30 January 2023
The late Professor Haydn Washington1 was a deep green and like so many deep greens he was an economic illiterate whose idea of a idyllic society was based on the concept of a “steady state economy”, condition that the classical economists called a “stationary state”, an imaginary long-run economic state of affairs in which all economic progress has ceased because the economy has reached, so to speak, its final point of rest. Of all the classical economists John Stuart Mill2 was the only one who welcomed this prospect, not that readers would ever learn that from reading deep green propaganda. Whereas Mill’s3 vision was one of a stationary economy that comes to rest of its own volition the greens’ vision is that of a dystopian nightmare imposed through force and duplicity and ruled by an iron fist.
However, the question of a green steady state economy and its form of government requires a detailed response that I shall provide in the near future. In this essay I’ll deal with a section in Positive Steps To a Steady State Economy4, a deep green book that spews anti-capitalist bile and is filled with green lies and distortion. For example, there is the patently absurd assertion that indigenous people, meaning the likes of Australian aborigines and North American Indians, “worked out how to manage the commons sustainably” whereas “modern society has overgrazed pastures, over-logged forests and overfished our fisheries” is pure hogwash and he knows it. Aborigines killed off Australia’s megafauna5. In fact, if the horse had been native to North America I doubt very much if a single buffalo would have still existed when the first Europeans came to settle. Indigenous people had absolutely no concept of stewardship of the land and its fauna. If it was edible and it moved then they killed it. Conservation never entered their minds. Why should it?
Greens seem to love using Garret Hardin’s views to support their green ideology: Haydn Washington was no exception. All that Hardin did in his essay6 was to essentially repeat what many had said before him: any free good of nature will be excessively used, which contradicts Washington’s patently absurd notion that indigenous people, as defined above, were the stewards of nature.
The good Professor’s green propaganda (which is taught to our children) brought to mind the question of the humble oyster and the problem of the commons. It was in 1996 (I think it was August) when the late Max Walsh wrote a piece for The Age relating the tragic tale of the poor old British oyster. According to Walsh the British oyster industry was virtually wiped out in the 19th century by Britain’s passion for laissez faire, meaning free markets. Yes, it was free market ideology that done the dirty deed. He provided as evidence in support of his opinion a quote from the 1863 Royal Commission into Sea Fisheries which recommended “unrestricted freedom of fishing be permitted hereafter”. The result was that the oyster beds were fished out, a fact that any free market economist would have predicted. Not only that, but in 1902 a number of people were afflicted with food poisoning (four died) after eating oysters polluted by human waste7. (I confess to being flummoxed as to why lifting the restrictions on oyster fishing poisoned people.)
The long and the short of it is that by regulating their oyster beds France is able to produce 2000 million oysters a year, according to Professor Neild (from whose book8 Walsh obtained his information), as against Britain’s 10 million oysters a year. Professor Neild concluded that the principle of “. . . laissez faire was applied to the oyster,” to which “it was inappropriate.”
Walsh enthusiastically endorsed the Professor’s indictment, glibly adding that the “. . . the real lesson is never to be blinded by dogma.” Unfortunately Mr Walsh neglected to take his own advice because regardless of what Professor Neild wrote there is no such principle of ‘laissez faire.’9 Even if such a principle existed the Royal Commission did not use it. By stating that the “the produce of the Sea is the property of the people in common” the Commission was not applying a fictitious laissez faire principle but the principle of common ownership otherwise called the principle of the commons.
It is generally impossible to exhaust any economic good in a free market because its price would rise to a point where it would become uneconomic to use. It is only where the cost of exploiting such a resource in relation to its value is very low that it could be nearly or completely exhausted, as was the case with British oysters. For the oyster to be integrated into the market process fishermen would have had to be given property rights over the oyster beds in the same way that farmers exercise property rights over their lands and livestock.
Having deliberately or otherwise misinterpreted the question of free goods of nature Washington soundly and wrongly declared, without a shred of evidence, that “modern society has overgrazed pastures, over-logged forests and overfished our fisheries10. Far from being over-logged forests in North America and Europe are growing. Greens are appalling economic illiterates. If forests were privately owned they would not be over-logged because trees provide a constant income stream. This is why ranchers don’t kill all their cattle or why chicken farmers don’t kill all their chickens and why sheep farmers’ avoid-over grazing.
Determined to ram home his total ignorance of economic history and economics he fully supported Eric Zency’s11 opinion that economic theories explaining the economic crises of the 1930s and the 1970s “fell down against the Second Law of Thermodynamics”. I willingly confess to having no idea what physics has to do with economic theories. What I do know is that this pair don’t know what they are talking about.
Like all greenies we are given the mantra that the idea of endless growth is unsustainable. On the contrary, endless economic growth is possible so long as it is not aborted by ignorant fanatical greens who have no idea what economic growth really is. The only genuine limit to growth is human ingenuity, not the Earth’s resourses.
I shall deal with the question of sustainable and permanent economic growth in a later article.
Note: I only learnt of Professor Washington’s unfortunate death the day before I posted.
1The late Haydn Washington was an adjunct lecturer at UNSW.
2This is what Mill had to say about the stationary economy: …we are always on the verge of it, and that if we have not reached it long ago, it is because the goal itself flies before us.
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Vol. II, Liberty Fund, 2006, p. 753.
3Three pages later Mill’s Malthusianism gets the better of him and he hints at the necessity of imposing a stationary to prevent overpopulation. Ibid., 756 .
4Edited by Haydn Washington, Positive Steps To a Steady State Economy, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, NSW 2017
7In February 1997 an outbreak of hepatitis in New South Wales infected hundreds of people and killed a 77-year-old pensioner. It was later discovered that the outbreak had been caused by a local council allowing sewage to pollute Wallis Lake. Was this government failure or market failure? It certainly had nothing to do with overfished oysters.
8Robert Neild, The English, the French, and the Oyster, Quiller Press, 1995.
9The term laissez faire is believed to have originated with Thomas Le Gendre, a merchant, in the late 17th century. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s First Minister of State and an arch interventionist, is said to have asked a group of merchants what he could do for them: Le Gendre’s response was “Laissez nous faire” (leave things alone, let goods pass).
10 A new beginning: Eradicating Poverty in our World, a pastoral statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, 1996. According to this ludicrous ‘report’ the world’s resources would be completely depleted by 1991 or virtually by 2008 by which time we would have been living in a new stone age.
11Eric Zency, Energy as Master Resource” for State of the World, 2013.