Is it true that “property rights” are the only way to protect the environment? The unbridled greed of the capitalist West in destroying our natural resources and our environment shows this as a lie. But furthermore:
But, beyond these points lies the most important one. Namely, is the option to sue about pollution *really* available in the free market? Rothbard thinks it is. Taking the case of factory smoke in the 19th Century, he notes that it and “many of its bad effects have been known since the Industrial Revolution, known to the extent that the American courts, during the… nineteenth century made the deliberate decision to allow property rights to be violated by industrial smoke. To do so, the courts had to -and did- systematically change and weaken the defences of property rights embedded in Anglo-Saxon common law… the courts systematically altered the law of negligence and the law of nuisance to *permit* any air pollution which was not unusually greater than any similar manufacturing firm” [Rothbard, op cit, page 257].
In this remarkably self-contradictory passage, we are invited to draw the conclusion that private property *must* provide the solution to the pollution problem from an account of how it clearly did *not* do so! If the nineteenth century USA – which for many Libertarian’s is a kind of “golden era” of free market capitalism – saw a move from an initial situation of well defended property rights to a later situation were greater pollution was tolerated, as Rothbard claims, then property rights cannot provide a solution to the pollution problem.
It is, of course, likely that Rothbard and other “Libertarians” will claim that the system was not pure enough, that the courts were motivated to act under pressure from the state (which in turn was pressured by powerful industrialists). But can it be purified by just removing the government and placing courts into a free market? The pressure from the industrialists remains, if not increases, on the privately-owned courts trying to make a living on the market.