Sustainability and Liberty

SustainabilitySustainability is a necessary component for the Earth. As a contributor to my school’s sustainability blog and as a member of my school’s student government sustainability committee, I know full well that achieving sustainability is crucial to human well-being.

That being said, many proponents of sustainability are unfortunately trumpetting the wrong sound. Endorsing government stewardship of resources and regulation of individual actions regarding the environment are a fatal blow to the cause of sustainability. There are a number of factors to consider when discussing sustainability. All of them point to a better way to tackle the problem than authoritative coercion.

First off, sustainability can only be achieved when THREE constitutent wholes are met: social, environmental, and economic. It is the latter that I will focus on.

Sustainable Development

In order to be economical and achieve sustainability, government management of resources does not help the problem. Government can only squander resources because it does not have a cost-benefit analysis mechanism with which to evaluate its allocation of resources. Only private actors, through the exercise of their private property rights, can equitably adjust their resources to ensure sustainable development.

However, critics of the free market approach will argue that if the monetary costs outweigh the overall benefit, then the private actor will incur the damage in order to save money. However, this view is false. As economist Murray Rothbard wrote, “Costs are purely subjective and not measurable in monetary terms” (pg. 58-9). Thus, the monetary costs may outweigh the benefits, but that does not mean that the cost would be greater than the benefit. Private actors, unlike the government, have the incentive to preserve their wealth and the value of their property. Thus, sustainable development will take root only when it is beneficial for individuals to embrace that development.

While people may argue that the social and the environmental components may come about through government dictate, it is economic that is most important in order to achieve sustainability. When government intervenes in that sphere, however, sustainable development will never truly be achieved.

Below is a video on land ownership from a free market point of view. It shows how private ownership of resources (as well as economic incentives) leads to better stewardship of those resources. It features Dr. Sean Mulholland, Associate Professor of Economics at Stonehill College.

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