DEATH IS EASY
by
Russell Madden
 
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FREEDOM, As If
It Mattered
by
Russell Madden
 
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Hardcover, $34.95
 
(Preview. Also available in a digital edition, $5.63.)

 



THE GOVERNMENT VS THE ENVIRONMENT

by

Russell Madden

 



When the subject is the environment, the general public perception is that a resource of such importance can only be adequately safeguarded by the benevolent, all-encompassing hands of the government. Whether this comes in the guise of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management or any of their variations on the federal, state, and local levels, many citizens fear that leaving environmental (that is, property) stewardship in the hands of "big business" or "selfish" individuals would result in wholesale destruction of our land, water, and air.

Indeed, the zeal with which our legal system handles "enemies of the environment" grows ever stronger. Individuals are imprisoned for dumping dirt on their own land. Entrepreneurs -- even with local and state permits in hand -- are brought to trial for violating the decrees of the Army Corps of Engineers by creating new lakes and wildlife preserves. Private forest land is declared off-limits to individuals seeking to retire to and build on their own property; selling their own trees will land them in jail.

In their efforts to protect the ecology, government agents prohibit development along certain seashores, seek to limit usage of private property that is home to endangered species, forbid lumber harvesting on public lands harboring spotted owls, and bring more and more wilderness under the protective wings of our dedicated public servants.

Yet, as in many other areas of our society, our government reveals its schizophrenic actions by engaging in behaviors that do far more violence to our environment than anything attributable to business or individual citizens. Amazingly, though, the ecological headaches engendered by these darker policies do not detract from the luster of governmental activism. Indeed, as is typical with negative results engendered by State ignorance, ineptitude, and intolerance, the resultant problems lead to even more strident calls for further intervention. This seemingly endless cycle only increases the costs we all pay for such bad programs, not only in monetary ways but in terms of diminished personal freedom and erosion of respect for our legal and governing system.

Most of the damage done to our environment by the State comes when it seeks to help a particular segment of the population at the expense of the rest. With concentrated benefits and diffuse costs masquerading under the mask of "the public good," these efforts have, over time, created many of the most egregious examples of abuse.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Ultimately, it is the State's violation of property rights that leads to many of the environmental ills laid at the feet of private citizens and businesses. The greatest ecological disasters in the world have occurred in those countries where property rights were non-existent. (In the former USSR and E. Germany, for example, the devastation reached horrific heights.) Through subsidies, regulations, zoning, and eminent domain, the State encourages behavior that increases pressures on the environment.

There is nothing inherently wrong with settling in Arizona, with building one's home on a seashore, with constructing highways...but it is wrong to force others to share the costs of doing so. A person's right to his property is inviolable. Whenever the government encourages and sanctions policies which steal that property -- whether directly or indirectly -- it is acting immorally. In terms of environmental protection, the State is not exempt from the Law of Unintended Consequences. Even when acting from good intentions, the government will cause problems where none existed or permit problems to continue which a strict adherence to property rights would end.

In reality, the issue is not "the government vs the environment" but rather the government vs individuals and their rights. From such a stance, only destruction can result.

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