Everyone Would Be Burying Nuclear Waste

Dave Barry used to joke that whenever he would argue for a free society, the first objection people would have is "but people would all have sex with dogs." ** Now, Barry is just being funny (as usual) but as in all humor, there is a strong core of truth in his observation.  For years, when I argued that private property rights should be absolute, folks would argue "but then everyone would trash their land."  It in fact became incredibly predictable that someone would ask "how would you stop people from burying nuclear waste on their property?"

Um, why would they?  Would you bury nuclear waste in your backyard?  Well, No.  Why not?  Because it would be dangerous to my kids, and it would reduce my resale value.  OK, so why would anyone else?  No answer.

I call this the "you can't give people freedom because they will do malicious things even if it is against their own self-interest" argument, and George Will observes that it is alive and well in the Democratic Party:

Speaking ill of lenders began when homo sapiens acquired language,
hence it is unsurprising that many people who until recently were
criticizing lenders for not making money available to marginally
qualified borrowers are now caustic about lenders who complied. Clinton
is fluent in the language of liberalism, aka Victimspeak, so,
denouncing "Wall Street," she says families were "lured into risky
mortgages" and "led into bad situations" by those who knew better. So, lenders knew their loans would not be fully repaid?

Jesse Jackson speaks of "victims of aggressive mortgage brokers." But
given that foreclosure is usually a net loss for all parties to the
transaction, what explains the "aggression"? Who thought it was in
their interest to do the luring and leading that Clinton alleges? While
granting that "borrowers share responsibility," her only examples are
those "who paid extra fees to avoid documenting their income" and
"speculators who were busy buying two, three, four houses to sell for a
quick buck." Everyone else has been victimized.

This is exactly the point I made back in April, when I said that the mortgage market was about to become a capitalism Rorschach test, acting a a catalyst to reveal everyone's core beliefs and biases about free markets.  Which it certainly has with Hillary.  But we already knew where she stands, didn't we?

** You wouldn't believe the Google hits I get since I made this post. 

  • Stevo

    Would anyone store nuclear waste on their land? Julian Simon would.
    http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/TCHAR13.txt
    Scroll down to the section on "Disposal of Nuclear Waste" for his explanation.

  • Steve

    Bottom line in both the nuclear waste issue and the mortgage issue is that sometimes people's short term greed outweighs long term rational thinking. You have a neighbor who will gladly take the money to bury nuclear waste in your neighborhood if he was allowed to due it. GUARANTEED!

    Look around! People pollute rivers, over fish the ocean, trade in products for this year's bonus knowing (or ignoring) the long term consequences.

  • Jim Collins

    Clinton is proving herself to be a political windsock. Which ever way the political wind is blowing, she shifts her views in that direction.

    One of the pilliars of the Democratic Party is that people can't be trusted to make the right descisions for themselves, Govenrment has to protect them from themselves.

  • So help me if she becomes president. I'd rather anyone but her. She seems to be oblivious to the core facets on anything. She doesn't even do her own victim speak very well. Lately she's been after "professional and successful women". I ask, why the hell would they side with her, they are inherently the opposite of what she is. By definition she has become a glorified begger at this point, offering no avenue of real success and be sure she will damn any successful, powerful, or intelligent women to a harder life. Especially if they want to stay successful, powerful, or educated.

  • m

    Your point about people not burying nuclear waste on their land because it's not in their self interest is a good one, if we're talking only about primary residence property. But what if a corporation or person buys a plot of land in a neighborhood they don't live in for the express purpose of burying nuclear waste (or, more realistically, creating their own personal landfill, for instance)?

    That's certainly in their best interest as they don't have to pay for garbage removal or disposal and they don't have to deal with the consequences to others of their actions.

    That said, things aren't too much better even with the massive amounts of regulation we're dealing with. In my last home, I didn't live near a landfill, but I did have extremely annoying neighbors...

  • Stevo

    Polluting rivers and overfishing are examples of the Tragedy of the Commons. Because rivers and oceans are owned in common and not individually, the individual profits from over-exploiting them exceed the shared costs of their over-exploitation. The answer in the case of common land grazing was to take it into private ownership, so the owner facing all the costs would guard their own interests. The problem is that rivers and seas can't be owned, not that people are excessively greedy.

    As for this year's bonuses, the question there is why anyone would set a policy giving out bonuses for their sales staff taking on bad risks? Possibilities I've heard are that they were made to by liberal regulations against discriminating against the poor, or that they believed the taxpayer would somehow foot the bill if it all went wrong. Personally, I suspect incompetence - the modern fad of managing by metrics and targets, which is a fallacy akin to that of centrally planned economies.

    But yeah, if storing nuclear waste for money was allowed, I'd do it. Not because of greed outweighing rational thinking, but because of rational thinking and a bit of scientific knowledge outweighing the litany of scientifically and economically ignorant environmentalist panic-mongering that so fills public debate these days.

    Scare stories make a lot of money for both newspapers and environmentalist groups - they get the benefits individually, but the costs are shared by all of society - short term greed being put ahead of the long-term public interest indeed. If you made environmentalists pay for environmental protection measures, instead of allowing them to spend other people's money, it would stop soon enough.

  • OHCTVA

    Has anyone considered that someone's private property is not truly a distinct entity, not separate from other lands in anything except ownership? Consider the local watertable, erosion concerns, watersheds, any existing sensitive ecosystems, etc. Since the typical individual is either ignorant or unconcerned about the health of the whole, reasonable laws need to be enforced to keep owners' potentially selfish interests from literally destroying the earth we all intend to have intact for future generations. (I'm not saying that the current laws are the ideal, reasonable ones.)

  • MarkG

    I could buy the empty lot next to your house (which is a thousand miles from my home) and sell nuclear dumping rights there. I could work as a loan officer and make a big commission on a loan that will be the bank's problem if something goes wrong. How do you police irresponsible moral stupidity?

  • Stevo

    Has anyone considered that someone's private property is not truly a distinct entity, not separate from other lands in anything except ownership?

    Yes.

    Consider the local watertable, erosion concerns, watersheds, any existing sensitive ecosystems, etc.

    To which the immediate answer is, who owns the water table, etc.? Have you also bought rights to dump into it? Because if people are extracting drinking water from it, that's worth money - money that would be lost if it suddenly becomes polluted. If the benefits of dumping waste into it exceed the costs of having to do extra work cleaning the water up, then dumping is better. But this is just an extension of normal business - if a water table is polluted because of naturally occurring minerals, does anyone have to pay? It's not at all unusual. The same goes for the other issues listed - lots of places erode naturally, and lots of sensitive ecosystems are threatened naturally. (I'm not sure what the watershed one is about - that's just the name given to the ridge line dividing river basins.) The idea that the threat posed by a nuclear waste dump is any different in principle to an unprotected natural uranium ore mine such as exists at Oklo in Gabon - which shows signs of having undergone a spontaneous fission reaction cycle billions of years ago and have totally failed to 'literally destroy the Earth' since - is a prime example of the naturalistic fallacy.

    Anyway, all the statistics show that the richer and more capitalist a society is, the less it pollutes. This is for the simple reason that richer societies have more disposable income to redirect from survival into making their surroundings nicer to live in. You can save the world and get rich at the same time.

  • Bearster

    There are several arguments for government control (or outright ownership) of property. They are all variations on the same theme:
    - people are too dumb to do the right thing
    - people are too irrational to do the right thing
    - people are too greedy to do the right thing
    - people are too shorted-sighted to do the right thing
    - etc.

    For examples of this argument, see posts above by Steve, M, OHCTVA, and MarkG.

    You can point out that this makes no economic sense. You can show countless examples of government decision-making that is much worse than anything done by a private individual or corporation (and on a much larger scale). You can prove that private decision making is more efficient.

    Why is this an unpersuasive argument?

    Because morality always trumps practicality. Altruism demands self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is consistent with collectivizing property, massively high taxes, and a nanny state.

  • Rob

    People may be tempted to bury nuclear material on their land for many reasons (they get paid a lot or they are just dumb). In either previous cases, gov't has a legitimate job to protect neighboring property from being damaged.

    So, in theory, gov't would have regulations for storing nuclear material, which would have to be pretty high in order to have total containment to protect neighboring land from being devalued.

  • Stevo

    "...regulations for storing nuclear material, which would have to be pretty high in order to have total containment to protect neighboring land from being devalued."

    Ah, that's different. Total containment might be needed to protect neighbours from leakage (although that's not so hard), but to protect from neighbouring land being devalued requires an understanding of what it is that causes people to lower the value, which certainly isn't any actual possibility of harm resulting from leakage. You had might as well say that the government has a duty to regulate witchcraft because it could depress property prices among devout believers. You no longer require any evidence that actual harm has been done, all you need is to prove a perception of harm, and you're owed a lot of money. There are all sorts of things that can depress property prices, ranging from putting up windmills that spoil the view of the nice countryside to neighbours of the 'wrong' nationality moving in. Property prices are something government has no business protecting.

    Suppose you buy some land, and then someone discovers a lode of a natural radioactive mineral on it - like Granite for example. How is this different in its effects on the neighbourhood from an artificial radioactive waste dump, and what would you propose be done about it?

  • Jim Collins

    MarkG,

    It is real simple. You hammer them if they do screw up. I think that the point of this thread is being missed. What is happening is that laws are being passed on the basis of what someone might do, not for what they have done. Let me give an example. I have to go to the mall this evening. Since I'll be driving, I might decide to run my car through the door and see how many shoppers I can chase up and down the mall. Do we really need a law saying that I can't specifically do this? No. We already have laws in place that make this illegal. It is the same here.

  • One of the problems here is that some people's stupidity, I guess, is tanking the whole economy. Do we let them swing in the wind and allow the the economy to tank? That would be stupid too.

    The problem I see with this whole argument is that yes, market forces will solve all ills. But we all might be dead by the time that happens. In the meantime, we have to live. Some intervention to mollify the problem is in order, regardless of how dumb, stupid, irresponsible, driven by Satan, etc, the people are who got the loans were.

    And many of the loans were given by those who made a quick buck and passed the loans on to others, who did not get burned but made a lot of money.

    And let me tell you, a lot of these loans were hard for a lot of people to understand and they relied on people who were selling them the loans and stood to profit to tell them if it was wise.

    Who doesn't want to own a house if they can? I just sold a home to a couple in Orlando who barely spoke english and it was a major undertaking to get them to understand what they were doing. Their mortgage broker could have sold them the Brooklyn Bridge and they probably would have signed. But I guess they are just stupid people who deserve to be punished too.

    Go get em libertarians, show them the pain and then they will all straighten up. This is why the Libertarians will never be a major party. They are living in a world of ideals, not reality.

  • morganovich

    i think you have missed the boat on this one a bit coyote.

    obviously, there need to be some limits on land use to make for a smoothly ordered society. if i buy up the plot next to your house and put in a cement plant, it's going to have large effects on your quality of life. the same would be true of a stadium or a private helipad or a 30 story building right up on your property line. how about a nice 3 acre skunk farm (or chickens for that matter)? perhaps a coal fired power plant? all of these things are legally permitted under certain circumstances. do you really believe that the cost of resolving conflicts that would arise around the right to do as you please vs quiet enjoyment would be less than the burden of zoning? whose right has primacy? how much does the traffic to my stadium affect your quality of life? the legal morass here would be pretty significant.

    the whole point of things like zoning is that they are a part of the property right. they are one of the underpinnings of value. how much less would your house be worth if someone could build a cement plant or bury nuclear waste next door? the environment around a home is a part of why you buy it. knowing you won't have 80 cement trucks a day drive by the street where your kids play seem like a reasonable thing to value.

    i am not arguing that there are no problems with a zoning based set of contracts and rights, nor that they could not be improved upon (particularly by adding in provisions that less obtrusive use is fine residential

  • morganovich

    i think you have missed the boat on this one a bit coyote.

    obviously, there need to be some limits on land use to make for a smoothly ordered society. if i buy up the plot next to your house and put in a cement plant, it's going to have large effects on your quality of life. the same would be true of a stadium or a private helipad or a 30 story building right up on your property line. how about a nice 3 acre skunk farm (or chickens for that matter)? perhaps a coal fired power plant? all of these things are legally permitted under certain circumstances. do you really believe that the cost of resolving conflicts that would arise around the right to do as you please vs quiet enjoyment would be less than the burden of zoning? whose right has primacy? how much does the traffic to my stadium affect your quality of life? the legal morass here would be pretty significant.

    the whole point of things like zoning is that they are a part of the property right. they are one of the underpinnings of value. how much less would your house be worth if someone could build a cement plant or bury nuclear waste next door? the environment around a home is a part of why you buy it. knowing you won't have 80 cement trucks a day drive by the street where your kids play seem like a reasonable thing to value.

    i am not arguing that there are no problems with a zoning based set of contracts and rights, nor that they could not be improved upon (particularly by adding in provisions that less obtrusive use is fine residential

  • morganovich

    i think you have missed the boat on this one a bit coyote.

    obviously, there need to be some limits on land use to make for a smoothly ordered society. if i buy up the plot next to your house and put in a cement plant, it's going to have large effects on your quality of life. the same would be true of a stadium or a private helipad or a 30 story building right up on your property line. how about a nice 3 acre skunk farm (or chickens for that matter)? perhaps a coal fired power plant? all of these things are legally permitted under certain circumstances. do you really believe that the cost of resolving conflicts that would arise around the right to do as you please vs quiet enjoyment would be less than the burden of zoning? whose right has primacy? how much does the traffic to my stadium affect your quality of life? the legal morass here would be pretty significant.

    the whole point of things like zoning is that they are a part of the property right. they are one of the underpinnings of value. how much less would your house be worth if someone could build a cement plant or bury nuclear waste next door? the environment around a home is a part of why you buy it. knowing you won't have 80 cement trucks a day drive by the street where your kids play seem like a reasonable thing to value.

    i am not arguing that there are no problems with a zoning based set of contracts and rights, nor that they could not be improved upon (particularly by adding in provisions that less obtrusive use is fine residential

  • morganovich

    sorry for the multiple post, guess you should not hit the back button...

    i was trying to post the last part which got truncated:

    i am not arguing that there are no problems with a zoning based set of contracts and rights, nor that they could not be improved upon (particularly by adding in provisions that less obtrusive use is fine residential