The Case for Privatizing Oceans and Rivers

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 20, no. 1 (Spring 2017) [Water Capitalism: The Case for Privatizing Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers by Walter E. Block and Peter L. Nelson] This collaboration between Block (free-market economist) and Nelson (free-market engineer) offers a little bit of anarcho-free-market-everything with which to engage the interested reader. Block, as always, brings his combative spirit and formidable reasoning abilities. He is ready to take on all comers including, at one point in the book, his own co-author! Nelson’s interesting case-studies highlight particularly well what happens when property rights and market forces are suppressed – whether on land or on water.
The book is a fusion of two complementary tomes, a circumstance that can often make for choppy reading. At times, it is hard going. But the pilgrim who perseveres will in time be rewarded with many interesting insights, as well as a glimmer of what a consistent free-market water-rights regime would (or should) look like.
The first half of the book is a theoretical section of sorts, laying down the case for free-market economics in a property-rights context. This is followed by several interesting case studies that reinforce the theoretical discussion at the tract’s beginning. A marvelous list of provocative topics is covered (albeit briefly for most of the topics). These mostly pertain to water-rights issues, but often the range broadens and discussion strays into more generalized property issues (e.g. the shameful treatment of Cliven Bundy [re. p. 40]). Here also is where the authors re-state their free-market roots, adding a second crucial concept: the problem of ‘government failure’ which waxes in importance as the case studies are reached. These authors are not bamboozled by the sight of bureaucrats bringing gifts to the private sector, and they also understand about free lunches.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on Oct 10, 2017.

 

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