Thursday, April 24, 2014

The New Abolitionists

The exchange value of a particular commodity is a matter of property rights.  Exchange value is not an immutable fact, but rather an artifact.  Change the rights and it changes exchange values.  An existing exchange value cannot be used to justify the property rights that produced it.  Rather it is a moral question about what kind of world we want to live in.
Chris Hayes writing in The Nation (May 12) draws a parallel between the loss of wealth of slave holders after the Civil War and the potential loss of the value of coal and petroleum reserves if we reduced mining and pumping.  He calls supporters of carbon regulation “The New Abolitionists.”  Before we shed crocodile tears for the dramatized losers, let’s ask what would have happened if humans had had the right to be free of slavery and now carbon emissions.  What compensation would you require to become a slave?  The cotton plantation owners could not afford to buy out these humans. 
Likewise, what compensation would environmentalists require to sell the right to pollute?  The oil companies and the strip miners could not afford to buy them.  Hayes calls our attention to the losses to them and assumes they own the right to pollute and drive people and their earth support system to extinction.  Property rights are the issue to be decided and no dollar signs that are produced by assuming one side owns are relevant.  It is ultimately a moral question and cannot be deduced from any exchange values.

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