I’m usually not one to pull out Ayn Rand (I far prefer the likes of Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, etc.) but I’m also a fan of calling a spade and spade so I’m willing to say with confidence that the following is a situation right out of Atlas Shrugged.
Terry Douglas is the owner of two coal mines (you know, that material most of our power plants required) and obtained a permit to open a third one. These permits aren’t cheap, coming it at roughly $250,000, but a quarter of a million dollars simply isn’t enough flesh for the government so they decided it would be great to go after him for some more money. Well it sounds as if Mr. Douglas has finally had enough and may simply call it quits:
Here is a transcription of what he said that I oh so cleverly borrowed from the linked article:
Nearly every day without fail… men stream to these [mining] operations looking for work in Walker County. They can’t pay their mortgage. They can’t pay their car note. They can’t feed their families. They don’t have health insurance. And as I stand here today, I just… you know… what’s the use? I got a permit to open up an underground coal mine that would employ probably 125 people. They’d be paid wages from $50,000 to $150,000 a year. We would consume probably $50 million to $60 million in consumables a year, putting more men to work. And my only idea today is to go home. What’s the use? I see these guys—I see them with tears in their eyes—looking for work. And if there’s so much opposition to these guys making a living, I feel like there’s no need in me putting out the effort to provide work for them. So…basically what I’ve decided is not to open the mine. I’m just quitting. Thank you.
Of course many people will crucify Mr. Douglas because they believe environmental laws should be upheld at any cost. The problem is many of the environmental laws are bullshit created simply so the government can extract more money from those who actually produce goods that people want. On top of that we wouldn’t even need all these environmental regulations is our country simply recognized property rights as absolute.
Think about it for a moment, if a coal mine discharged a pollutant onto another person’s property that person could sue for damages. As it sits now if such an event occurs the government steps in, fines the polluter (or lets them off depending on how much the polluter has contributed to our political Leviathan), and perhaps gives the property owner a little bit of money if they’re feeling generous. The Gulf oil spill would have been devastating to British Petroleum (BP) had the owners of the shorelines covered in oil been allowed to directly sue BP. Instead our government decreed a maximum liability oil companies are responsible for paying which let BP get off with destroying a lot of property with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
If Mr. Douglas damages another person’s property then let that person take legal action. If no damage is occurring Mr. Douglas shouldn’t be punished by our government in the form of fines, taxes, and regulations. It’s honestly that simple.
I’d also like to bring up a side note that’s relevant to this story, which are complains some people make against mine owners. Mine owners are generally not well liked, even if their product is, and accusations are constantly made that these mine owners are skimping on safety and health related concerns. Mr. Douglas points out why that really isn’t the case:
When asked about typical concerns surrounding coal mining—including companies skirting health and safety regulations—Douglas said it “doesn’t make sense” to let safety lapse and risk losing miners to illness or injury when it would only cost more to train new personnel.
This is why business owners are the evil barons they’re often made out to be. It’s in the owner’s best interest to ensure his workers are safe and healthy. Not only do you face potential lawsuits against those you’ve wronged but you also have to hire and train all new personnel. The longer a person works a job the more experience they generally obtain which makes them more valuable to have around.
I expect to see more situations like Mr. Douglas’s where the government makes owning a business all but impossible by piling on pointless environmental regulations. If property rights were properly observed in this country we wouldn’t need all of these expensive regulations. Eliminating these unnecessary regulations would make doing business cheaper and likely cause a reduction in the amount of environmental damage since the consequences wouldn’t be easily bypassed by giving the right people a large campaign contribution.