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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12959/regulating-caveman-technology/

Regulating Caveman Technology

June 14, 2010 by

Even a “simple” regulation concerning caveman-era technology — the burning of yard waste — has potentially disastrous unintended consequences. A strong reliance on private-property rights would better allow us to deal with the complexities of advanced technology. FULL ARTICLE by Dave Albin


michael June 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I would suggest that you mulch. If you have a spot in your yard you’re not using for flowers, start a mulch pile and leave it for about a year before applying the mulch to your plants. You can and should also put kitchen leavings on the pile (fruits and veggies, no meats). It makes a much better soil amendment than ashes for growing flowers or vegetables.

The smoke doesn’t annoy the neighbors, as the system is smokeless. It doesn’t annoy the county, as there are no ordinances against it. And it doesn’t annoy the fire department, as fires don’t get out of hand. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Turn your pile over once in a while to let it aerate.

george t morgan June 14, 2010 at 3:46 pm

i didnt think cavemen really had yards or yard waste. maybe they burned stuff for warmth or to cook food. which is still done today.

Jonathan Baltazar June 14, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I really don’t understand the point of this article. Is it supposed to be a subtle rant against environmental protection? Dave Albin doesn’t give a solution to his yard burning problem. In his hypothetical scenario, his neighbors are indifferent to his burning habits, therefore government interference is unnecessary. But what if his neighbor says he won’t tolerate any burning since his house is downwind from Dave’s? I’ve got it! Since most people in the neighborhood agree that some burning is necessary, they should compromise and allow burning only on certain days of the week.

Matthew Swaringen June 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I get your point by saying “certain days” (a hint that the Tuesday,Thursday,Saturday was ironically there for a reason at some point) but his problem wasn’t with the days, so much as the fact they were dictated from far off and not based on the personal needs of his area.

He also provides plenty of ways the situation would be “solved” (including in such case as the neighbors wouldn’t stand for it at all), where he’d have to get it disposed of some other way.

The problem is you are looking for a be all and end all solution, when his problem is that he doesn’t believe there is one solution. His proposal is that there are multiple solutions, and people should be free to negotiate with their neighbors to choose the best one that works in their situation.

Jonathan Baltazar June 14, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I don’t think you understood my point. Let me put it this way:

Problem: Government tells me when I can and can’t burn yard waste.

Dave’s solution: Remove government and simply ask my neighbors if it is ok to burn my yard waste. If they say no, reinstate government to find a suitable resolution.

What do you suppose will be the government’s resolution? That ordinance was probably enforced in the first place because certain neighbors complained about the burning.

Inquisitor June 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Where did Dave say to reinstate the government?

Jonathan Baltazar June 15, 2010 at 9:10 am

“A system of private-property rights over all else would be a better solution. Once your smoke and particulate matter has interfered with my air space against my will (which would be determined on a case-by-case basis, by each property owner), then that would be considered an act of aggression.”

He is suggesting that creating smoke could be considered a crime in some cases. Unless he plans to personally battle his neighbor, government will be called to settle the feud.

Inquisitor June 15, 2010 at 9:40 am

Depends on whether he’s a minarchist or not, and… since when have libertarians had an issue with individuals settling disputes in courts? The fault is the sheer lack of legitimacy the government has, as well as its pure arbitrariness. It is acting whether or not the parties involved have solicited it to.

Gil June 14, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I agree. He’s seem saying “governments shouldn’t be telling if I can or can’t burn leaves in my back yard but my neighbours can”. So what happens when his neighbours find the smoke offensive and won’t give him permission to burn leaves? He’s equally screwed.

Inquisitor June 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Which is not the point…

J. Murray June 15, 2010 at 5:29 am

The more subtle point, apparently missed, is the part about how his city gives him the legal cover to literlly smoke out unwanted neighbors. The city is giving people legal cover to specifically violate the rights of others. This is the real crux of the entire article. The government isn’t there to help or provide order, just to make arbitrary rules that end up worse than them not being there at all.

Jonathan Baltazar June 15, 2010 at 9:27 am

I agree that government creates silly rules even when we don’t need them, but this particular mandate is not one of them. Surely Dave is not allowed to maliciously smoke out his neighbors. The ordinance might be vaguely written, but nobody would stand for that type of behavior.

The alternative to having the regulation in place is to consider each case separately. That seems like a bigger waste of public resources to me.

Inquisitor June 15, 2010 at 9:42 am

“The alternative to having the regulation in place is to consider each case separately. That seems like a bigger waste of public resources to me.”

There shouldn’t be “public” resources to begin with, and how a resource is to be utilised is up to its proprietors. It may seem a waste to you but too bad. If individuals feel they’re harmed, they can bring a case forward and a court can decide the outcome for them. If they do not, things go on as “normal”. I cannot fathom where this tribal mentality of letting the government engage in its “all or nothing” ban type mentality has stemmed from.

Jonathan Baltazar June 15, 2010 at 10:44 am

Inquisitor, I agree with you that government should not be enforcing “all or nothing” bans. However, this particular case does not fall under the definition of an all out ban. It is a reasonable compromise that meets the two parties half way. If a court is not a public resource, what is it? Can you explain how one can oppose public resources and also support the legal system? You can’t just look at everything with a tribal mentality: “All law bad!” You have to think about each one rationally.

By your reasoning, we shouldn’t have, for example, traffic laws. Certain standards are reasonable, such as driving on the right side of the road (USA). Don’t try to tell me that you wouldn’t be furious if you saw somebody driving on the left side. Of course, I will admit that others are irrational, such as seat belt enforcement.

Matthew Swaringen June 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Jonathan, in a private road system the road owner would be the one who would set the rules of the road through contract with it’s users. Some roads might be left side, some roads right side, etc.

In reality, I imagine most roads would end up being consistent to prevent confusion, but given that if I go to many foreign countries I’d have to drive differently I don’t see this as being altogether different. We have to switch from 1 way and 2 way roads now as well. Now the markings/etc. could vastly differ between road systems, but it wouldn’t do the road owner any good to make the markings so much different that users of his road couldn’t figure them out.

We don’t need set rules in every case even for that kind of stuff in my view. I know it sounds chaotic, but in reality it’s very unlikely that it would be any more chaotic than it is now. Having options doesn’t mean people would end up using them poorly, and they might even figure out some places where it makes more sense to do left side rather than right side due to the way buildings are constructed, etc.

Jonathan Baltazar June 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Good point, Matthew. I completely support the idea that the owner of the road should be able to dicate how it is used. In our current system, the taxpayers are (debatably) the owners of the roads. You would be hard pressed to find any taxpayer who opposes the one-side driving standard. I’m not saying that the public road system is better than private roads. That has yet to be tested. The point is that a mandate can be justified if it is rational, such as the one in the article.

Inquisitor June 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Actually I am in favour of private courts and not against “law and order” per se. It still doesn’t justify the government, and no, law/defence is like any other service, to be procured on the market; it is not, in that sense, a “public” resource, except insofar as any privately provided good is. Give the Tannehills’ Market for Liberty or Rothbard’s For a New Liberty a read for the specifics of this – or Stringham’s Anarchy & The Law for a more in-depth perspective.

Jonathan Baltazar June 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm

“Actually I am in favour of private courts and not against “law and order” per se.”

Ha. So you’re in favor of a feudal economy where your individual market share determines your level of rights and justice? Ironically, that would lead to private control of the law, which is another name for tyranny. If that’s what libertarianism is all about, I’m out.

Matthew Swaringen June 17, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Jonathan, that argument seems very much a non sequitur to me. On what basis are you convinced that private “control of the law” = tyranny?

Aside from that, I can’t imagine you have been here long if you didn’t know anarchism is a popular viewpoint at LvMI.

Libertarians are not all anarchists, however. Minarchists are a much larger group, though at LvMI that may not be the case with the most vocal. I’m kind of ambivalent on that argument myself.

J. Murray June 15, 2010 at 6:04 am

One other thing, there is a homestead component to consider. If he was living there before the neighbors moved in and the previous owner had no issues with the burning, then the new neighbors have to bear whatever costs are associated with the cessation of his burning. The “who was there first” determination has to be made or else environmentalist extremists could just move downwind of a coal power plant and get the thing shut down.

tony June 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I think that burning does not harm the ecosystem.

fructoric June 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Most “neighbors” are not reasonable. Short of legal authority over them, many times you have no recourse. This is because they are, themselves, (psychologically) violent, primitive cavemen who only respond to beating of the chest (death threats). The current state of “property rights,” whatever they are, wherever they are, is emergent and more or less representative with that which the general public will accept. Isn’t civil war fun?

Inquisitor June 14, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Aren’t hyperbole and histrionics fun fun fun? Justify your enslavement however you like. ;)

Gil June 15, 2010 at 12:15 am

So your neighbours are free to enslave you on their whims anyway? Why not just tell them that the air is in the commons and they’re inhaling unowned smoke and it’s no different from inhaling the smoke of a natural forest fire?

Inquisitor June 15, 2010 at 9:38 am

Their whims? What are you on about? They certainly can bring a claim against you if they think they’re harmed by your activities… Or do you have an issue with that too?

Matthew Swaringen June 15, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Strong private-property libertarians don’t believe the area around ones property is commons, so no one would be enslaved to the whims of a neighbor without recourse.

fructoric July 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I am not justifying anything. Freedom and slavery are as intangible as rights are. In the end, all preferences are backed by the use of violent force, whether initiatory or retaliatory.

newson June 14, 2010 at 11:37 pm

fun for troglodites, sure.

tony June 14, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I think that burning does not harm the ecosystem.
Thank you

george t morgan June 14, 2010 at 6:38 pm

as far as harm to the ecosystem….i have been at a city bus stop with several deisel busses collected together and the fumes could get a little nasty. it was only a few minutes of waiting but still unpleasant. combustion of things can cause unpleasntness for some. some may not consider that ecosystem though.

Martian June 14, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I live in a major metropolitan area that bans the use of fireplaces during summer months in order to limit air pollution. Under the author’s (lack of) reasoning, I should instead visit my 2 million neighbors to see if my fireplace will aggravate their asthma or other medical conditions. Suuuuure that will work. Another moronic “we don’t need no stinking government” libertarian argument. Crawl back into your cave Albin.

Inquisitor June 14, 2010 at 10:58 pm

And under your (lack of) reasoning, the state should issue blanket bans on certain activities irrespective of its authority to do so. I would suggest you desist with the chest-beating, and stop deifying government, as it is your own beliefs that are by far the more tribal ones. Clearly, you’re another spoiled brat who’s only ever lived under the government and stridently refused to let anyone escape its grips because -you- (personally) cannot imagine things being done otherwise, which to me speaks volumes about your (lack of) imagination. Do grow up.

Gil June 15, 2010 at 12:18 am

And you’re a dingus who hates public censorship but loves private censorship.

Inquisitor June 15, 2010 at 9:37 am

Of course, you wouldn’t be able to even demonstrate that from what I said, no. Though if you’ve an issue with the harsh tone, tough…

Gil June 15, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Martian said it quite well, the guvmint can’t tell me to stop backyard fires but my neighbours most certainly can – it’s prohibition either way. How far can your smoke reach and how many neighbours are going to complain? Why should they have the right to complain? You might as well say you can’t wear certain shirts as soon as someone finds the colour offensive or the logo or the slogan it carries. This issue probably should be more akin to the Libertarian view on I.P. someone’s using their own private resources to start a backyard fire and whims shouldn’t be catered to.

Inquisitor June 15, 2010 at 10:23 pm

“Why should they have the right to complain?”

Pollution = violation of their person. I thought you knew libertarian political theory?

Matthew Swaringen June 15, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Gil, what’s your basis for that statement?

noah June 14, 2010 at 11:46 pm

This particular (no pun intended) example may seem trivial, but some cases are not. The level of airborne fine particulates may reach dangerous levels, under certain weather conditions, in parts of WA, OR and CA, resulting in total burn bans. No big deal, except for those who heat with wood stoves. The act of simply heating one’s home becomes criminal. Several good discussions can be found in the forums on hearth.com:


The EPA deems certain stoves efficient enough to be exempt from some of these bans, but in actually practice it’s easy for a banned stove to be burned more cleanly than an exempt stove (depending on the quality of the fuel, and of the operator). The laws do not recognize this. In addition, the bans often do not apply to vehicle or industrial pollution, certainly a non-trivial source of particulates. So while you are a criminal for using a sustainable resource to keep you family warm, feel free to pointlessly cruise around town in your gas-guzzler with no threat from the eco-cops. Uncle knows best.

Martian probably actually believes banning fireplace use during summer months is a vital and significant rule to impose in the effort to control air quality. I am sure, during summer months, he greatly refrains from using fossil fuels, and any goods produced from them, so as to share in this effort for the greater good. Or perhaps he’s exempt, and is just making another moronic “we need government to save us” statist argument.

Franklin June 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

“The alternative to having the regulation in place is to consider each case separately. That seems like a bigger waste of public resources to me.”

Notwithstanding the “public resource” misnomer, each case individually certainly has implications for those who are witnessing the result. As citizens recognize the staunch support of a property right, they would tread evermore lightly and carefully and sensitively.

Case-by-case is true diversity; all else is conformity. Now enforcement of the property right is the tricky part. Not so easy that even a caveman can do it.

scineram June 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Conformity sometimes is great.

Franklin June 15, 2010 at 11:09 am

P.S. The ad hominems are certainly not appropriate on this site, which is the usually the epitome of civility. However, I did have to laugh at the term “dingus.”

BioTube June 16, 2010 at 10:01 am

The tags need to be cleaned up. Somehow I doubt “the dumbest thing ever written dave albin has the intellect of a child dave albin is brilliant dave albin is billiant not lol dave albin tagged his own article how pathetic dave albin is pathetic” is legitimate.

Kat Kanning June 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I couldn’t glean an email address for Mr. Albin from this website. I’d like to print this article in the New Hampshire Free Press. The reprint policy for this website says it’s OK to print Daily Articles, so I’m taking that as permission. I just wanted to let the author know that he’d be in the newspaper.

Kat Kanning

Dave Albin June 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Thanks for letting me know that. I don’t know about the reprint policy, but I think that’s cool. Other authors put in their e-mail address, so I guess I should have, too. My e-mail address is david_m_albin@yahoo.com – when do you think the article will be reprinted? Thanks.

Justin November 16, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I would like to know where you got this picture of the cavemen at the top of this article. I’ve been searching online to find it’s source because I wish to use it in a personal project; however, I would first like to ask permission from the copyright owner. If you have any information that could help me it would be greatly appreciated.

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