1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

Search Mises.org

Of Swamps and Jungles

Mises Daily: Wednesday, June 14, 2000 by

A
A

Swamps

Ever notice something curious? There are no more "swamps" out there. Swamps used to be bodies of water that smelled bad, were usually stagnant, and often had creepy crawly things running around in them, sometimes even alligators (or crocodiles, for the life of me I can't tell the difference between them, nor do I want to learn enough about these beasties to be able to make that distinction). While we were not looking, all the swamps have been taken away from us, and been replaced by--wait for it--wetlands.

Jungles

And jungles too. There simply are no more of them around, either. They used to be places which featured big trees, parrots, tigers, monkeys, spiders and other yucky species. They, too are long gone. In their place we now have -- drum roll, please, maestro -- rainforests.

Is this just a case of a few words misplaced? Perhaps lost, somewhere? Not a bit of it. By some act of legerdemain, best known to the experts (our friends on the left), this nomenclature has been consigned to the dust bin of history. We are now not to refer to swamps and jungles, but instead to rainforests and wetlands.

I say, give us our jungles and swamps back again. Let us sing the song, "Where have all the jungles and swamps gone, long time passing" (to the tune of "where have all the flowers gone").

Now the reason for this theft of language does not take a genius to discern. Wetlands and rainforests are good cuddly things, while swamps and jungles are bad and dirty. Since we have to save these amenities no matter what, and we dare not privatize them and leave their disposal to their owners, for this would bring utter ruination not only on them but upon all of mankind (don't ask!), obviously, the first order of business is to change their names.

This is not to deny that there are problems with forests and jungles. Yes, some of them are disappearing much too quickly. But this is due not to capitalism, as our friends on the left are wont to claim, but rather to the lack of this economic system. When these amenities are unowned, or owned in common by government, the "tragedy of the commons" comes into play; no one bears the full costs of dissipation, so this occurs to an over optimal extent. Then, too, managerial decisions made in the public sector are not automatically rewarded by profits when correct, nor penalized by losses and bankruptcy when mistaken.

The recent forest fire, purposefully set by public authorities in the American southwest, is but one case in point in a long train of abuses.

The "wetlands" argument is that if a farmer fills one in, then there will be flooding downstream. Again, no one denies that problems of this sort can arise. But the difficulty is "water socialism": there are simply no private property rights in bodies of water such as lakes, streams, rivers, oceans. But without such institutions, markets are unable to arise. Economic actors are not able to coordinate their plans.

Central planning, command and control modalities operated by the state, are no more efficient or necessary on land than they are with regard to water resources. Too bad that even scholars otherwise associated with free enterprise have not yet learned this lesson.

Prejudice

We must be ever vigilant not to be prejudiced. This would be the worst thing of all we could ever do. Even the very word, broken down etymologically, seems to imply irrationality: it parses as pre judice. In other words, acting without judging; or, making decisions without thinking.

To be avoided at all costs, presumably.

In point of fact, however, we do not, at least past the age of maturity, approach matters with a complete "tabula rasa." Those of us with any experience at all greet each new event with a wealth of background information at our command.

Walter E. Williams tells the story of a man who walks into a room and notices a tiger sitting on the couch. If he pre judges the tiger, e.g., uses induction, judges him on the basis of other tigers he has heard of, seen in the zoo, watched in the movies, why, then, he is prejudiced. How utterly evil. In sharp contrast, the non prejudiced person will not pre judge. He will not condemn this poor tiger, and try to get out of that room as quickly as possible before the creature pounces on him. Instead, he will boldly approach the tiger, offer to shake hands with it, or perhaps pet it like a pussy cat.

Save me from a lack of prejudice. It's just another name for induction. Or learning from experience.

--------

Professor Block teaches economics at the University of Central Arkansas. Send him MAIL.

More Walter Block Columns are available at the Walter Block Archive