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Friday, April 23, 2010

Who owns non-excludable resources?

Bruce, regarding the asteroid, my answer is the same as John Locke's: if you "leave as much and as good" for others, then what you take from Nature is yours.

Privatization by definition doesn't work for non-excludable resources.  Who should be the "private owner" of
  • the air above Silicon Valley?
    • As I type this there is so much commuter smog I can't see the mountains on the other side of the SF Bay.  The view on weekends is much better.  Who should I sue?
  • the aquifer under Silicon Valley?
    • Over-extraction from wells caused up to 11 feet of land subsidence by the 1960s, and the little bayside town of Alviso sank to below sea level.  Who should they have sued?
  • electromagnetic spectrum in Silicon Valley?
    • I've got an illegal FM transmitter I use for whole-house audio. Can I crank up the power, tune it to NPR or a Christian station's frequency, and broadcast LP propaganda from my car everywhere I drive?  Would you just let the most watts win?
  • creeks that flow down into Silicon Valley?
    • My kids like to play in Saratoga Creek, but we can often smell the fecal coliform pollution from the septic systems of upstream residences. How would I know who to sue?
  • the fish in San Francisco Bay?
    • SF Bay herring populations are down 90% from historical levels, and fishing them was halted in 2009 to see if the population can recover.  Should the dozens of herring fishing boats all just have sued each other?
We can wish for all goods to be excludable, but non-excludable goods will continue to exist in spite of our faith-based Austrian economics.  Geolibertarian principles offer the obvious solution to the tragedy of the commons: depletion/pollution/congestion/monopolization of a natural commons is aggression, and so should be policed/punished via taxation.