalist, has realized that free-market capitalism is not only compatible with, but friendly toward keeping the environment clean. Before I try to run up and give Robert a big ol’ libertarian hug, I would like to see more such statements and a clarification of his position.

But, little steps for little feet, as they say. Let’s celebrate the fact that people are starting to get it, “it” being the difference between crony capitalism and true capitalism. Strong property rights give citizens a way to protect their own interests. This includes not polluting their own land, which would decrease its value, and the mechanisms for protecting it from pollution by others. No one who owns a waterway need stand by while someone upstream sends all the yucky stuff their way.

A government can impose compliance on alleged polluters for reasons good and bad. The good is that they may get it right now and then. Right is when a legitimate damage based on science rather than hysteria is prevented or punished. The bad part is that government is more about the interests of the strongest lobby than the difference between good science and bad.

Add to that the opportunity for politicians to game the system for their own benefit. Businesses routinely spend obscene amounts of money lobbying for improper permissions to pollute. On the other hand, many spend similar amounts defending themselves from stupid and arbitrary regulations. Like divorce lawyers who share a drink after sucking the life from their respective clients, the legislators could not care less where the spring originates–they just want to drink deeply from their fount of power.

Settling these kinds of arguments through private lawsuits forces complainants to weigh the cost of protecting their property against the chances of losing a frivolous case. I stand a good chance of winning against a neighbor whose barbecue business blackens my house with smoke. Not so if I think his cell phone is altering my brain waves. Loser pays is a great incentive not to burden the courts with goofy claims.

Would private lawsuits always result in just outcomes? Sit down if you are easily shocked. No. Of course not. It would no more than our current system results in perfection. Welcome to reality. It does have the advantage, though, of removing from the system people who benefit from regulating arbitrarily and without accountability.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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