For the past 92 editions this column has advocated the benefits of Liberty as opposed to Big Government. But this does not mean that greater Liberty and a lessening of government always produce the best results. The “reset button” should always favor Liberty, but sometimes there must also be a balance. This point was reinforced again when a great friend of mine recently sent me the book Leaded: The Poisoning of Idaho’s Silver Valley by Michael C. Mix (Oregon State University Press, 2016). In this book, Dr. Mix traces the history of mining in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Valley from its beginning in the 1880s, when the area was truly pristine and even sublime, until the last large mining operations closed in December of 1981, after which the area was soon designated as one of the most polluted of the Superfund sites.
Most harms inflicted by people, companies or even governments can be effectively addressed through our civil justice system. Ideally, even with the pollution of rivers and streams, the injured downstream parties can successfully sue the upstream polluters. But, as a practical matter, this sometimes is not a sufficient remedy because it can be hard to prove or even determine where the pollution like lead or sulfur dioxide actually came from, or how much came from where, or whether the pollution was the actual cause of the subject injuries. And those problems can be compounded when it comes to air pollution. Furthermore, it can be hard successfully to sue large polluting companies, which often have an abundance of influence and resources to use for their defense. So sometimes we do need government statutes like the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, as well as their accompanying regulations to implement and enforce them. As has been stated in this column numerous times, Liberty demands responsibility, and sometimes it takes government regulations to achieve that end. But the bureaucracy enforcing the regulations should be continually monitored to keep from getting too large or despotic, and it should be used only in those rare cases in which enforcing property rights is difficult and using things like effluent taxes don’t achieve the socially desired results. So the balance almost always favors Liberty, but in some limited circumstances there can be a blend.
Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President,
along with Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President
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