FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Keystone East: Not as Reasonable as Reason Thinks

The Keystone XL pipeline is something no libertarian can support if consistency with free market principles matters. But that doesn’t stop a lot of right-leaning self-proclaimed libertarians from instinctively defending it — after all, anything that promotes fossil fuel use and gets environmentalists bent out of shape has to be “libertarian,” right?

Thus A. Barton Hinkle’s “Get Ready for Keystone Pipeline 2?” (September 15) in  Reason magazine (motto: “Free Minds and Free Markets”). Hinkle ridicules environmentalist criticism of a proposed Atlantic coast pipeline shipping natural gas to North Carolina from West Virginia’s Marcellus shale formation. According to Hinkle, the power companies comply with EPA regulations. What’s more, environmentalists are partly to blame for the rise of natural gas consumption reflected in new pipeline projects, because they make it more difficult to expand production of coal-fired electricity. And, he adds, “[n]obody who protests power plants and power lines ever volunteers to give up electricity …” Yuk yuk yuk!

In fairness to Hinkle, he addresses, at respectable length, the problematic nature of the eminent domain abuses required to build such pipelines — fairly unusual among fossil fuels cheerleaders on the self-proclaimed libertarian right.

But he leaves out several things. First, eminent domain isn’t the only way in which the state makes natural gas pipelines artificially feasible. Pipelines also depend on liability caps or regulatory preemption of tort liability for leaks (those EPA regulations Hinkle makes so much of), contamination of groundwater and earthquakes associated with fracking and pipeline transport.

Second, it’s not just natural gas, but also coal and oil, that are artificially cheap and economical as a result of state-granted subsidies and privileges. Coal and oil, like natural gas, depend on privileged access to land in the federal domain from which ordinary individual homesteaders have been excluded — or even on land that was stolen either from First Nations or white settlers. The Bundy ranch, site of a recent standoff between a rancher and the federal government, is situated on what had originally been tribal land. And a lot of Appalachian coal mining takes place on land that had already been homesteaded in the days before fully developed state and county governments or regular land titles, then stolen by mining companies with better lawyers. All fossil fuel industries depend on the same liability caps and regulatory preemption of tort law.

And third, Hinkle makes the unwarranted assumption that the level of demand for energy is inelastic, and that the present energy dependency of our economy has nothing to do with assorted subsidies to fossil fuels and transportation. Besides all the fossil fuels subsidies and privileges mentioned above, present levels of long-distance transportation use also reflect heavy government subsidies. The civil aviation infrastructure was built almost entirely at government expense using eminent domain, and jumbo jets only became economically viable after WWII because the Cold War heavy bomber program enabled the aircraft industry to make full use of the expensive dies required to build them. The car culture has grown far larger than it otherwise would have because of urban planning and zoning, subsidized utilities for new subdivisions and use subsidies and eminent domain to support freeway construction. The taxpayer-subsidized Interstate Highway System is also a massive subsidy to artificially long corporate supply and distribution chains.

Hinkle ignores the possibility that, without government’s thumb on the scale to facilitate the consumption of energy, we might just use less of it. We might buy food and manufactured goods produced in our own communities, live closer to the places we work and shop, and keep more energy-efficient homes.

The libertarian problems with fossil fuels don’t stop with the use of eminent domain to build pipelines. That’s only the beginning. Fossil fuels in general are just one example of a larger function of the capitalist state: Providing artificially cheap inputs for an industrial model based on extensive addition of inputs rather than more efficient use of existing ones.

In other words, principled libertarians need to consistently apply their opposition to “crony capitalism” to all manifestations of it, and direct their distaste for welfare to its biggest recipients.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. 

More articles by:

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail