If our brains seek information that confirms our beliefs, then it’s not surprising those who hold free market ideals reflexively reject the science of climate change and studies regarding safety of products and their environmental impact. History shows public fears often lead to calls for government action.
In his blog post for Reason Magazine, “Conservative Reversal on Science,” Steve Chapman says libertarians have not always rejected science. They actually relied on science quite a bit to counter environmental alarmism in the 80s and 90s, so he finds their rejection scientific consensus when it comes to climate change a bit hypocritical:
They arrive at their position by reasoning backward: They reach a conclusion and snatch at any shred of evidence that justifies it. The climate change deniers don’t like the idea of governments restricting greenhouse gas emissions, so they insist that these emissions are nothing to worry about, that scientists are corrupt and that it’s all part of a socialist power grab.
They used to uphold respect for science. Now they prefer magical thinking.
That magical thinking is ultimately self-defeating.
The libertarian solution to climate change, should libertarians ever come to accept it, is that demand drives free enterprise to develop solutions well-intentioned government interference will only serve to hinder. But the libertarian embrace of junk science to obscure problems or delay action is the greatest obstacle to that ever occurring.
According to wiki:
[M]any participants assume or are taught that the purpose of the market is to enable participants to maximize profits. It is not. The purpose of the market is to efficiently allocate resources and to maximize the welfare of consumers and producers alike.
Because climate change is a problem, consumers will want to buy fuel efficient vehicles and products that reduce their carbon footprint, and companies will want to give them to them. Thus, everyone benefits, but the models in which a laissez-faire system maximizes welfare all assume equal access to information:
[As]suming that all agents are rational and have perfect information, they will choose the best products, and the market will reward those who make the best products with higher sales. Perfect information would practically mean that all consumers know all things, about all products, at all times (including knowing the probabilistic outcome of all future events), and therefore always make the best decision regarding purchase.
Consumers make the best decisions and reward the best product only when consumers are informed.
What happens, then, when Exxon funds groups to sow doubt about climate change, and libertarian think tanks concoct bogus studies to denounce science that shows products are unsafe or damaging to the environment?
As Chapman wrote, “This naysaying has had its intended effect. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 53 percent of Republicans don’t believe the earth is getting warmer, and 58 percent think scientists actually agree with them.” Uninformed consumers can lead to adverse selection, moral hazard, and information monopoly. More seriously, the market fails, and our welfare is compromised.
In an interview with Reason Magazine, science fiction author David Brin said the libertarians had been undermined by a dogmatic following of Ayn Rand: “Libertarians need to be reminded that, across 6,000 years, the greatest enemy of free enterprise, of market enterprise, innovation, creative competition… have always been oligarchs.”
Once an innovator becomes an oligarch, they are no longer interested in creative competition. Oligarchs naturally want to remove the ladder of success and insulate protect their position from the next innovator to come along with a better product. Exxon sees their interests best represented by suppressing any possible demand for an alternative to fossil fuels.
That’s fine for the oligarchs, but when champions of the free market support their efforts to make the public uninformed and unaware of society’s need for alternative fuels the public doesn’t demand them. When the public doesn’t demand electric cars, there is no profit motive for Doge to supply them.
When the anti-regulation people would rather cloud the issue than debate the problem, they render the market they are counting on helpless to respond. If the market can’t respond to the most serious problem of our, then the market – and libertarianism — has failed.