Sasha Volokh, “Asteroid Defense and Libertarianism,” February 15, 2011.For J. Bradford DeLong, this is proof that (pro-free market) libertarians are “completely insane” – a not unreasonable conclusion.
J. Bradford DeLong, “Empirical Proof that America's Libertarians Are Completely Insane...,” February 15, 2011.
Robert P. Murphy, “Empirical Evidence That Brad DeLong Is Completely Obtuse,” Mises Daily, February 22, 2011.
J. Bradford DeLong, “Robert Murphy Joins the ‘It’s Immoral to Tax Americans to Destroy an Asteroid’ Caucus,” February 22, 2011.
Robert Murphy, “Murphy vs. Famous Keynesian,” 22 February 2011.
But, in fact, such a position by them is logically consistent with their ethical theory. The difference between Austrians/pro-free market libertarians who would accept some government intervention to save the earth and those who would reject such intervention lies in their ethical theories. That is the fundmanetal point that, I think, escapes a good many people: this is about ethics, not economics per se.
Nor will it do any good for anarcho-capitalists to try and evade the question by claiming that the situation imagined is “unrealistic” or “unlikely.” Hypothetical scenarios that are possible (whether likely or not) are precisely what are used in good discussions of ethical theories to test them and their implications. To refuse to answer the question of what your ethical theory says is the right thing to do in a hypothetical situation is intellectual cowardice and surrender. You may as well wave the white flag.
This applies to Robert Murphy’s claim that taxes would not be needed to fund a project to save the earth, as many people would in fact give voluntarily. That may well be true, but is irrelevant to the actual moral question and simply evades it. Suppose not enough people give. Suppose more money is needed: is it moral to tax people to get that money or not?
The Misesian classical liberals who believe in a minimal state and who use utilitarianism as an ethical theory could in fact justify government intervention in such a case (whether they all do so in practice, I don’t know). Their utilitarianism gives them such a justification.
Natural law/natural rights-based Austrians in the tradition of Rothbard will vehemently reject all government intervention, even to save the earth, without logical inconsistency, in a way that (to them) appears rational, as that is what their ethical theory leads them to.
The cold, rational reason why they are wrong is simply that their natural law/natural rights based ethics is severely flawed and untenable (an interesting starting point is L. A. Rollins, The Myth of Natural Rights).
A more practical reason to reject their view is that, with no sense of the public good, and an ethical theory which would place absolute rights to property above not just a single human life but above the lives of all humans on the planet, their society would quickly destroy itself.
Why? In fact, we would not need an asteroid. Anarcho-capitalism would logically require the private production, sale, ownership, and (possible) use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. How long would civilization last in such conditions? (see “The Different Types of Austrian Economics,” December 5, 2010).
And, if there are any anarcho-capitalists who deny that this is a logical conclusion of their ideology, let them explain why chemical, biological and nuclear weapons should not be privatised. They won’t do it convincingly without some concept of the public good or consequentialist ethics.