Pictures Aren't Arguments

Monday, October 09, 2017

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Business Insider presents a pro-regulatory pictorial mis-titled, "Vintage Photos Taken by the EPA Reveal What America Looked Like Before Pollution Was Regulated." This is a good title like arriving at 800 Main Street is getting home -- when the rest of the address is for the wrong city and the wrong state.

Yes. These photos do seem to make a case for government regulation of various kinds of dumping, but only when we ignore the cause of such abuses. I noted briefly some time ago:
The EPA is a huge, entrenched bureaucracy that we won't get rid of overnight, or without persuading enough people that it is a misuse of government. The EPA runs on loot, violates property rights, and exercises illegitimate authority over private individuals for starters. But did you know that nuisance law had effectively protected property rights such as water quality until it was supplanted by environmental regulations? Or that the EPA can fine companies for pollution violations without proving harm to individuals? Or that it is ridiculously easy to hide rent-seeking within regulations that the EPA knows probably do more harm than good. Or that the EPA adds hundreds of billions to our nation's $2 trillion annual regulatory burden? The EPA has a rap sheet a mile long, and all conservatives can do is complain that it isn't efficient enough? Ironically some environmentalists, such as those at the Property and Environment Research Center, seem to care more about property rights than most conservatives. [bold added]
With the above in mind, let me propose a better title for this pictorial: "What America Looks Like Without Enforcement of Property Rights." And let's not forget how much worse things routinely get in countries where the central planners run everything. I suspect that whatever success the EPA can claim can be attributed to (1) how well it mimicked (intentionally or not) what a private watchdog group could achieve in a free society that enforced property rights, (2) how well the new regulations (intentionally or not) patched over the relaxed protections that caused the problems in the first place, and (3) coincidence. We do have pictures of what even more government control produces, and not just from the former Soviet Union. What we don't have is what America might have looked like during the era of these photographs had property rights not been massively violated in the first place. It is patently absurd to crow about how great central planning has been at solving ... problems largely caused by central planning.

-- CAV

P.S. The above is not to say things would have uniformly been better: Some environmental hazards do require experience or scientific study to become evident. But once they become evident, legitimate law can address them.

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