trees, greed, property

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at email.state.ut.us
Mon Oct 2 17:53:07 MDT 1995


------------------- FOREST follows --------------------
In reply to Tom Condit on Forests and Greed, plus more on the "evil
libertarian" Chris S.

TC: Weyerhaueser did more than just shift production to the Southeast U.S. as
the timber on public lands began to run out in the West. [snip]

LR: Of course, good point.  I didn't know about the salmon-farming
specifically, but we always expect the capitalists to follow the profits.  No
reason under capitalism for Weyerhauser to be devoted to lumber in particular.

TC: As for there not being any privately-owned forest left, that's quite wrong,
and yet another instance of the power of the modern mass media to filter out
dangerous information.  Here in northern California we have had a running war
for months over the plans of the Pacific Lumber Company and other companies
to cut their privately "owned" timber, including the last large stands of virgin
redwood forest left.  [snip]

LR: I don't think I said "not any", and obviously I was not aware of this case.
Does PLC "own" timber in terms of rights to cut? or own title to the land?  If
they own title to the land, I don't know if there are any laws and regulations
that address tree-cutting in Cal.  Certainly not in Utah.  With all the legal
sanctity of "private property", even a gung-ho regulator may have no recourse,
no legal way to say "boo" to PLC.

TC: The libertarian thesis that someone who "owns" something will take better
care of it than someone who doesn't applies only so long as the "owned" object
can't be converted into cash which then can be invested somewhere else. [snip]

LR:  We agree!!  This was exactly part of my point under subject line "public/
private forests".  Which Chris S. applauded!  I did talk largely about abuses of
public forests, but I'm sure that Tom's last point above was in there too, as I
mentioned private forest owners will only preserve forests if it is more
profitable than cutting.  I signed myself "problematizing public/private
distinctions in destruction of forest" or something close to that.

In fact, I wonder why PLC didn't cut "their" trees sooner, but I presume it's
because they were getting better returns on their capital elsewhere, until now.


To me, general arguments about property rights don't seem very useful unless
we get down to cases like this.  In the concrete, I see many clear details which
are lost in some [esp. sectarian] abstractions.  It is not as easy as "public
ownership good, private bad" or any such simple formula.

When Chris S. suggests that private property rights would protect forests, he is
NOT talking about an acre deeded to each person, I'm quite sure!  Remember
an earlier post of mine on pollution?  What if every air-polluter had to get
permission and/or pay a fair price for dirtying air to down-winders?  This is an
example of "internalizing a [previous] externality".  Same for forests.

Now, we know that "public-owned" forests in US are devastated, and "private-owned" chunks of forest can be devastated at the owners' whim.  What is the
solution?  I'd like to see somebody offer a "socialist alternative".  How will
people decide when, where, how much to cut?

I'm not at all claiming that Chris S. has the best or only answer for everything,
but I do claim that it is far more socialist than some folks on-list seem to think.
Is he not about long-term preservation of environment?  Blasting the profiteers
who make money off public lands and return nothing to the "public"?  People
participating in decision-making?  Are these things not goals in common with
marxism?

This is not just about forests, but relates to my recent meditations on sect-isms,
and other issues [not shooting at you, Tom, your post just seemed like a good
place to start at the time.]

Lisa Rogers



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