What the hell was I thinking about “green libertarians”?

This week my column is about green libertarianism, something that most people think doesn’t or can’t exist. I like the idea of merging green values with libertarianism because it seems to me that the only way we’re going to start engaging in serious preservation practices is by making them appeal to smart people who believe in the free market system (i.e., libertarians). This was definitely one of those columns where I was thinking while writing, sort of coming up with ideas as I went along. Towards the end, I began writing about what a green libertarian future would look like, which was probably the most interesting part for me. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “What the hell was I thinking about “green libertarians”?

  1. An idea as rich as this needs as much space as you’d get in an Audubon article. You’ve barely touched the surface here and still you’ve stirred up a lot of sediment. I’ll just mention a couple ideas that hit me.

    In my mind, libertarianism is about anarchy and individuality. Currently, though, we link libertarianism with the Republican party. Many Republicans are environmentalists (New York’s former governor Pataki for instance), so there isn’t such a disconnect to begin with. That’s what needs to be tapped into for this to work.

    As far as capitalism is concerned, the U.S. has not cornered the market there. European countries are also capitalist, yet they remain much more ecologically-minded. Whatever model they have worked out is what we should be heading towards. Unfortunately, I think their thousand-year-old culture has something to do with it. How do you get a 240 year-old country to acquire a thousand-yearl-old culture? I don’t know. Maybe we could buy it.

    Hang in there.

  2. European countries aren’t quite as capitalist. They have heavy socialist influences. Libertarians tend to oppose them for this reason.

    You can’t be a libertarian green, really. The major method of improving the environment is through governmental policy, which means more regulation. You have to ban people from spewing pollutants into rivers or producing cars that get three miles to the gallon; the free market has generally done a lousy job on the environment. If the vast majority of the country were passionate members of the Sierra Club then public opinion would force companies to go green and green libertarianism would be feasible, but that’s not happening any time soon.

    What we call ‘libertarianism’ in this country refers to anarcho-capitalism, which is a minor anarchist position anywhere else. In Europe it means anarchist, and anarchists generally oppose capitalism.

    I actually like the European ‘third way’ better, I think it leads to a higher quality of life. Less stuff but more free time to enjoy life. Why the Euros are ahead of us here I’m not sure; there were strong worker movements after WWII that forced a lot of the protections they now enjoy. Anticommunist fear was much stronger in the US and squelched this, I think. Which begs the question of why the US is different; I did read a scholarly article suggesting that religious groups were hostile to the welfare state because it supplanted the church as the source of welfare. There’s also the racial issue; one major opponent of the welfare state in America was the South, because the poor are much blacker here. There was another paper suggesting that welfare states tend to be stronger in mono-ethnic countries, which makes sense given what we know about kin altruism and ethnic nepotism. It is depressing in that it implies we’ll never be able to get too far over here, though.

    One thing I’ve noticed about Annalee’s work is a struggling with the nastier or at least less liberal edges of nerd culture–discrimination against women, a lack of concern for the poor. By and large I think the libertarian strain is waning (the comments on Slashdot are pretty left-liberal, overall, by now) but it was important in the net’s earlier years.

  3. Actually, I think the most promising territory politically in terms of getting votes for liberal causes is exactly in the opposite direction to libertarianism: socially conservative and economically liberal. The idea of harnessing Christianity to liberal economic ideals seems promising: after all, Jesus’ miracles involved free food and healthcare for the poor. And I woudln’t be against cutting down on immigration and outsourcing.

    The catch of course is that these people are way homophobic, etc. I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere on gay marriage soon. Still, given the generation gap in attitudes on homosexuality, I think gays will be able to marry in 40 years or so. But that’s an awful long time to wait for justice.

    Unfortunately all successful politics involves compromise. It’s a question of which principles you’re willing to sell out.

  4. I’d like to distinguish libertarians from anarchists by pointing out their opposite stands on the concept of property. Anarchists tend to be against property, walls, borders, limits, etc. Libertarians tend to be for all of those. Libertarians are even willing to pay taxes to maintain government military forces to protect their personal property.

    Unless a lot of Republicans are now calling themselves libertarian because of the disgrace of being associated with the Bush administration, I don’t think libertarians can add much political weight to the green movement. I also think the green movement is being manipulated by global warming witch hunters like Al Gore, which will keep the smart libertarians away.

    I also see “smart libertarian” as oxymoronic, especially when associated with theories of the free market. The free market presumes people are rational utility maximizers; remember that the next time you find yourself sighing over some consumable item you are willing to pay money for. More to the point, people are willing to spend quite a lot of resources in order to keep up social appearances, which is how you are going to get people to line up for funding sustainable development.

    And the libertarians won’t be in that line. They may be picketing it, however.

  5. Maybe. Katrina seems to have scared a lot of people. Even oil companies are admitting global warming’s real!

    I agree that libertarians aren’t of much use politically due to their small numbers. Most likely Annalee is simply trying to combine the libertarian politics of much of nerd culture with her own green inclinations. Not that there aren’t flat-out liberal nerds; on my trip to Arisia back in 2004 I saw plenty of Dean stickers but nobody else, even Democrats. But hey, I was in Massachusetts.