Chinese Pollution and Free-Market Environmentalism.

China is becoming known as the pollution capital of the world. We’ve all seen the photos of large cities like Beijing and Shanghai wrapped in a sooty gray fog while Chinese citizens sport face-masks reminiscent of Shredder.  Recently, China’s smog woes have become notably worse, with Chinese officials even halting traffic, flights, and construction in vain attempts at curbing the problem. In a move that could be considered dark humor, the Chinese State Media recently released a commentary discussing 5 ways in which the smog was actually beneficial; for example, they claimed the smog would hinder a military invasion. Needless to say it seems a great many Chinese citizens, who are sick of being driven to wear face masks every day, were not terribly amused.

The number one culprit for such terrible pollution in Chinese cities lies in the Industrial Sector. The Chinese Government places an extremely heavy emphasis on the Industrial Sector; that is, they typically do whatever they can to make the Industrial Sector as competitive and productive as possible. This is because the Chinese Government is fully mercantilist; they rely on subsidizing exports to keep the Chinese economy functioning. This means that they want the Industrial sector, especially manufacturing, to be able to produce goods as cheaply as possible. Hence, why so many consumer goods in America are imported from China. It is the will of the Chinese Government.

I frequently see Green Environmentalism wrapped up in forms of Progressivism or Socialism. Examine the doctrines of most Green political parties from around the world, and you will see that they typically hold left-wing platforms on the economy and free trade. Most Environmentalist types whom I know personally claim that severe pollution is a consequence of unfettered free trade and unregulated businessmen run amok. They claim that pollution is a natural failure of the free market and a problem that requires a government solution. This is total baloney from start to finish. Dealing with the effects of pollution falls fully within the realm of the Free Market system. Green Progressives often claim that things like air, forests, and bodies of water should be publicly-owned (in actuality, State-owned) and declared to be in the “public commons”. According to them, this is what compels industry to adhere to environmental justice. They are incorrect. Such laws actually promote environmental injustice and often exacerbate pollution issues. All that is necessary to address pollution is a system of just property rights. Within a framework of justly-enforced property rights, pollution would be dealt with in the best way possible.

China is definitely no longer “Communist” in the classical sense, but they are certainly still Socialist. You could even say China is economically fascist and not be far off the mark (of course, Socialism and Fascism are part-and-parcel the same ideology). The Chinese Government has their fingers in much of the Chinese private sector, especially industry and manufacturing. This is for the reasons mentioned above; to keep the national economy moving, placate the masses, and preserve the paradigm of the ruling elite. While many industries and businesses in China are privately owned and operated, they are also closely aligned with the Chinese Government. In America, we usually hear of these relationships between business and government as benevolent sounding “Public-Private partnerships”. What they really are is quid pro quo relationships; typically, money for favors. The Chinese Government is fully in bed with their industrial sector. They have a vested interest in keeping industrial costs as low as possible. This includes making the Industrial sector immune from prosecution for pollution. The Chinese Government halted civilian traffic and flights to curb pollution, but the pollution generated by cars is nothing compared to what is produced by industry. If the Chinese government is serious about combating pollution, why have they not gone after the real perpetrators, the industrial sector?

Pollution is a violation of property rights. If the factory next door is polluting the air on my property, then they’re trespassing and violating my property rights. If they dump waste in a river, and that river carries waste across my property, it is a violation of property rights. In a free and just society, I am allowed to sue the factory next door for trespassing on my property via pollution. In a free society with a just court system, the courts will see (with sufficient evidence provided) that the factory owners are violating the property of their neighbors by allowing pollution to waft onto my property. They will be held to account: either halt the flow of pollution, or face consequences. In the United States, it is tricky to do this. Because things like air and water are often considered to be in the “public commons”, it is difficult to sue someone for violating your property via pollution. I am not an expert on law in this area, but I know that it is no simple task.

In China, the government flat-out doesn’t care about property rights. They allow citizens to exert a certain degree of control over their own property to placate them, but on-the-whole the Chinese government doesn’t give a crap about the property rights of citizens. The pollution in the cities is evidence of this. In a society legally based on a system of just property rights, the polluting industries in China would be subject to however many millions of lawsuits from angry citizens whose property rights are being openly flouted. In a just society based on property rights, this would be some seriously negative news for the offending industry. Such flagrant violation of property rights is akin to mass vandalism; this would probably put them out of business. However, the Chinese government does not care about property rights. They want the industrial sector to work as cheaply and efficiently as possible; therefore, they allow them to pollute as mush as they wish without batting an eye.

Monstrous bureaucracies are the worst solutions to any and every problem. The Environmental Protection Agency in America is worthless and should be dismantled. Ideally, we could live under a system of just property rights. That would be the only solution needed. This system only partially exists in America; it does not exist in China at all.

Some people are under the misconception that when libertarian-types like myself say “Free Market”, we mean that businessmen should be totally free to do whatever they want in pursuit of efficiency and profit, including heavy pollution. That is a totally incorrect notion. The key is not efficiency and profit, but justice. I love efficiency and profit, and people should be free to pursue efficiency and profit free of wasteful and stifling government mandates, but justice must never be sacrificed.

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