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An invalid argument – people won’t therefore they must

Summary:
Everything has its costs, everything has its benefits. The mark of a liberal society being that we get to decide the correct balance for ourselves, of an illiberal that we’re told what to do by someone else’s estimations of that balance.A corollary of this is that if the people who have to bear those costs, and also to enjoy those benefits, don’t think it’s worth it then we shouldn’t impose them upon them. So it is with emissions in cities. It is urban dwellers who gain the transport from cars, it is urban dwellers who suffer the resultant pollution. Which is what invalidates this insistence here:Among other weaknesses, the measures cities must employ when left to tackle dirty air on their own are politically contentious, and therefore vulnerable. That’s because they inevitably put the

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Everything has its costs, everything has its benefits. The mark of a liberal society being that we get to decide the correct balance for ourselves, of an illiberal that we’re told what to do by someone else’s estimations of that balance.

A corollary of this is that if the people who have to bear those costs, and also to enjoy those benefits, don’t think it’s worth it then we shouldn’t impose them upon them. So it is with emissions in cities. It is urban dwellers who gain the transport from cars, it is urban dwellers who suffer the resultant pollution. Which is what invalidates this insistence here:

Among other weaknesses, the measures cities must employ when left to tackle dirty air on their own are politically contentious, and therefore vulnerable. That’s because they inevitably put the costs of cleaning the air on to individual drivers – who must pay fees or buy better vehicles – rather than on to the car manufacturers whose cheating is the real cause of our toxic pollution.

It’s not hard to imagine a similar reversal happening in London. The new ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) is likely to be a big issue in next year’s mayoral election. And if Sadiq Khan wins and extends it to the North and South Circular roads in 2021 as he intends, it is sure to spark intense opposition from the far larger number of motorists who will then be affected.


It’s those in that area who enjoy those benefits and suffer those costs. If they think that a ban, or limit, isn’t worth it, who are we who are subject to neither cost nor benefit, to force upon them the very policy they are rejecting?

Not what we’re not suggesting, that pollution’s just fine, that nothing should be done etc. Rather, we’re jabbing at the hole in the logic of this particular argument being used. The people who will suffer the policy might not vote for it therefore it must be forced upon them. Our point being that if they don’t want it then that’s the reason it shouldn’t be forced, isn’t it?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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