L. Neil Smith's

Number 23, March 1, 1997.

Last Bastion of Collectivism

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Mainstream reviewers have found it hard to ignore the latest book from Charles Murray (who earlier gave us "The Bell Curve," and "Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980.") Especially since Mr. Murray's new "What It Means to be a Libertarian" appears simultaneously with twin volumes by David Boaz of the Cato Institute, "Libertarianism: A Primer," and "The Libertarian Reader." (All books available from Laissez Faire Books in San Francisco; call 800-326-0996.)
         With even the New York Times Book Review feeling obliged to use the "L word," it was inevitable, I suppose, that the house ferrets at the establishment propaganda weeklies would move on to Plan 2.
         When you can no longer ignore them, ridicule them.
         That seems to be the general gist of Michael Kinsley's essay on Libertarianism in the latest Time magazine: It all sounds great, we won't have to pay taxes and we'll be free to do as we like so long as we don't harm others. But then, aha, we learn to our dismay that it'll never work.
         There are "externalities," you see. Without Big Brother to watch over us and put us in jail if we tamper with our catalytic converters, the free market would darken the skies with crud until we all suffocated to death.
         But wait. Let us turn to a superb book which seems to have slipped through unnoticed, perhaps because it documents in irresistible detail not only that the free market has always done a better job of handling such problems, but that expensive, totalitarian solutions generally do more harm than good.
         Chicago economic researcher Edmund Contoski offers us "Makers and Takers" ($25.95 from American Liberty Publishers, 612-789-3908 in Minneapolis.) Skimming to Chapter Eight, "What About the Environment?", I found:
         "At the time of the Clean Air Act (1970) an orchestrated propaganda campaign had convinced the public that the air in our cities was steadily worsening. ... According to Professor Matthew Crenson of Johns Hopkins University, sulfur dioxide pollution had been declining for 30 or 40 years. ..."
         As the free market raised standards of living, people naturally were willing to spend money upgrading their home heating plants from wood and coal to cleaner-burning oil and gas. Furthermore, "By 1970, when the Clean Air Act was passed, auto emissions had already been reduced 70 top 80 percent from the level of two decades earlier," Mr. Contoski reports in his heavily-footnoted, 450-page tome.
         "By 1990 the auto industry was producing cars with 96 percent cleaner exhausts than two decades earlier. Nevertheless, Congress that year passed another Clean Air Act, which would require auto emission to be 97.5 percent cleaner" than the ancient baseline. At a cost of tens of billions of dollars annually -- adding 15 to 25 cents per gallon to the price of gasoline and as much as $1,000 to the price of a car -- the Clean Air Act of 1990 "promised to eliminate an additional -- trivial -- 0.375 percent of pollution."
         How? With catalytic converters, which a 1978 internal EPA report admitted can produce "large amounts of sulfuric acid," the substance which coincidentally started showing up as acid rain shortly after the devices were first widely required.
         The absurdities pile one atop another. EPA Secretary William Ruckelshaus, announcing "We will settle this question on DDT in these hearings once and for all," allows Judge Edmond Sweeney to conduct 1972 hearings which gathered 9,000 pages of testimony, resulting in a finding that the insecticide DDT had saved 100 million lives, was perfectly safe, and should be restored to use.
         Mr. Ruckelshaus attended not a single session of the hearings, read neither Judge Sweeney's decision nor a single page of the testimony, and ruled to continue the DDT ban.
         U.S. studies show that chlorinating drinking water "might cause a slight increase in cancer." Following the U.S. lead, Peruvian authorities in 1991 stopped chlorinating their water. 3,516 promptly died of cholera.
         Freon -- now banned -- is four to eight times heavier than air. If you deliberately pour it into the atmosphere, it flows downhill and gathers in a pool, where it's destroyed by soil bacteria. Even if the stuff got a lift to the stratosphere, there's no longer any reason to believe that "escaping" chlorofluorocarbons "caused" the Antarctic ozone hole, which (it turns out) had actually been recorded by scientists as early as 1956, long before the prevalence of air conditioning of any kind.
         (Anyway, one Alaskan volcano in 1976 threw as much hydrochloric acid into the air as could be produced by 570 years of all the industrial world's output of "greenhouse gases.")
         Meantime, Mr. Contoski documents the near inevitability of higher death rates in Third World countries whose residents will not be able to afford more expensive, less efficient A/C systems ... and so will suffer increased spoilage of foods and medicines.
         Everywhere, government ignores real science, instead seizing its opportunities to expand its power, justifying higher taxes and more bureaucratic meddling in a crude parody of medieval churchmen claiming it's all "for the glory of God" ... except that today's graven image is passed off as "the environment."

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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