by Luke Henderson
While perusing my timeline, an article written last February by Drew Hansen caught my eye as it claimed that capitalism will starve the planet in the next 30 years. This was surprising, as Forbes normally publishes articles on the free market and new, upcoming entrepreneurs, and Steve Forbes has a book published on how capitalism will save the nation.
Hansen begins the article by suggesting that capitalism has contributed to major deforestation and the increased rate of species going extinct. Before he gets into his main argument, he cites United Nations projections of the population reaching 10 billion by 2050 and asks “how do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?”
This kind of statement has been argued as far back as 1798 when Thomas Malthus published his book An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that population growth would outpace food production causing famine and starvation. His solution was to control a number of births by emphasizing moral restraint which includes strict celibacy until one had the means to support a family. Eliminating laws to assist the poor were also a part of his solution to this issue as he felt that relief programs did not help them in the long run (which most libertarians would probably agree with).
What Malthus didn’t account for was developing of technologies that would allow creating more food for cheaper prices. In fact, in the United States, there is a surplus of food and in 43 million gallons of milk were dumped by farmers in 2016. Food production has consistently kept up with the growing population.
The same mistake is committed by Hansen. Accusing capitalism of being the bane of the environment is a common enough argument that most people would probably accept it as truth. If this were the case though, prices on commodities should be increasing as resources become scarcer, but commodity prices have been on a downward trend for the last 140 years.
Private ownership gives more incentive for businesses to maintain their resources as they will see profits drop if they allow them to become unusable. If the current practices of said business are depleting the ability of their resources to produce, then they must innovate to make products less destructive.
Again, the influence of technology is ignored when presented with the supposed doomsday scenario of unfettered capitalism and the environment.
In addition, in a free market system where property rights are respected, any action by an owner that would result in damaging the resources of another owner would be a crime. Should someone decide to dump pollutants into the river on their land and those pollutants begin killing the fish in another landowner’s lake, they would be punished by the law.
Jay Lehr claimed in his essay on free markets and the environment that “With an effective liability system, these pressures can also keep corporations from despoiling land or property that they do not own. Although disputes occur, the obligations of those who harm others’ property are so widely accepted that many people do not even have to go to court when their cars are damaged: insurance companies generally handle such cases routinely.”
Capitalism is one of the best protectors of the environment and as demand for greener products continues, the public will see an increase in a more sustainable economy.
Drew Hansen and others who suggest a more social government would save the environment are just continuing the arguments of a long line of Neo-Malthusians. Where Thomas Malthus argued for increasing population leading to starvation, the anti-capitalists argue that more free enterprise will result in an unusable Earth. Malthus has been wrong for over 200 years and I suspect that the world will see alike results come from the those whose claim capitalism is killing the earth.