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Author Topic: Rothbard and air pollution  (Read 16747 times)
cryptArchy
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« on: January 02, 2014, 02:41:04 AM »

Not sure if this is posted in the right forum, so please move it the correct area if need be.

I've read Rothbards arguments regarding air pollution as a private property issue, and how such an issue can be mutually resolved between parties.  I'm not trying to sound simple minded but I just don't understand his reasoning on that subject.

For example:  If I held a bon fire in the backyard of my property, could my neighbor under Rothbard's reasoning try to collect damages from be because smoke (a type of pollutant) would be invading his property?

As a side note I love Rothbard, but this seems to be my own sticking point with him.  If somebody could offer a better explanation on this subject it would be greatly appreciated
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« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2014, 05:59:04 AM »

I can't quote Rothbard off the top of my head, but my thinking on this issue was basically molded from reading him. So the following is all me, but probably pretty close to Rothbard.

First, think about the smoke if it wasn't smoke. What if it was just wood scraps? Clearly, it'd be trespassing to just dump wood scraps onto your neighbor's lawn. It'd be trespass against his body to shove chunks of wood up his nose too. So the fact that the smoke is fine particles shouldn't make a difference. The size of what you're depositing on his property doesn't change trespass into something else.

Second, Rothbard sometimes uses the idea of a particular property being a "bundle of rights". This is sort of his way of addressing easements. Basically, you have to consider the chronology to determine if there is trespass.

Let's say person A homesteads some land and on that land burns fires, causing smoke to drift beyond the boundaries of his property. Later, person B homesteads some land "down-wind" to person A and then complains about the smoke. They don't have a claim though, because person A already had an easement for his smoke to pass through the land B eventually homesteaded. Another way to think of it is that the smoke passing through was part of the defining properties of the land B homesteaded, so he cannot complain his land isn't smoke-free, since it wasn't smoke-free in the state he found it.

Reverse the chronology, so that A comes along after B and starts creating smoke, and in this case, B DOES have a claim, since his land was initially smoke-free and thus A had no easement.

Of course, A and B can always come to some sort of additional arrangement. If B was there first, he can still grant permission to A to allow a certain amount of smoke to pass through (either as a friendly gesture, or for payment). But if B was there first, and he will not agree to such an arrangement, then A must stop producing smoke that drifts onto B's property.

Now, most of us are living in situations that are long past the simplicity of the original homesteaders. Without solid documentation of agreements between the original homesteaders, arbitration may be necessary to establish what easements currently exist. For example, if you've been having bon fires in your backyard for a while, and none of your neighbors have complained so far, then it would be unlikely their sudden complaint would be found to be valid (since you've had a defacto easement this whole time). But if you suddenly started producing some other type of pollution, like building a factory that spews out toxic gas into the air, this would be a new form of pollution and not subject to existing easements and thus your neighbors could rightly stop you.

Some object to such strict application of property borders (which, barring existing easements, would prevent ALL pollution), speculating that had such a strict regime been in place, many technological advancements wouldn't be possible (factories, cars, etc.). But this is simply an example of how the state (by not upholding property rights) distorts the market by allowing for externalities. If you were not allowed to pollute (i.e., trespass others' property), you wouldn't cease production. You'd simply have to find a way to capture your pollution to keep it within your property. So you'd probably still have internal-combustion engines in cars, but rather than an exhaust pipe, you might have an exhaust tank that requires emptying everytime you fuel up. Or maybe the added cost and hassle of cars that retain their exhaust would make research into non-polluting technologies more attractive and we'd all have some non-polluting form of car by now.
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« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2014, 09:46:53 AM »

I don't know this for sure but it seems to me that suing your neighbour over the smoke would be more trouble than it's worth...
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2014, 11:23:44 AM »

The smoke analogy was a rather crude way of describing the situation, but it was the only one that came to mind since I could not remember Rothbards original argument on the subject.  From what I do recall he mentioned the privatization of air space on conjunction with business such as factories and those companies being liable for whatever pollutants crossed into other persons properties.  I guess I'll just have to go dig up For A New Liberty and reread that section
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2014, 10:11:54 PM »

I don't know this for sure but it seems to me that suing your neighbour over the smoke would be more trouble than it's worth...

Well of course, that'd be an individual choice based on situation. If you've had clean air for years, and your neighbor suddenly has a bonfire where the smoke that drifts onto your property causes all your expensive lawn furniture to be stained (ruined or at least requiring cleaning), or even gets into your house (since you left the windows open, not expecting smoke) and dirties or ruins belongings in there...then yeah, I can see someone being motivated to seek remedy.

For most of us, a little smoke now and then isn't a big deal. But just because you don't mind a certain trespass (de facto "forgiving" the trespass/granting post hoc consent and thus negating it) doesn't mean someone else has the same opinion. The only person whose opinion is of importance is the owner of the property being infringed by the pollutant.
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« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2014, 03:37:44 PM »

One would need to (1) be able to measure the pollution, and (2) demonstrate that it came from you.  I don't think that these two things could be done for a bonfire.
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« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2014, 05:41:54 PM »

One would need to (1) be able to measure the pollution, and (2) demonstrate that it came from you.  I don't think that these two things could be done for a bonfire.

Really?

Obviously it's going to depend on the situation, but if it's your next door neighbor, and huge plumes of smoke are blowing onto your property, then whipping out your iPhone/camera to satisfy (2) is quite easy. Or if you aren't there to witness, if you come home and all your lawn furniture is blackened with soot, or the white carpet in your house (if you left the glass part of your window open to allow air-flow) is all dirty, then asking around to your neighbors should provide enough witnesses to identify the source.

As to measuring the pollution, that's not always necessary (or really ever, that I can think of). Demonstrating damage is. So the cost of cleaning things that have been dirtied, or the cost of going to the doctor for health problems caused by smoke inhalation; these things can be used in your torte case to demand restitution and require "injunction" against further bonfires.

The bonfire is the easiest case actually. It's the more subtle cases like toxic chemicals released into air/water that are harder to detect, and may only have damaging effects over a long-term exposure so damage is more difficult to prove. Maybe not impossible, but certainly not as easy as the bonfire example.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 08:51:24 PM by Brian Drake » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2014, 12:59:04 AM »

One would need to (1) be able to measure the pollution, and (2) demonstrate that it came from you.  I don't think that these two things could be done for a bonfire.

Really?

Obviously it's going to depend on the situation, but if it's your next door neighbor, and huge plumes of smoke are blowing onto your property, then whipping out your iPhone/camera to satisfy (2) is quite easy. Or if you aren't there to witness, if you come home and all your lawn furniture is blackened with soot, or the white carpet in your house (if you left the glass part of your window open to allow air-flow) is all dirty, then asking around to your neighbors should provide enough witnesses to identify the source.

As to measuring the pollution, that's not always necessary (or really ever, that I can think of). Demonstrating damage is. So the cost of cleaning things that have been dirtied, or the cost of going to the doctor for health problems caused by smoke inhalation; these things can be used in your torte case to demand restitution and require "injunction" against further bonfires.

The bonfire is the easiest case actually. It's the more subtle cases like toxic chemicals released into air/water that are harder to detect, and may only have damaging effects over a long-term exposure so damage is more difficult to prove. Maybe not impossible, but certainly not as easy as the bonfire example.

Your scenario satisfies both criteria. 
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« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2014, 10:24:30 PM »

That is one hell of a bonfire.  Maybe forest fire would be a better description.   
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