DAPL Through a Libertarian’s Lens


The mainstream media and individuals on social media have been putting out a lot of what could be considered ‘spin’ in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s side of the DAPL conflict, over the past 6 months.

At this stage in the conflict, it seems like a non-partisan issue at its core, one which libertarians should be eager to engage people on. Libertarians have been relentlessly against the use of militarized police and the fascism which only naturally will follow; and this is therefore most definitely an opportunity to say: “You see, I told you so. Can we sit down and have a serious talk about liberty and the growing police state?”

It becomes more difficult to defend the actions of the Bakken/police as protesters are demonstrating non-violent civil disobedience, while being met with violence. Claims of extremists or professional agitators have surfaced who are from outside the state, lighting vehicles and tires ablaze as either a means of sensationalizing the conflict, or just misguided outsiders who think they are helping. As the saying roughly goes among proponents of small government, “the government has ceased to be a referee and is now an active player in both the market and domestic affairs.”

The crux of this controversy is whether or not the land being used is in legal violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

The irony is that the liberal elites ignore how the very regulations which are deemed essential or even that we are in dire need of more, act as protections for the benefit of the very industry they are railing against, because of said breach of treaty. Let me also mention that I can quote Barack Obama from just over a month ago, saying “I know many [Native Americans] have come together, across tribes and across the country, to support the community at Standing Rock and together you’re making your voices heard and in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, we’ve made a lot of progress for Indian country over the past eight years and this moment highlights why it’s so important that we re-double our efforts to make sure that every federal agency truly consults and listens, and works with you, sovereign-to-sovereign.” The Obama administration later made vague orders to cease construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in a lame duck fashion, to appear concerned over Standing Rock’s concerns.

While I am on the subject of indigenous people, dare I mention the perception of who is to blame for crimes against them?

According to the commonly-accepted platitude, trade (capitalism by any other name) gets the blame for the atrocities committed by the European settlers, but it was government who sanctioned slaughter of Native tribes to carve a path for expansion into the West, only later to annex them into smaller and smaller areas of land which were of little use to nomadic civilizations. It is a classic case of a collective of people aggressing against another in the name of tribalism. Groups of individuals cannot wage an act of war on their own; they must certainly have an army or at the very least, the law, supporting them. The ways the government interferes with indigenous people’s lives still very much impact them to this day.

As libertarians, we should also make a point of the fact that if eminent domain were not allowed to be enforced, this project may not be happening in the first place or at the very least, it would not be as profitable.  The caveat to this is that eminent domain, from what I understand, has not been used to seize land from Native American reservations, however, stories have been pushed to the shadows of 15 Iowan landowners who are having their land seized through eminent domain.

Of course, the state has no moral right to use eminent domain, especially for the benefit of a private enterprise as opposed to the original intention of eminent domain, which was solely for defense. Libertarians champion an individual’s property rights above all else as paramount to its philosophy, which morally opposes eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture, limits on profits of a growing business, production mandates and price controls. Given that the fossil fuel conglomerates are given state sanction to use eminent domain, this entire project should be up to scrutiny not just to the mainstream media, but the liberty community as well. I understand the “Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” argument from Alex Epstein, but a moral case can’t be made for eminent domain and exclusive legal rights in the market, which end up being difficult and arguably impossible to boycott.

The manipulation of the market in favor of fossil fuels, as well as the subsidization of alternatives in fact are harmful to potentially renewable energy sources, which vicariously benefits fossil fuel conglomerates by the alternative market being sullied. This ignores the most fundamental economic metrics of supply and demand, especially if you consider the risk of creating faux demand of renewable energy which only amount to a 3% net gain despite being 45 percent ($7.3 billion) of the energy subsidies in the US. This runs counter to the claims that the renewable energy industries simply need more subsidization to become viable. To the credit of environmentally-motivated left wing, their point of how invested via market favoritism over the last century is a very compelling point, but regulations have only seemed to stifle competition in favor of continuing that investment.

As far as further alternatives? I know that the libertarian left has been pretty vocal about hemp being a viable commodity to compete with fossil fuels to curb the demand and cost of fossil fuels, which I am sympathetic to that argument, considering that it is illegal to even be considered a competitor in the market.  I haven’t heard much buzz around industrial and biofuel from hemp for a few years, but the economic and energy potentials are rather compelling.

One thing we should consider, is that no matter how outraged we are about the situation at Standing Rock, we are culpable in the demand for crude oil, especially with it being sourced within the United States.

Given that the alternative of transporting crude by rail, which congests railways and is at more of a risk of a spill than a pipeline, it is easy to see why Bakken lobbyists have appealed to the pragmatic vein in legislators. As much as Paul Krugman likes to celebrate America’s economic stability at the moment, he cannot escape the cognitive dissonance that the reason for that has much to do with our self-reliance on natural gas and crude oil.

It can be difficult to talk about how market freedom could very well curb issues of crude transport, especially if you consider the standard way that we view energy as a public commodity rather than a product in the market that is bound to the same predictable economic factors as any other commodity such as milk. Never mind that comparison, even milk is subject to gross market manipulation.

Simply because it’s a difficult conversation to have about the energy market, doesn’t change the very important fact that police are being used as private security for a (barely) private corporation.  I know that most of us don’t see a very easy way to bridge the demographic of progressives, but this is one issue where we may be able to see an issue. The question is, how are we to convince them that the answer is not more government, but rather less?

Trey Weaver is on a proverbial libertarian island in the blue ocean of Minnesota and has pledged unyielding support to the libertarian philosophy since Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign.  Building automation programming engineer by day, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pupil and aspiring webcaster by night.

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