Stormy’s Post on Global Warming and Free Market Solutions

Hoisted from comments, a la Brad DeLong. This one is by reader Stormy:

Gordon Brown –Chancellor of the Treasury in Britain and sometimes called the “shadow prime minister” – made the following stunning comment:

“Global warming poses a fundamental challenge to the right’s faith in markets. It is, as Gordon Brown, chancellor, puts it “the world’s biggest market failure”.”

Brown continues:

“Worse, most of the proposed remedies for global warming involve things the right traditionally abhors. There is global governance in the form of monster international accords such as the Kyoto treaty. There are restrictions on individual liberty as the clamour grows to tax people out of their cars and off their cheap flights. There is a new emphasis on localism as opposed to globalisation. There is also a backlash against the idea that faster economic growth is always desirable or sustainable.”

Now, I agree fully with Brown’s assertion. I would also posit that he only begins to touch the surface of the problem. Our science and intellect—and the very idea of a marketplace—have made our species incredibly successful, maybe too successful. What other species actually has a market place for the exchange of goods?

Be that as it may. I know there are people in the economic blogs who become apoplexic over the thought that global warming and environmental destruction are real, that the dangers they bring are approaching fast, faster than conservative scientists are willing to admit, Hansen among them.

There is another way of approaching the issue from a theoretical point of view. Set aside global warming for a minute, set aside resource depletion—water, fish, land, energy—and a host of other issues that success has brought. Ask the question this way:

Can the mechanisms and principles of the free market work if a society or civilization is confronted with the need for collective action?

By “free market,” I mean a market place free of regulation or excessive governmental control, one in which the individual greed of each player presumably results in “raising all boats.”