Monday, September 28, 2009

Let me decide whether or not to run over pedestrians, "by choice"

I'm a bit overdue for this one, but did you think I'd let it go?:

The old saying has democracy being three wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner. The common rejoinder is that it's the worst system we know, except all the others. Bryan Caplan has markets being the superior alternative. With reservations, I tend to agree.

One of those reservations: Markets give much more choice than democracy, for example, in certain market systems, wolves and sheep alike can purchase mutton at their choice of Super Wal-Mart, Albertson's, or Costco.

But seriously, markets are only as good as the regulations that define them. "Let the market do it" is never an adequate answer. Market failure in the technical sense does exist (and is probably inevitable, although progress is certainly possible), and negative externalities are not a myth conjured up by leftists as an excuse. A market can even be worse than command and control if it creates the illusion in the minds of the gullible (I'm looking at you, "libertarian" global warming denialists) that harm to others is either "natural" or an inevitable precondition for prosperity.

Case in point: Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute. Quoting a recent Monday Message:
By letting entrepreneurs sell electricity from renewable sources to environmentally-minded consumers, competition shifts the costs of green policies to green consumers, keeping rates lower for everyone else.

Dranias would take the ethical imperatives completely out of "going green", reducing it to a matter of fashion. Let consumers--special "green consumers" who care about the moral rights of others, about their welfare, their property, who treat both their neighbors and the distant unseen Kenyan or Bengali as ends in themselves--bear the full cost of this, while the restuvus get a discount for our craven willingness to continue to contribute to harm despite having the harm explained to us over and over and over again.

There are very good reasons for Arizona to not take too bold a unilateral action to lower CO2 emission associated with electricity generation, and less good ones for AZ to not do better at freshwater conservation, although it is important that this is done effectively and with the respect for individuals as having lives of their own that can only be provided by markets. Some of these are referenced, at least between the lines, in Dranias's message. But with his reduction of simple decency to fashion, Dranias is a better enemy of markets than the enemies of markets.

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