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How do Objectivists deal with human-caused environmental problems -- such as the thinning of the ozone layer by CFCs or groundwater pollution by industry? Is the free market adequate in all cases?

asked Jul 24 '12 at 13:27

orb85750's gravatar image


The free market would fix it. Sooner or later, someone with a vested interest in a certain land or property will take the initiative to clean up or fix any environmental pollution, most likely by hiring someone to do the cleanup work. Also, any advancements in a perfect Objectivist free market economy would eventually focus on clean energy, transportation, etc.

(Jul 24 '12 at 19:02) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

Is "sooner or later" necessarily adequate? I suppose it would depend on the nature and the magnitude of the human-caused environmental problem.

(Jul 24 '12 at 23:32) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

It was interesting to hear in this interview


when Rand stated that she was not necessarily opposed to laws requiring pollution control so long as the cause of the problem and its dangers were understood with legitimate science and it was within the reach of industry to make the changes. It does make sense to me, given that pollution is a human health hazard -- so I think it does rightly fall under the government's role of protecting its citizens from harm if the free market does not take care of the problem. Any thoughts?

(Jul 28 '12 at 18:31) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

For there to be an objective law you would need, at a minimum: an identifiable victim or victims (the environment in general is not enough), an identifiable damage (this I believe is what Rand was getting at above), and an identifiable perpetrator (mankind in general is not enough).

As a specific example, I note that concerns over global warming fail both the first and third criterion, even if the second were proven. Every human being on earth produces carbon dioxide, and global warming is billed as a problem for which everyone (or "the environment") is supposedly a victim.

(Jul 28 '12 at 18:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

George Reisman, who identifies himself as an Objectivist, but who apparently had a falling out with the ARI some time after the death of Rand, has a large part of his book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, dedicated to what he calls "The Ecological Assault on Economic Progress".

He specifically attacks the externalities doctrine in a subpart entitled "Environmentalism and the Externalities Doctrine".

(Jul 28 '12 at 18:53) anthony anthony's gravatar image

OK, but I doubt he would he oppose Rand's comments in that interview?

Ironically, in that interview Rand was grossly incorrect in stating that automobiles do not pollute the air, even though science had shown their emissions to produce dangerous smog -- and she opposed any special controls. Nonetheless, the presence of a catalytic converters in US automobiles became law in the 1970s.

(Jul 28 '12 at 19:06) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Re: global warming -- Right, Anthony -- I was not referring to global warming, which is an incredibly complex and difficult issue for many reasons, not the least of which are the large number of natural physical processes that also produce greenhouse gases, and natural temperature variations too. Something like regional groundwater pollution or heavy smog in an isolated area are better examples of problems that can be fixed.

(Jul 28 '12 at 21:08) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Maybe some cases of groundwater pollution could be traced to a specific cause and effect, but I don't see this as likely with "heavy smog in an isolated area".

Edit: Now that I read about the "Great Smog of '52", maybe it is possible.

(Jul 28 '12 at 21:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The comment about there not being proof that automobile fumes cause pollution is at 20:45.

(Jul 28 '12 at 21:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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In addition to the references already cited, another good summary can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Pollution." Be sure to check the cross-referenced topics, also.

Regarding the brief mention of George Reisman in the comments, his break with ARI was described at the time as "non-philosophical." As I understand the issues, there is no contradiction in classifying him as an Objectivist philosophically, who is not considered suitable for serving on the ARI board of directors. Environmentalism is, indeed, an assault on economic progress, not primarily a movement to make the world cleaner. Observe that the environmentalists themselves emphasize "green" rather than merely "clean."

answered Jul 29 '12 at 02:36

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Thanks for the note about Reisman. I didn't realize that.

I found Reisman's take on externalities to be quite disruptive to some of my long-held beliefs - principles which had been taught to me many years ago in my study of neoclassical economics.

Unfortunately I haven't had time, and maybe never will have time, to really build things back up piece by piece.

(Jul 29 '12 at 08:15) anthony anthony's gravatar image

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Asked: Jul 24 '12 at 13:27

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Last updated: Jul 29 '12 at 08:29