A Reply To Robert P. Murphy On Clean Air


The article by Mr. Robert P. Murphy I am replying to can be found here. Mr. Murphy also referenced his article on his own blog, and was apparently replying to another article written by Mr. Paul Krugman.

Dear Mr. Robert P. Murphy,

You state in your article, “Perhaps some Americans would rather have slightly lower air standards in exchange for higher rates of wage growth.” I’m afraid I do not understand what you mean by wage growth here. Is it fair for me to assume you are referring to some currency value, like the Chinese yuan? Well, it turns out I can convert the Chinese yuan into something I understand better: fresh air.

Fresh air is apparently 5 yuan per can in Chinese cities. Assuming a 12 fluid ounce can, that’s .35 liters of fresh air. A person breathes about 7 or 8 liters of air per minute, and around 11,000 liters of air per day, though the amount may vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, including the amount of physical exertion the person engages in. So, ignoring the question of how one would manage to breathe exclusively out of cans all the time, that’s around 20-23 cans of fresh air per minute, 31,429 cans per day, 220,000 cans per week, 942,857 cans per month, 11,471,429 cans per year. Converted into currency, that’s 100-115 yuan per minute, 157,145 yuan per day, 1,100,000 yuan per week, 4,714,285 yuan per month, 57,357,145 yuan per year. If you want that in US dollars, that’s $14.39-$16.55 per minute, $22,612.42 per day, $158,284.76 per week, $678,363.17 per month, $8,253,420.15 per year. If you could perfectly utilize all the oxygen from canned fresh air, you could perhaps reduce costs down to a quarter of that, so $2,063,355.04 per year. Individual results may vary greatly. And if a person from China wishes to import Canadian air, then the costs are much higher.

Of course, a person could simply move to one of the places air is being canned and get the same air for whatever the cost of relocation is. However, the population of Beijing, a city where people check air pollution levels like the weather, a city which according to documentary film-maker Josh Fox “never opens its windows,” is about 21 million. Can 21 million people simply be relocated to areas with cleaner air, or might it be simpler and more effective to build some solar panels, solar water heaters, etc.?

Let’s try another conversion. An estimated 1.6 million people die in China due to air pollution each year, and that’s probably an underestimate. There’s about 10 pints of blood in the average adult human body (I realize many of the people dying are not adults, but since this is primarily a symbolic calculation, let’s go with 10 pints). That’s 16 million pints of blood per year, due to air pollution, in China alone.

So… what were you saying about wage growth?

Moving on, you and Mr. Krugman both seem to agree that air quality has improved in the United States, though for some reason Mr. Krugman chose to focus on large cities and you, more or less, replied in kind. Not that I don’t care about people who live in large cities, but I also care about people who live in towns, rural areas, reservations, or, well, anywhere.

Consider, for example, Dish, Texas. The town’s website contains a question and answer section addressing topics of pressing importance to the locals, such as, “Do all pipeline operators have the power of eminent domain?” to which the answer is, “Generally speaking, common carrier pipelines in Texas have a statutory right of eminent domain. Common carrier pipelines are operators that transport oil, oil products, gas, carbon dioxide, salt brine, sand, clay, liquefied minerals or other mineral solutions.” In resolution no. 07-08A passed by the town of Dish, stating their opposition to the “continued pre-emption of municipal regulation” they complain, among other things, “WHEREAS, in order to rapidly accomplish the installation of duplicative and redundant pipeline networks, local citizens and business owners are quickly threatened with eminent domain by the gas utilities and intimidated into executing one-sided permanent easements for nominal consideration.” The town of Dish sent a letter to the state of Texas with their concerns, and a number of other cities with a combined population of 850,000 (as of November 2008) signed as well, including Fort Worth, Argyle, Bartonville, Cleburne, Corinth, Corral City, Crowley, Euless, Granbury, Haslet, Justin, Kennedale, Lake Worth, Little Elm, Mansfield, Melissa, Northlake, Pilot Point, Roanoke, Southlake, Springtown, and Westlake.

In 2009, Dish ordered their own air study from Wolf Eagle Environmental, which states, “Air analysis performed in the Town of DISH confirmed the presence in high concentrations of carcinogenic and neurotoxin compounds in ambient air near and/or on residential properties.” Pollutants found included, “Benzene, Dimethyl disulfide, Methyl ethyl disulphide, Ethyl-methylethyl disulfide, Trimethyl benzene, Diethyl benzene, Methyl-methylethyl benzene, Tetramethyl benzene, Naphthalene, l,2,4-Trimethyl benzene, m&p Xylenes, Carbonyl sulfide, Carbon disulfide, Methyl pyridine, and Diemethyl pyridine.”

In an interview, Calvin Tillman, the mayor of Dish, referring to a release system related to the pipelines, stated, “When things like this happen, most of the people in the community think that they’ve just taken their last breath.” In a later interview, Tiffany Tillman, the mayor’s wife, said, “It really started to bother me when my boys were having nosebleeds. Josh, he’d wake up, and then he’d be panicked because he has blood everywhere. Seeing my baby in that way was kind of traumatizing. At what point do you say, nosebleeds are one thing, but I don’t want to see my child with leukemia and then look and go, well, if I had moved, maybe my child would be healthy.” The Tillmans eventually left town, after years of fighting, with Calvin Tillman remarking, “You know they ruined this guy. His horses started having health problems. Started dying. Started having miscarriages. Started having neurological problems. And strangely enough there’s a bunch of neurotoxins in the air. Funny how that works, isn’t it? […] About half of the people that are on this road right now just filed suit against those companies. […] You don’t know what this is all about. You don’t know how it feels to be run out of your house until you’re run out of your house. […] You owe it to your kids to get them out of harm’s way and it was the right thing to do, but it’s not always the easy thing to do.”

Apparently, we have a word for this — communicide. And, as an aside, I would think that anyone who self-identifies as libertarian would consider the topic of neurotoxins to be of utmost importance. When we talk about inflicting neurological problems on someone, particularly in the brain, we’re talking about theft of free will. If a person cannot even have liberty within his or her own mind, what’s the point in even talking about other kinds of liberty?

Pittsburgh, one of the cities you did mention, actually did try to ban fracking and was told in 2012 by the state of Pennsylvania that they did not have the authority to do so.

You asked, while suggesting for regulation to be handled in lower jurisdictions as an alternative to federal regulation, “Well, if they did­—and assuming they longed for a return to regulation—why wouldn’t LA just pass a citywide regulation?” Replace LA with town of Dish, or any numerous other localities being pre-empted (are there any who aren’t?), and you have your answer; if they were permitted to regulate this they already would have done so (it would more accurately be described as regulating what the EPA hasn’t been regulating rather than returning to regulation).

You also seem to think that so-called “natural” gas is cleaner than coal. I honestly don’t know if that’s true. The coal, oil, and gas industries harm different people in different ways, and that includes both current and future generations. Even if I could do the math, choosing between them would be playing God. We do not want coal. We do not want oil. We do not want “natural” gas. We do not want nuclear fission. We want renewables: solar, wind, geothermal, etc., and the hydrogen economy. Honestly, rolling blackouts would be an improvement over the status quo.

Here, within the context of arguing that richer people can afford a cleaner environment, you state, “…while improvements in electrical transmission allowed power plants to be located near coal mines rather than cities.”

What that does is shift the air pollution from burning coal onto coal country people rather than city people. Are you advocating in favor of this solution or just mentioning this as a historical fact? In any case, outsourcing violence onto others does seem to be how the ruling classes of colonial nations have been getting rich ever since they were founded.

As an example, consider racial slavery in the US. Edward Baptist writes, “the 3.2 million people enslaved in the United States had a market value of $1.3 billion in 1850–one fifth of the nation’s wealth and almost equal to the entire gross national product. They were more liquid than other forms of American property, even if an acre of land couldn’t run away or kill an overseer with an axe.” According to Waldron H. Giles, Ph.D, “The results of the economic value of this free [unpaid] labor are, when inflated conservatively at 3% to 2006 dollars, a staggering value of  20.3 trillion dollars or to put this number in a more visual perspective; it amounts to $563,450 per African American currently living in the US.  This amount is low since slave labor was counted from the year 1700 instead of 1619 and, as mentioned previously, the census data, in all likelihood, is low for various taxing demands and for those members of the Black race that were able to pass for white or elude the census.” And while millions of slaves were freed (though did not receive reparations), it’s not as if slavery hasn’t continued to be part of our economy. There are an estimated 45.8 million slaves in our economy as of 2016. Gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum mined by slaves in the Congo are in our jewelry, our medical devices, our electronics, our cars, etc. Slaves in India make our carpets. Slaves in Qatar are preparing our 2022 World Cup. Slaves in the Ivory Coast grow the cacao beans for our chocolate.

Also, consider the long history of atrocities against indigenous peoples. Even in 1675, the English attacked the Narragansett tribe for providing shelter to Wampanoag women, children, and other non-combatants, and refusing to help the English against the Wampanoag. This disrespect not only for American Indian land claims but for the lives even of non-combatants and those who would shelter them was typical of colonial attitudes as westward expansion continued. Moving forward to more recent events, from a publication released by Honor the Earth, “In the US— the largest and most inefficient energy economy in the world— tribal communities have long supplied the raw materials for nuclear and coal plants, huge dam projects, and oil and gas development. These resources have been exploited to power far-off cities and towns, while we remain in the toxic shadow of their lethal pollution and without our own sources of heat or electricity.”

Winona Laduke writes, “It was the lethal nature of uranium mining that led the industry to the isolated lands of Native America. By the mid-1970s, there were 380 uranium leases on native land and only 4 on public or acquired lands. At that time, the industry and government were fully aware of the health impacts of uranium mining on workers, their families, and the land upon which their descendants would come to live.”

A Sioux elder, Charmaine White Face, remarks, “This is where the physical genocide of our people is coming in, because we have more than three thousand abandoned open pit uranium mines that have been here for years. All that radioactive dust, constantly. We’re breathing it in constantly. It, it has gone down into the ground water. We drink it. It’s on the surface water. We drink it again. Um, the cattle, all the animals, horses, everything, they eat the grass, we pick berries, all those are covered with radioactive dust.” I would also like to point out that Australian authorities torture children, often Aboriginal children.

“Affording” a cleaner and less corporeally violent environment that leads to more poison and corporeal violence for others is not what we want. We want a clean and non-corporeally violent environment for everyone. Even the smokestacks you suggest are just harm reduction, not endgame. As Stoic philosopher and former slave Epictetus said, “When, then, have I told you that my head alone cannot be cut off?”

You state, “If a society starts out on the edge of starvation…” If a society starts out? Are there any new societies in the world? Is God or Nature or anyone else depositing brand new groups of humans, separated from the global economy, to start out somewhere? However, if you want to talk about starvation, consider our hermanos y hermanas en México. I’m not intimately familiar with the subject, but Noam Chomsky blames a deadly mix of NAFTA and US subsidies to the biofuel industry, and Carlos Salas et al. talk extensively about NAFTA and related topics. Regardless of how you choose to analyze the topic, starving Mexicans were not deposited on the planet to start out on their own, there were events leading up to starvation, and they are part of our economy, just like the children working 140 hour workweeks locked in with carpet looms, under threat of beating are part of our “rich, modern economy.”

You speak of climate change and local issues as if they are two distinct things. Climate change is ultimately easiest to understand as a bunch of local/regional issues. For example, Australians had to add two new colors to the temperature spectrum. The Arctic is also hotter than expected. According to John Vidal at the Guardian, “Danish and US researchers monitoring satellites and Arctic weather stations are surprised and alarmed by air temperatures peaking at what they say is an unheard-of 20C higher than normal for the time of year. In addition, sea temperatures averaging nearly 4C higher than usual in October and November.” Trying to figure out how all these local and regional issues interconnect is more difficult, but an internet search for “climate change” and  “uneven warming” reveals many opinions.

Regarding Mr. Murray Rothbard, let me first state that I find the speed at which he was able to open and close his heart to be, shall we say, disconcerting, and at times, terrifying. Though, to be fair, this seems to be a common feature among idealists (God save us from idealists!). That said, as of 1979 he rated far better than Ms. Ayn Rand on his views towards American Indians, in that he at least felt the tragedy of the horrendous slaughter, even if he didn’t fully recognize their claim to the land, and far better than Mr. John Locke in terms of how he lived his life. The only thing I could fault him for would be failure to distinguish actual crime rate from conviction rate, which is an issue in a society where the rule of the law is not equally applied to all.

However, the main point, the opposition to locking people up in detention centers merely because they might commit a crime, was good. Mr. Rothbard defends imprisonment by referring to it as a “voluntary boycott” on the part of landholders. Going from reading something written from an open heart to something written from a closed heart over the space of a mere page gives my heart whiplash. But I digress.

Looking at the passage you linked to, that’s the fourth section of Chapter 13 “Conservation, Ecology, and Growth” of For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. I hope you don’t mind if I expand this discussion to include the entire chapter, not just the fourth section, and maybe a few other chapters as well, for reasons of context. Starting out with the first section, “Liberal Complaints,” we see that Mr. Rothbard is fighting with people he labels as “liberal intellectuals,” and, based on his characterizations of these peoples’ arguments, they do not appear to be worthy opponents.

This chapter could’ve been so much better if Mr. Rothbard had picked worthier opponents, for example, Russell Means’ July 1980 speech, read from “Capitalists, at least, can be relied upon to develop uranium as fuel only at the rate which they can show a good profit…I look to Vietnam and I see Marxists imposing an industrial order and rooting out the indigenous tribal mountain people.” If it makes it easier to read you can substitute what Russell Means calls “European” with “colonialist.” In all fairness, that was seven years after Mr. Rothbard published his book. In any case, indigenous philosophers tend to be far more competent than those Mr. Rothbard refers to as “liberal intellectuals.”

Moving on to the second section “The Attack on Technology and Growth,” here’s an interesting passage, “The fashionable attack on growth and affluence is palpably an attack by comfortable, contented upper-class liberals. Enjoying a material contentment and a living standard undreamt of by even the wealthiest men of the past, it is easy for upper-class liberals to sneer at ‘materialism,’ and to call for a freeze on all further economic advance. For the mass of the world’s population still living in squalor such a cry for the cessation of growth is truly obscene; but even in the United States, there is little evidence of satiety and superabundance. Even the upper-class liberals themselves have not been conspicuous for making a bonfire of their salary checks as a contribution to their war on ‘materialism’ and affluence.”

While acknowledging that “upper-class liberals” are the wrong messengers using the wrong words (unless they are serious about wishing to remove slavery, etc. from the products they buy), there are plenty of people who do not want your civilization and might not agree that they are living in squalor, and even if they are, might not necessarily prefer industrial solutions, especially if industrialism/colonialism caused their problems to begin with. From Crazy Horse, “We do not interfere with you, and again you say why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization! We would live as our fathers did, and their fathers before them.”

According to Eriberto Gualinga in Saryaku, Ecuador, “The oil companies say we are poor. We are poor and we should have other form of development. We should have cars and all the luxuries they have in the city. But for us, territory is enough. I am a poor man with 135,000 acres of land. That land will supply. I can hunt, fish and roam freely without stress and worry. With freedom. We think we are rich at a spiritual level.” In Saryaku, the government backed up the oil companies with military forces, but the people there had a video camera, and now a documentary edit bay, with an Internet hook-up, run by solar panels, and they resisted, not with arms but with media and the law, in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where they won a case against the Ecuadorian state, though it seems the ruling was not respected. According to a man in Peru, “They started extracting oil from our territory, from Cucama, and from other indigenous territories like Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre, and the Marañón, exactly 43 years ago. Companies and the state gave away oil concessions in our territories and in other indigenous territories, always under the banner of oil as development. ‘With oil, Peru and you will develop. Your quality of life will improve.’ The state comes in and imposes Western knowledge on us leaving our customs aside. Like our knowledge of medicinal plants and our native tongue. So we wonder where the development the state promised is. Our conditions are worse. Before the oil companies came in our ancestors ate healthy fish. They weren’t at risk of getting sick. Now we eat our fish and get sick. For us, oil means death, destruction of the Amazon, and the squashing of our rights as indigenous people.”

As far as myself, I have been homeless multiple times, and there are far worse things in this world than sleeping outdoors, even in the winter, so why should I fear rolling blackouts, even if it comes to that? I do fear lack of clean air and clean water.

Moving onto the next paragraph, that is a gross underestimate of the indigenous population of Turtle Island (what Mr. Rothbard refers to as North America) pre-colonialism. I’m guessing Rothbard got the 1 million number from James Mooney’s 1910 or 1928 estimate of pre-colonial population north of the Rio Grande. More recent estimates of the pre-colonial population of Turtle Island, north of present-day Mexico, based on attempts to take depopulation into account, range from 5 million to 18 million. Regarding the living standard, just look at the conditions on Pine Ridge Reservation, also known as Prisoner of War Camp Number 334. I do not intend to imply a blanket opposition to all technology, but let us not pretend that indigenous people have benefited from colonialism, nor deny their own technological contributions, for example terra pretta from the indigenous Amazonians, which enabled them to terraform some of the world’s poorest soil into some of the world’s richest and most stable soil, allowing the area to support large populations prior to European arrival. Moving on with Mr. Rothbard’s chapter, there is too much emphasis on the consumer here and not enough on those harmed during the production process — slaves, indigenous people, local populations, etc., though I do completely agree with cutting military spending.

Third section of Mr. Rothbard’s chapter “Conservation of Resources”: Again, it’s glaringly obvious that the people he chose to fight with are not worthy opponents. I doubt whether indigenous and local populations harmed by colonization and imperialism generally care all that much whether the perpetrators self-identify as capitalist or socialist or whatever, and, according to Russell Means, the Marxists are actually more efficient at this than capitalists. Certainly, the air quality in Chinese cities is nothing to envy. Thus, a worthy opponent would’ve spoken of “colonial greed” and “imperialist exploitation,” regardless of what economic theory those responsible subscribed to. As for private property, in the sense that Westerners generally use the term, allegedly being a necessary component for motivation to protect, just look at Standing Rock and the DAPL protests: indigenous people and others willing to risk rubber bullets, batons, attack dogs, etc. Western conceptions of ownership are not required; possibly something closer to stewardship.

You could probably partially fix Western conceptions of ownership if you divorced the concept from the “castle doctrine.” According to Margaret Johnson, “Related to this doctrine, the home, historically, was ‘the castle’ where the male head of household could govern the inhabitants as he saw fit. As a result, if the head of the household inflicted physical or other forms of abuse in the home on his wife or children, the state was unable or unwilling to step in and enforce criminal laws. For many years, there was a sense that the home is, or should be, an inviolable place even if violence was being perpetrated by one family member against another.”

Mr. Rothbard would seem to be a supporter of the castle doctrine. Take the last two paragraphs on page 53 for example, though it is not nearly so dark an example as domestic violence. Still, by what other means would a prohibition against speaking in a home be enforced? Seneca wrote, “That which annoys us does not necessarily injure us; but we are driven into wild rage by our luxurious lives, so that whatever does not answer our whims arouses our anger. We don the temper of kings. For they, too, forgetful alike of their own strength and of other men’s weakness, grow white-hot with rage, as if they had received an injury, when they are entirely protected from danger of such injury by their exalted station. They are not unaware that this is true, but by finding fault they seize upon opportunities to do harm; they insist that they have received injuries, in order that they may inflict them.”

Or turning back to page 52, “If a man has the right to self-ownership, to the control of his life, then in the real world he must also have the right to sustain his life by grappling with and transforming resources; he must be able to own the ground and the resources on which he stands and which he must use. In short, to sustain his ‘human right’—or his property rights in his own person—he must also have the property right in the material world, in the objects which he produces.” Is this an admission that Mr. Rothbard’s “liberty for everyone” is really just “liberty for landowners,” or is there someplace he has suggested a way it is possible for everyone to be landowners? Contrast to this passage from Luther Standing Bear, “The worst thing a Sioux parent did was to pour cold water on a child’s face. This would awaken sleepy boys and girls, and they would be ashamed of themselves. We were never whipped nor severely punished, for Sioux parents did not believe in whipping and beating children.” There, no castle doctrine nonsense from the Sioux. As another example, though still fighting for the return of the Black Hills, according to Lionel Bordeaux, “We know that people are utilizing the Black Hills for their daily living, and it’s never been our intention to remove anybody. We have to coexist.” By the way, give back the Black Hills!

And regarding “homesteading” of land taken from American Indians, I’ve already gone at length regarding my feelings on that elsewhere. You will never have justice on stolen land! And as Sun Tzu wrote, “nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”

Anyway, moving on at last to the fourth section of Chapter 13 “Pollution” the section you actually linked to, that’s actually a very pro-environmentalist passage of text for someone arguing in favor of lower air quality and higher wage growth, whatever that means, to link to in a favorable light. If only Mr. Rothbard were more consistent, he might’ve been a green libertarian or something close to it. If nothing else, we can call this particular passage, “Green Pollution.” Rothbard’s heart was open when he wrote it.

See on page 319, “Air pollution, after all, is just as much aggression as committing arson against another’s property or injuring him physically. Air pollution that injures others is aggression pure and simple.” And on page 322, “The argument that such an injunctive prohibition against pollution would add to the costs of industrial production is as reprehensible as the pre-Civil War argument that the abolition of slavery would add to the costs of growing cotton, and that therefore abolition, however morally correct, was ‘impractical.’ For this means that the polluters are able to impose all of the high costs of pollution upon those whose lungs and property rights they have been allowed to invade with impunity.” And from pages 324 to 325, “Moreover, a defense of air pollution does not even defend property rights; on the contrary, it puts  these  conservatives’  stamp  of  approval  on  those  industrialists  who  are  trampling  upon  the  property  rights  of  the mass of the citizenry.” If you really believe in the passage you linked to, you should go green, by which I mean, sign up for renewable energy on your electric bill, install solar panels on your home, and things like that.

Granted, the idea of privatizing lakes and rivers is somewhat terrifying; see concerns about castle doctrine above (especially if this “privatizing” involved the government simply selling the lakes or rivers or whatever to the polluters). I would propose, rather, that anyone who wishes should be permitted to defend the lake or river from pollution, but most especially the locals and those they choose to invite to aid them in their cause, which is basically what the people of Standing Rock and those who stood with them have tried to do. From this passage by Plutarch, speaking of Solon, an ancient Athenian lawmaker following Draco, “And for the greater security of the weak commons, he gave general liberty of indicting for an act of injury; if any one was beaten, maimed, or suffered any violence, any man that would and was able might prosecute the wrong-doer; intending by this to accustom the citizens, like members of the same body, to resent and be sensible of one another’s injuries. And there is a saying of his agreeable to his law, for, being asked what city was best modeled, ‘That,’ said he, ‘where those that are not injured try and punish the unjust as much as those that are.’” Also known asho boulomenos.”

A single person, whether or not they have a deed that says they own the place, can often be easily intimidated into not standing up for themselves. Mr. Rothbard himself suggested class action lawsuits against pollution be permitted (pages 321-322), which would be another way of allowing people to defend those who are not in a position to defend themselves, though I am unsure how such a concept would apply to protestors.

On the beginning of page 323, Mr. Rothbard starts talking about economic incentive, as if consumers are heartless creatures who will buy whatever is cheapest no matter how unethically the commodities are produced, and the corporations comprise people with no ethics at all other than pursuit of the almighty dollar. This does seem to be a fairly accurate description of the typical US consumer, and of many of the most powerful corporations (see discussions of slavery and colonialism above). Many of the same heartless people who keep voting for war are the same heartless people who feel no sense of disgust or other suitable emotion or thought when buying products produced with slave labor, even after being informed of the issue. However, blaming the whole problem on lack of court prohibition (courts that are run by the government, I might add), is not a fitting argument for someone who self-identifies as an anarchist to make. If Mr. Rothbard had so much faith in the ability of people who work things out to his satisfaction without government, by the same reasoning, he should have had faith in the ability of people to work things out in spite of government. Consumers, or at least informed consumers, are just as capable of prohibiting this as any court, right up until the point where they are robbed and given the product whether they want it or not. Corporate people could likewise go on strike against performing unethical work. Whether we are discussing legal systems or economic systems, the flaw is always in the human heart.

I believe part of Mr. Rothbard’s problem (not just his problem, but, the shared problem of most if not all money-centric economic theorists) is lack of understanding of how barter culture works. Again, Mr. Rothbard is not alone in his misconceptions, but apparently we are scrutinizing him right now. Therefore I draw your attention to pages 5-10 of his book What Has Government Done to Our Money, specifically the chapters entitled “Barter” and “Indirect Exchange.” Mr. Rothbard, like all other money-centric economic theorists I have read, proposes only two methods of bartering: direct exchange and indirect exchange.

Based on my own experiences with how people trade with each other when there is little or no money available, direct and indirect exchanges comprise only a small percentage of transactions. I could write about the topic at length, but to try to give you a brief summary, let’s use Mr. Rothbard’s farmer and shoemaker example. There is no reason for the farmer to wait until he actually needs shoes to start planning to obtain them. Instead, he can simply distribute his food/other crops (or things he can trade his crops for) as he harvests them, not only to people who can pay immediately, but also to those who may be able and willing to help him in the future, including the shoemaker, and perhaps after that to others as well. This isn’t capitalism or socialism, but something far, far older. What the farmer is doing is raising his popularity. By popularity, I do not mean simply making people like him, but more to the point, inspiring people to care about his life and well-being enough that they are likely to help in the future if it is within their ability to do so. If the shoemaker is paying attention, he’ll likely craft better shoes more frequently for those who are more helpful to him. People who fail to become popular can be penalized through boycott and those who are good at becoming popular can be showered with gifts. I am quite confident that this can and often does work, because if it didn’t, I would likely be dead multiple times over by now.

Gossip is essential to this process, so a non-violent variation of barter culture abhors all restrictions on speech. Also, you can barter with anything, including words and facial expressions. Good storytellers and good listeners can be in demand, particularly among people who do not own televisions and do not trust the psychiatric industry. In any case, since popularity is so essential to the system, barter culture basically runs on etiquette, and not necessarily just one code of etiquette, but likely multiple competing codes of etiquette, and may the best code of etiquette win!

With regards to more violent barter culture, fear can be substituted for popularity, but since a lone thug isn’t likely to pose much threat in an otherwise nonviolent culture, the real problem is when violence becomes normalized. The two ways I can see violence being normalized are when it is either openly considered acceptable by the prevailing codes of etiquette, or when it is deliberately ignored, when people choose not to see it, for example when people declare that they are being “tortured” just by being shown evidence that their chocolate is being made with slave labor, that the person showing them the evidence is a psychopath for not caring about their delicate sensibilities, and that it’s their God-given right to continue buying chocolate in ignorance of how it is made. I suppose you could add a third, outside invasion, but that requires violence to first become normalized elsewhere.

Mr. Rothbard is right, at least, that money is just another commodity, and in that sense your modern money-based economic systems could theoretically be vastly improved. Part of the problem is that too many people project their judgment of whether or not to consider someone popular onto the money itself, or onto the illusion of money, when, for example, speaking to someone who dresses above their station to pretend to be richer than they actually are. If I’m wrong, then why do so many people who self-identify as right-wing, capitalists, Republicans, or whatever, assume that rich people are rich because they are productive, deserving members of society and that rich people are therefore trustworthy and worthy of respect? Why do so many people who self-identify as left-wing, socialists, Democrats, or whatever, assume that rich people take advantage of the “poor” (by which they too often mean merely people in the US earning somewhere between minimum wage and whatever they consider to be the upper end of poor, not the slaves in the Congo etc.) and that rich people are therefore untrustworthy and ought to be taxed or otherwise restricted more (a notable exception being Free the Slaves, who simply ask businesses to go slavery-free)? And why all the assumptions about whether poor people are poor because they were lazy or because they were exploited, but oddly, few think of actual violence as a possible reason (a notable exception being the Australian Greens, who point out domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness in their country)?

When people believe that a person’s current level of wealth is enough to prove anything about their value as a person, it causes economics to become divorced from etiquette. Wealth can and does affect power imbalances, so it does play a factor in risk assessments, but it should be stressed that merely because there is a power imbalance does not mean the rich person will necessarily take advantage of it. It’s the difference between acknowledging the potential danger of dealing with person with a knife because they could stab you if they chose, and believing that they really mean to go through with it. When economics is divorced from etiquette, what you are left with is, “right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” And thus you get a world economy based on slavery, colonialism, genocide, imperialism, pollution, etc.; in short, a world economy based on war. Improve the etiquette, and the economic and legal systems will follow. Though perhaps part of the point is to make the legal systems go obsolete, as Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, wrote, “Etiquette relies on voluntary compliance.”

Returning to Chapter 13 of For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, on page 320, “To do so, the courts had to—and did—systematically change and weaken the defenses of property rights embedded in Anglo-Saxon common law.” I can’t think of any time within over two thousand years that the common law of England and her colonies defended property rights up to a standard Mr. Rothbard would approve of, if he had the opportunity to look at the history with greater scrutiny (and that’s taking into consideration that even by 1979 Mr. Rothbard would not agree with my own opinions on the question of land stolen from indigenous people).

Even before the Romans invaded Britain, there is archaeological evidence of the existence of slavery during the Iron Age: slave irons found at a site near St. Albans, a gang chain discovered on Anglesey. There’s also these passages by Strabo, “These things, accordingly, are exported from the island [Britain], as also hides, and slaves, and dogs that are by nature suited to the purposes of the chase; the Celti, however, use both these and the native dogs for the purposes of war too…For the purposes of war they use chariots for the most part, just as some of the Celti do…However, he [Julius Caesar] won two or three victories over the Britons, albeit he carried along only two legions of his army; and he brought back hostages, slaves, and quantities of the rest of the booty. At present, however, some of the chieftains there, after procuring the friendship of Caesar Augustus by sending embassies and by paying court to him, have not only dedicated offerings in the Capitol, but have also managed to make the whole of the island virtually Roman property.”

The Romans invaded in 43AD and conquered Britain. The Romans were imperialistic and enslaved people rather brutally. See, for example, Seneca, “All this time the poor slaves may not move their lips, even to speak. The slightest murmur is repressed by the rod; even a chance sound, – a cough, a sneeze, or a hiccup, – is visited with the lash. There is a grievous penalty for the slightest breach of silence…I shall pass over other cruel and inhuman conduct towards them; for we maltreat them, not as if they were men, but as if they were beasts of burden,” and  Plutarch, “Through no misconduct of theirs, but owing to the injustice of their owner, they were kept in close confinement and reserved for gladiatorial combats.” There is a tablet from the era of Roman Britain documenting the sale of a slave. Neil Faulkner writes, “[The Roman] conquests more than paid for themselves in booty, slaves and tribute. War was highly profitable.”

Ties between Roman Britain and Rome were officially severed in 410AD when Emperor Honorius told the people of Britain, who were being attacked by Picts and Saxons, to look to their own defenses. The Anglo-Saxon era soon began. If Mr. Rothbard was referring specifically to this era, he was out of luck; nothing that begins in conquest ever turns out well. Slavery was normalized throughout the entire Anglo-Saxon era. Not only that, but according to Ine’s Code, “If, however, a freeman works on that day [Sunday], except by his lord’s command, he shall be reduced to slavery, or [pay a fine of] 60 shillings. A priest shall pay a double fine.” Also, “If, however, he steals with the cognisance of all his household, they shall all go into slavery. A ten year old child can be [regarded as] accessory to a theft.” Worse, in the law of Æthelberht, “If a man buys a maiden, the bargain shall stand, if there is no dishonesty,” and “If a man forcibly carries off a maiden, [he shall pay] 50 shillings to her owner, and afterwards buy from the owner his consent. If she is betrothed, at a price, to another man, 20 shillings shall be paid as compensation.” Looking back on Anglo-Saxon era, William of Malmesbury wrote, “There was one custom, repugnant to nature, which they adopted; namely, to sell their female servants, when pregnant by them and after they had satisfied their lust, either to public prostitution, or foreign slavery.”

In 1066, Edward the Confessor died and the Norman invasion came in the form of a succession war, which was, at least, a brief war, with William the Conqueror emerging victorious. Slavery (for some definition of slavery), or at least the brutal Anglo-Saxon version of it, rapidly declined during William’s reign, and had mostly vanished (or at least, been converted into the milder form known as serfdom) within about half a century of his death, though legalized racial slavery would later take hold, only to be legally abolished in 1833, though given that the “freed” slaves were “compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters” for four years afterwards, perhaps 1837 would be a more accurate date.

The history of serfdom, feudalism, indentured servitude, and racial slavery of England and her colonies and empire is long, but I would like to draw your attention to one of the vestiges of feudalism that exists into the present: manorial mineral ownership, or as it is more often called in the US, mineral rights. When severed from surface rights, it is often called a split estate situation; this is when the legally recognized landowner is not legally recognized as owning the minerals beneath their land, and the mineral rights are often dominant, meaning the mineral rights owner is legally permitted to destroy the surface, often with little or no compensation, to access the minerals. If you look again at the town of Dish website, you can see that mineral rights are another thing the locals there are worried about.

Here are a few quotations from interviewees in the documentary Split Estate, all from within the first seven minutes of the film:

“We are in a split estate situation, where we own the surface and someone else owns the mineral rights, and what happens in Colorado and in I think in most western states is the mineral rights are dominant.”

Another said, “We have uh 70 acres here, and I can’t convince them that they need to drill somewhere besides 200 feet from our house.”

Another, “Sometimes I said, you come out here and live, you come out here and live in my house for a week. I have no rights.” Another, “Don’t believe for one minute that anything is off limits. 150 feet away from your house, one and a half times the length of the derrick. So if it falls over, it won’t hit your house. We see this look on people’s faces, and they get that look, and they say ‘Well wait a minute, that can’t be right. That’s not fair. That can’t be.’ But it is. That’s the way it is.”

If this film isn’t a blatant cry out for help from right-wing environmentalists to other right-wingers such as yourself (and Mr. Rothbard, if he were still alive) to join the green movement, I don’t know what is. From later in the film (~48:08-56:34), Steve Mobaldi speaks of his wife Elizabeth “Chris” Mobaldi, “And then everything changed. Chris would get in the shower and her skin turned bright red. I think it was in ’96. It hurt her skin, it was burning, on fire, she would swell…I’d feel dizzy, um, I’d get bloody noses…I was afraid she was gonna bleed to death. She’d wake up in the morning and she would be covered in blood and her nose would be bleeding just like crazy. The pillow was covered in blood. The sheets were covered with blood…Put a glass of water out and let it sit overnight and there was like a little oil slick on top…it burned…this was the water that they said was safe to drink.”

Since you were arguing with Mr. Krugman about the EPA, you might be interested in what EPA employee Weston Wilson had to say about the situation (~50:19-51:08), “Last year, EPA got several citizens’ requests from Garfield County. And the citizens were saying, ‘Gosh, my drinking water might be contaminated by this practice. Or the air we breathe might be affected. EPA, can you look into it?’ EPA should have. Um, myself and another staff person, we had prepared the letters, and we were ready to write to the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, that we felt that this practice imminent substantial risk to public drinking water source, and that EPA was going to take over the investigation. However, soon as we got that to our political appointee, supervisors, they cancelled that investigation. So EPA did not investigate the legitimate complaints from citizens in Garfield County.”

This sort of thing isn’t unique to the US. China actually does have at least some standards regarding pollution, in writing at least. However, their environmental protection agencies appear to be rather toothless. As one gas station owner told Chinese officials, “You… have the obligation… you have the obligation, but not the authority.” Oral law, or more precisely, the law as it is actually practiced and enforced, is of more relevance to our lives than written law, and the two are often not the same thing.

Another thing to watch out for — forced pooling. No one is safe from the feudal oil and gas corporations, not even millionaires like Steve Lipsky.

A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect,” and for at least two millennia, the legal codes of England and her colonies have never been meant to protect “property owners” for any definition of the term “property owners” worth protecting.

Finally, do not think we will be content with simply “buying” clean air and clean water, whether or not the price of clean air turns out to be $8,253,420.15 per year.

We’ve already been blockading coal ships, protected by the Australian police, with canoes, in Newcastle, Australia. “We are not drowning! We are fighting!” because, “We fight for our survival,” and, “Everbody’s equal so we care for everybody,” and, “You need to win from within, so that even if the people look like, look at you like you’re losing, you’re not losing because you already won in your heart. By that, you know, hoping that that message, or that energy that you give out, you’ll change somebody else’s heart.”

We are planning civil disobedience against the Adani’s proposed Carmichael Coal Mine, which would invade the land of the Wangan and Jagalingou aboriginal people in Australia. From an aboriginal, “We’re going to make every effort to stop this mining company from destroying our land…And then we’re going to ask all Australian people and people from all over the world to stand with us and unite with us, to fight this fight. This is not an easy fight for us, and we’re asking everybody to stand with us to stop these mines from destroying this land. We don’t need this coal. We don’t need them. We don’t need their money. We need them to leave our land alone. We need to protect that land.”

We’ve hung pollution masks on statues in Chengdu, China, in spite of riot police, “We won’t put up with this! Take to the streets! We are all guilty of producing a world like this. Come on, kids, let’s stay alive!” and, “Let me breathe!”

In 2015, 50 of us were killed in Brazil, 33 in the Philippines, and 26 in Columbia – that we know of. Michelle Campos said, “We get threatened, vilified and killed for standing up to the mining companies on our land and the paramilitaries that protect them… My father, grandfather and school teacher were just three of countless victims. We know the murderers – they are still walking free in our community. We are dying and our government does nothing to help us.”

On February 24, 2015, 40,000 of us took to the streets in the oasis town of Ain Salah, Algeria, to protect the local aquifer from fracking: “Protestors reacted to the oppressive measures by rallying at the Gendarme station, and police responded with large quantities of tear gas and rubber bullets. The police violence persisted into Resistance Square, where the rally site was destroyed and tents burned, and over the next few days, hundreds of people were arrested and numerous injuries incurred among the mostly-peaceful protestors.”

One says, “If our water is polluted, that means we have no food. We have no, no other resource…We don’t have what you eat. If our water is polluted, our environment is polluted, we all die. All of us, we all die.”

In Pungeti, Romania in 2013, we dismantled Chevron’s fence and faced beatings and arrests.

In Canada, we are apparently considered a “threat to national security.” Kanahus Manuel says, “We want to show Imperial Metals and all levels of government that we can and will shut this mine down in an assertion of our Indigenous rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The province has no jurisdiction to be issuing permits to companies illegally operating on our sovereign territories without the free, prior, informed consent of the Secwepemc Tribal Peoples.”

And a recent update on our anti-DAPL and related protests in the United States, “But we also know that there is a ton of resistance on the ground and that we have a lot of legal options in our back pockets, we will build solar barns, we will windmills, we will do everything we can to protect property rights of farmers and ranchers and protect the sovereign rights of Native Americans. I don’t think America has seen this type of resistance against Big Oil ever before and Standing Rock is only the beginning.”

The National Guard has deployed surface-to-air missile systems as a “show of force” to frighten us, and a person who was trying to film the protests with his camera was shot in the hand recently. From Chase Iron Eyes, “Who is a traitor? Who is a patriot? Who’s a terrorist? Is it the people that are risking their life and liberty to protect water and natural resources on behalf of our country’s posterity or is it the private corporations with mercenaries extracting these resources to the detriment of America’s health, selling them to foreign countries for their own private benefit? Who is the traitor? Who is the terrorist there?”

Sincerely yours,


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