1980 Libertarian Party Response to Criticism of Environmental Impact of Proposed “Complete Private Ownership of All Resources”

This February 27, 1980, document was used by the Libertarian Party during the 1980 campaign to elect Ed Clark as President and David Koch as Vice President. The briefing contains a “Summary of Current Events” on issues ranging from the draft to foreign policy. There is also a section commenting on criticisms from an article published in the Saturday Review titled, “The Libertarians, Stripping Government of Its Powers,” in which the author used “the problem of pollution as a means to illustrate what he sees as some basic flaws in the libertarian prescription.”

Document excerpts:

  1. “Citing Murray Rothbard’s example of a private firm owning Lake Erie, Nelson writes “Libertarians don’t tell you what would stop a private firm from buying Lake Erie precisely to sell other firms the right to dump garbage into it.” Though this criticism may at first seem silly it is a valid one and one that libertarians can expect to be asked when advocating complete private ownership of all resources.”
  2. “Theoretically, an individual firm could buy out all the individual property owners of the lake and become the sole owner with the intention of selling dumping rights to other firms. Such as enterprise would prove very, very expensive as the firm would still have to deal with irate property owners of the Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway which the water of Lake Erie flow into. Further, a cesspool the size of Lake Erie would threaten the lives of people in the lake area by presenting the threat of disease, not to mention odor. So in reality the scenario described by Nelson would be nearly impossible in a libertarian society.”
  3. “Finally, I think it is a good idea for libertarians to acknowledge the complexity of pollution disputes. Whether one is talking about radiation or automobile pollution, the problem for the legal scientist of setting boundaries and standards will be very, very complex. Still a more just and equitable solution lies in the voluntary society that recognizes individual rights rather than through the efforts of a coercive, centralized government.”