Is Environmentalism a Religious Movement?
Mike Munger updates the Broken Window Fallacy for the Modern Age of Environmental Stimulus
Mike Munger (@mungowitz) is a prolific writer and Professor of Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy at Duke University, as well as a Senior Fellow of the American Institute for Economic Research – AIER.
His latest article for AIER, “Green Energy is the Modern Broken Window” provides a wonderful opportunity to bring the 150 year old concept, first named by economic journalist Frédéric Bastiat, up-to-date in the context of the $1.7 trillion so-called inflation Reduction Act, since so much of that spending is devoted to the religion of environmentalism.
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” | Online Library of Liberty
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Why read (and re-read) Bastiat?
Bob Zadek: Mike, welcome back to the show.
Mike Munger: It is a pleasure.
Bob Zadek: Mike, we start with the broken window fallacy, first presented to a French audience in the 1850s plus or minus. Who was Frédéric Bastiat? Why do I read and reread so much of his writing? Why did you select him as the cornerstone of that piece you wrote in AIER?
Mike Munger: Bastiat was an essayist and satirist. Over time, I think we select the best of a particular era, and maybe somebody will look back in 2070 at the current era and there'll be some things that they still read, but most of what is said or read won't still be read. Frédéric Bastiat has survived because his insights about economics are timeless. His key insight is so obvious that it has to be said multiple times:
Almost everything that politicians think is a benefit is actually a cost.
Almost everything that politicians think is a benefit is actually a cost.
The things that you, or I, or any rational person would think of as being a cost, politicians actually rightly think is a benefit, because it'll help them get reelected.
Bob Zadek: Of course, it is a benefit – but to them, not to us.
I often have guests who will defend an economic or political proposition, on the basis that, "Well, it works."
I'm tempted to say, "No, it doesn't."
But in reality, it does work for them – it gets them reelected – even if it harms everybody else. So, if somebody defends something by saying “it works,” don't be quick to attack them, ask them the standard of what "works" means.
Mike Munger: Frédéric Bastiat’s insight that he comes to over and over again is that politicians, journalists, and most people focus on “the seen.” He said that in economics, we really have to focus on the unseen – the things that would have happened if we had not taken the course of action that we took.
Someone had apparently suggested in one of the French newspapers that a broken window was actually a benefit because it creates jobs:
“Look, the glazier has to come and has to make some glass. The guy who puts the window in has work he would not otherwise have had. These are all good things. It works.”
Bastiat said, “Well, wait, consider the unseen. The unseen is I had to spend money buying the glass. I had to spend money paying some schmo to come to my house and put the glass in. Furthermore, those two people also would have been doing something else. If three people actually used up resources, I used up money, the glazier used up glass, and the installer used up time, all three of those things would have been used for something else that we will never see.
The idea that breaking stuff to create jobs “works” is pervasive throughout our society. One of the things that provoked me to remember Bastiat was how frequently in the environmental movement exactly this same flawed argument about creating new jobs is made. We have learned nothing since 1855.
The difference between jobs and wealth
Bob Zadek: I'm sure you remember the story of Milton Friedman, in an early visit to Maoist China, being shown around their economic system. His guide proudly demonstrated how many workers were building a dam or enlarging the riverbed of a river, and he was boasting that they didn't use heavy equipment because they could create more jobs without it.
Milton Friedman famously observed, "Well, but they're using shovels. Why not give them teaspoons and create even more jobs?" So, that's the broken window fallacy.
Bastiat wrote that piece in response to an article where somebody was observing that a fire, perhaps in London, was wonderful in that it created so many jobs rebuilding London after the fire.
In your piece in AIER, you made the distinction between creating jobs and creating wealth. Explain that distinction and then apply it to environmentalism.
Mike Munger: Creating jobs is the mantra that gets politicians elected. The question of “just what is a job?” is difficult. In fact, jobs actually are a contract between someone who needs labor services and someone who needs income. Jobs are created by the private sector. Politicians hope that they can create the conditions where the private sector creates jobs, or they can just announce, “We're going to put a bunch more people on the payroll.”
That's not exactly the same thing as creating jobs. From the people who are occupying the jobs, it may look a lot the same.
The advantage of the broken window fallacy is that the glazier has a real private-sector job.
Bastiat was responding to was an article about burning down London by accident. A French person had estimated that a very large amount of jobs had been created. Bastiat said:
“Well, let's burn down Paris.”
He was obviously kidding – he said:
“If we started fires in all of the four corners of Paris and there's a good wind, we would have so many jobs, because need creates jobs. People wouldn't have a place to live. They wouldn't have anything to eat. Think how great that would be.”
“Okay, that doesn't make any sense. What we want is not jobs for their own sake. What we want is wealth. Wealth is a place to live and something to eat.”
Why would you destroy wealth to create jobs? The essence of my article was just repeating Bastiat – noting that what people want is wealth. In fact, a lot of people, if they were so wealthy they didn't need to have a job like a college professor like me, then that would be great:
“I don't have to have a real job, I'm so rich.”
Most people, if you ask them if they love their job, they'll say, "Sure, I like my job. I like to work. It's important to me. It's a big part of my identity."
But the reason they work is to be able to get wealth for them and their family. If we're going to destroy wealth to create jobs, we're missing the point. We're just committing the broken window fallacy.
Cash-for-Clunkers: A Case Study in Wealth-Destroying Job Creation
Bob Zadek: Michael, I just flashed back to early in President Obama's first term— remember the “Cash for Clunkers” when he was going to create jobs by inducing people to get rid of perfectly useful old cars-
Mike Munger: -which they were going to destroy.
Bob Zadek: Exactly right. Let's destroy old cars and create jobs because now people are going to have new cars to replace the perfectly useful old cars.
You had these old cars that were not worth very much money, but they performed a valuable function. They provided transportation inexpensively. He had not read Bastiat, or if he did, he had forgotten about it.
“Let's destroy all the old cars and imagine how much better off we're going to be!”
Isn't that exactly Bastiat's lesson backward?
Mike Munger: What would Obama say to what you just said? The answer is:
"Well, yes, but this was about the environment. We're trying to protect the environment."
Someone did an estimate on this—the amount of new cars that would have to be built to replace all of the old cars that we were just destroying, even though they're perfectly serviceable, would have done something like five times the environmental damage that the old cars were doing.
It's true, the old cars were burning a lot of gasoline. Some of them put out quite a few pollutants. But it takes a gigantic amount of energy to build the stuff that goes into the car.
So, the fact that we were going to destroy all of these perfectly good cars, all of this wealth, in order to create jobs, not only did it not- and the reason your example is so good, not only did it make us poorer, it was worse for the environment. It didn't even succeed on its own terms because it required so much energy and material to make all of these new cars to replace all of the wealth that we just wantonly destroyed.
“It's true, the old cars were burning a lot of gasoline. Some of them put out quite a few pollutants. But it takes a gigantic amount of energy to build the stuff that goes into the car.”
Bob Zadek: If Bastiat's writing seems out of date, Paris forbid, here we had an example just ten years ago, with a 21st-century president saying, "Let's destroy wealth to create jobs."
It's almost like since a human being consumes oxygen and expels CO2, environmentalism ought to say every time we kill somebody, the environment is better off. So, let's just do it randomly and we'll improve the environment.
The Environmental Sacrifice
Bob Zadek: There are core principles of environmentalism that crash into economic thinking. In fact, no one has ever made an economic case for environmentalism – they make the case based upon quasi-religious beliefs.
Tell us about the economic impact of environmentalism on 21st-century life.
Mike Munger: Well, let's take a couple of premises and just accept them. Let's suppose for the sake of argument that there is such a thing as global warming and that it is anthropogenic, in that the expelling carbon by the use of fossil fuels at least contributes to global warming.
What environmentalists have done is to fetishize garbage—to turn it into religious tokens. They have acted as if what we need to do in order to save the planet is to recycle, to reduce the amount of stuff that we put in landfills.
Germany was worried about the amount of nuclear waste that they were going to have because they had a lot of nuclear power plants. There were protests in Germany:
“We need to shut down the nuclear power plants in order to save the environment!”
The problem is, given the premise that we need to conserve resources doesn’t lead to the action that need to shut down nuclear power plants. In fact, if you wanted to conserve resources, you would probably want to continue to use nuclear power. Instead, since Germany closed down all its nuclear power plants, and been forced to run natural gas for their electricity this winter. Because of the war in Ukraine, the price of that has gone up substantially. They have had to use ships and other means of acquiring that natural gas. I've seen estimates that have said Germany is using nearly three times as much fossil fuel as it was before it closed down its nuclear power plants.
There's this murky view of Gaia – the Earth Mother – a kind of quasi-religious worship, and we need to do things to show how much we care about Gaia. If you have a religion, you're not so much interested in doing things for you. You're interested in sacrificing. So, the sacrifice that we'll make is we'll give up these nuclear power plants. We'll give up cars that actually run. We'll give up warmth during the winter and we'll wear sweaters. That sacrifice means that we're now stuck with a set of policies that use more fossil fuel and create more carbon, that's worse for the environment as a result of this religious view. As an economist, I'm surprised how often this quasi-religion ends up harming the environment more than a greedy capitalist like me would.
Bob Zadek: To me, when you said the word 'sacrifice', that's a magic word in discussing environmentalism because sacrifice means 'do without'. Now, we all understand that one of the profound benefits of growth is that our lives get better, not worse. Sacrifice means ‘make your life worse’—deny yourself something which would otherwise be available. That's what sacrifice means. Think of the word in its bloodiest meaning. It means killing somebody to curry favor with the Gods. We'll sacrifice a human being because the Gods will like us better.
Now, sometimes sacrifice is required, which means it's not voluntarily living for less. You have no choice. Therefore, you're required. Parents may be required to postpone their own pleasures so their children get benefit. That's not a sacrifice. That's part of life.
But the sacrifice in environmentalism says, "Do without something today because..." and the sentence doesn't get finished except in the vaguest of terms… “Save the planet.”
So, that word sacrifice really captures it all.
Mother Earth & the Mother of All Wealth Transfers
Bob Zadek: I describe environmentalism as the Mother of all Wealth Transfers. It's transferring wealth from the present, presumably to the future. But why? Why should I be persuaded to live worse so that somebody who I'll never meet a thousand years from now will theoretically live better? Please, Michael.
Mike Munger: First on sacrifice, I think it's easy to conflate or confuse cost or investment with sacrifice. Now, saying that something costs something, I'm saving. I'm not eating as much. I'm not going on vacation so I can save up to buy a house. That's not a sacrifice. That's an investment. Maybe me taking less so that my children have a better life, that's an investment. That's not a sacrifice. A sacrifice must be literally wasted. You're right that in religious terms, what was important was you would take the fatted calf, you would take a sheep, you would take a chicken and you would put it on an altar and burn it so that it would go up to the Gods. It was important that it was burned, that it wasted because only that would then be a sign of your devotion to God. That's my concern about environmentalism.
Look, I'm an environmentalist. I'm a conservative. I think that we have a job to conserve those resources that we have to be able to pass them on to future generations by not wasting them. That's very different from not using them. Using them, if you look at the history of human society over the last thousand years, it got a little better and then it got a lot better. Would you like to be born in 1500 or now? Would you like to be born in 1700 or now? Would you like to be born in [fill in the year]? I don't care. Now is way better. As long as we have resources to use, society gets better, and society will be better 100 years from now. If we use up some resources, we're going to find others.
There's one resource we can't make more of, Bob, and that is time. Environmentalists want us to sacrifice time, which we can't back, to show how much we love the environment. That's the thing that really irks me. I'm an environmentalist. They want me to sacrifice for no reason other than to show my love.
Bob Zadek: As I often tell guests, your opinion is kind of interesting to me, but not so much as why you have that belief. Let me see the workpapers. I only will learn from you when you tell me why you think something. If your thinking is sound, I'm in, because I want to be smarter. But if you told me your opinion and then changed the subject, I'm not going to be persuaded.
If you had to summarize the environmental movement (and movement is an appropriate description as a transfer of wealth) from the present to the future, it is predicated on the assumption that whatever environmental problems result from our being on earth will not be solvable. They'll never invent air conditioning.
They'll never learn how to heat a home from the inside. Is it too simplistic or is it reasonably accurate to say that all we are doing is we are compromising our quality of life so that somebody we will have no relationship with and will never meet will, in theory, have a better life?
Mike Munger: I don't think environmentalists are primarily concerned about future generations of humans. They're concerned about the welfare of the planet. They're concerned about the welfare of non-human species. They're concerned about the purity of oceans. They're conceiving of the larger entity of the Earth as having, if not rights, then at least we have obligations in order to be stewards of this.
There are a lot of traditions where this goes back a long way, where you're not supposed to change things. I think that the difficulty that I have with many people who call themselves environmentalists is that they don't like people. It's not so much that they want future generations to have things. They want the world to be unchanged.
In the Marvel Universe, the Avengers movies, there's this one really bad guy who, as far as I can tell, is a perfect environmentalist. He's really concerned about the future of the universe. His name is Thanos, and he has this power. He has these stones so that when they come together, he is able to kill half the people in the universe. He doesn't care at all about future people. What he cares about is the universe itself so that it's not overburdened by these parasites called humans. I actually think that at its core, environmentalism hates humanity. I think you're understating it when you're saying we're supposed to care about future generations. We're supposed to kill ourselves so that the earth can survive.
“I think you're understating it when you're saying we're supposed to care about future generations. We're supposed to kill ourselves so that the earth can survive.”
Bob Zadek: You said a second ago that environmentalists oppose change, and of course, you're correct. Don't despoil the planet. When I hear that, I say to myself, in other words, anytime you paved paradise and built us a parking lot, that is anti-environmentalist. When I used to hike, there was a form of hiking called I think it was called no trace. You were supposed to hike in the woods so that there was no sign you were there. You didn't leave a footprint. You didn't break a branch. You didn't step on a beetle. That was the theoretical goal. As if you are shaming Earth by leaving a mark. Well, that means don't build anything, do not touch anything, live in a cave, because anything you build is converting something from a natural form to a manmade form, which violates environmentalism or the principles.
The Folly of Mandatory Recycling
Bob Zadek: Now, you have written a lot and spoken a lot about part of the misunderstanding of recycling. Tell us about the recycling concept and how environmentalists get it wrong.
Mike Munger: A fair number of environmentalists, I think, get recycling right, but they're not the vocal ones and it's not the politically popular position. Let me say, I said before I was an environmentalist and I am. I'm also an avid recycler. Every day when I drive my car to work, I drive that same car home. I don't buy a new one. I use that same car again. I use it over and over again. This shirt, I'll probably recycle it. I will use this shirt over and over again and nobody has to tell me to do it. If you have some old silverware, you don't throw it away. Because silver is valuable, you recycle it. The point is that you don't need to be told to recycle resources that are valuable because prices are telling you to do what environmentalists think a moral person would do. That is, I should consider these resources to have value. Well, if it's actually a resource, it does have value.
People who are avid recyclers want us to attach value to things that are actually trash. And how do I know it's trash? A resource is something you will pay me for. Trash is something I have to pay you to take. That means it has negative value. It is not a thing that anybody wants. I have to pay you to take it. Why would we recycle trash is the question that I have for environmentalists.
“A resource is something you will pay me for. Trash is something I have to pay you to take.”
Now, there are some that recognize this is actually an interesting problem. And to be fair, we underpriced landfill space so that we don't have people doing illegal dumping. The cost of using landfills, particularly for cities in California, is probably in some sense too low because we don't want people just to dump the trash in some vacant lot. Which means that it may be cheaper for me to throw something away than it would be to use it in a way that is more responsible. Okay, fair enough. This is a problem that we have to work on. There is no reason to fetishize trash the way that we do.
Let me say two things that almost nobody will believe me, but that I can document to be true. First, you mentioned that anytime we change something, if we put up a house where there used to be trees, that's really bad. Well, in almost all of the country, and especially in the part of the country where I live in North Carolina, there is 20% to 30% more forest land now than there was in 1900. There is 20% to 30% more forest land now than there was in 1900 because we're so much more efficient under capitalism with farming we can produce far more on less land. There's more forest now than there was in 1900. If you're an environmentalist, you should be saying, "Yay capitalism!" But that's not what they're saying, because we want to restrict people's sense of happiness and belonging for wealth.
The second thing that I want to say about environmentalism is that there was a mythology that we were losing landfill space. “We don't have enough landfill space! There's a shortage.'“
Well, that was because there was a report from the EPA in the late 80s and early 90s saying we were closing a lot of landfills because they were unsafe. And that was true. A lot of them were leaking poisonous chemicals. So, they were closing these small, unlicensed landfills. They built hundreds of new landfills that have a rubber seal underneath them, and so that way the leachates can't get out. We closed thousands of landfills. We opened hundreds.
Isn't there a shortage? No. We have 50% more landfill space than we had in 1980. Let me say it again. We have half again as much landfill space right now as we had in 1980 because we closed thousands of inefficient, bad landfills and we opened hundreds of good, highly efficient, highly healthful landfills. There is no landfill shortage in the United States.
Recycling is a religious sacrifice to show that you care about the environment. It is actually environmentally wasteful because it's a huge waste of energy. The energy that we spend on recycling is criminal. If you care about the environment, you should outlaw recycling tomorrow.
Bob Zadek: In other words, the landfill, the garbage was temporarily put into the ground because that made the most economic sense at the time. And what happened? We discovered science and industry went forward and discovered a product that would fix the problem. So, it isn't that we despoiled future generations. We deferred the problem until there was a solution, and then it got fixed. And that's what environmentalism gets wrong. They assume knowledge is frozen in 2023, and nobody will ever figure out how to fix anything like sea rising if it is, or CO2, they forget that piece of it.
If you will, if you think it's helpful to our audience, either contradict or expand upon those concepts, that environmentalism forgets that science and knowledge continually make the world better, and we are not permanently affecting the planet. We're taking a problem, treating it economically sensible today until a solution is found.
Mike Munger: Now, I think a lot of people would tell the story:
"Yeah, but those landfills, why did they start using these rubber membranes to prevent leakage? It must have been because of regulation from the EPA. Private markets acting on their own would never have figured this out. It was government action, and you're trying to claim credit for it.”
Well, that's actually not true. There is a system in a private enterprise called torts where you can sue if someone does damage to your property from an adjacent property. The reason that the landfill company started taking additional care was their exposure to private liability.
Now, we have problems with lawsuits and private liability, but these companies updated the technology for disposal on their own in response to the threat of lawsuits. Eventually, yes, the EPA started to inspect it. It became part of the regulatory apparatus. This system is self-correcting as long as you let prices operate, and lawsuits for torts or damages are an important part of that. You don't need external regulation.
I want to tell a story about about recycling. I said before that mandatory recycling is a bad idea. There's two kinds of recycling. There's voluntary recycling, which people will do because the price signals that this thing is a resource. Mandatory recycling means that you have to do it even though it doesn't make sense in terms of prices.
I was doing some interviews 15 years ago and I was talking to a young woman in New England, she was the head of their recycling public relations for a small town in New England. She was very earnest. I feel bad making fun of her, but she deserves it.
I said, "You've got a little truck, a gasoline or diesel-powered truck, and maybe it's electric, so it's coal-powered. But no matter what, you've got this little vehicle that drives around after the garbage truck has gone by. You've already picked up the garbage. You're separately picking up this other class of garbage on theory that somehow, it's worth something. A lot of it there's no market for it. Nobody wants to buy glass, ground glass or cullet in these little rural areas. And glass is very expensive."
She said- I swear it sounds unbelievable, but it's true. She said:
"Oh, Professor Munger, you have to understand recycling is always cheaper no matter how much it costs."
"Recycling is always cheaper no matter how much it costs."
I made her repeat it, and I said, "Child, bless you." Because I really cannot think of a better summary of the mindset of the recycling evangelists. Of course, it's cheaper because you're not throwing it away. That's always better.
Bob Zadek: Back in the 1970s, when people used paper, I had a client who would send me these binders, these big paper files for me to work on. They were held together with the biggest, blackest, tightest rubber band I ever saw. And I never had seen this before. They were huge files held together with black rubber bands. And I called him. I said, "These are perfect. The files came perfectly intact. Where did you find these rubber bands?" He told me he made them as he cut up inner tubes. He made his own rubber bands all by himself.
Mike Munger: Which government agency told him to do that, Bob?
Bob Zadek: None. He did it all by- [crosstalk]
Mike Munger: It's not possible. He could never have thought of that.
Bob Zadek: Marty did it all by himself. So, yes, human beings will respond to sensible alternatives, and they will do what makes economic sense. When you have mandated, emphasized mandated, recycling, it's recycling that makes no economic sense.
Mike Munger: It wastes resources.
Bob Zadek: Of course.
What is Waste?
Mike Munger: It doesn't even make sense on its own terms. This is not a sacrifice. Well, I suppose it is a sacrifice. It is a literal waste of resources. You are using up more energy than if you threw the damn stuff in the landfill to begin with.
Bob Zadek: Michael, you're mentioning every economic word that I love to play with. You used 'sacrifice', and now you use the word 'waste'. I have had guests on my show express dismay that we are wasting water.
Mike Munger: Food. We're wasting food.
Bob Zadek: Wasting food. For example, if I buy an apple, I own that apple. I can do whatever I want to do with that apple as long as it doesn't harm somebody. I could eat it, and let's say I'm not hungry. I just eat it because it's there. Or I could throw it away. People would say throwing that apple away is wasting it as compared with eating it when you're not hungry is not a waste. The whole concept of wasting something flies in the face of private property. Once you own something, the world cannot tell you what to do with it.
Mike Munger: You're making a moral argument, and I don't disagree. California is trying to have laws saying that restaurants can't waste so much food. Now, the reason restaurants waste food is they want to have fresh food for their customers, and they're not wasting it. These are commercial enterprises. So, yes, they can waste it if they want to. They're actually saving resources by wasting food. The amount of effort and electricity it would take to keep this food from going to waste dwarfs the expense of the food that's being wasted.
I think there's two arguments here. One is the moral argument that it's your property. A lot of people don't accept that. I often, for the sake of argument, grant the claim:
Okay, let's suppose somehow all belongs to society. If you care about the environment, you should allow commercial enterprises to waste food, because it uses far more resources to try to prevent it from going bad, which is a natural process, or for finding some way to use it somewhere else. Suppose that's not true, then that means you could make money by buying it from them. My proof is you can't possibly make money by buying up this wasted food, which shows it's a net waste of resources.
I want to pair both of those two arguments. First, yes, it's my apple. But restaurants, when they buy stuff, they're not buying it to waste it. They're buying it to provide fresh food to their customers. When it's no longer fresh, they throw it away because that's the least resource use of that. Anything else uses up more resources. If you care about the environment, you want to waste food.
Bob Zadek: When you reference California, I wonder if you were referring to a bit of California legislation that was enacted effective January 1st, I think, of 2023, that mandated that counties and cities take steps—they weren't clear what the steps should be—to prevent restaurants from wasting 25% of their food. That is, they could not just throw it away. They had to have a plan not to waste it. The state legislature didn't know how to do it. They just said, "Okay, every county must have a plan in place." I think you were referring to that, but I'm not certain.
Mike Munger: That is just what I was referring to. These are commercial enterprises that some schmo in the legislature thinks, "We're going to save them some money because they're too stupid to save money. They're wasting food. If we just pass a law and say stop wasting food, our restaurants will make more money and they'll all thank us."
Does Recycling Pass Economic Muster?
Bob Zadek: Tell us about the typical municipal-mandated recycling programs. Are they “good for the environment” or “bad for the environment”? For sure, they're good to get reelected, but are they good or bad for the environment from a purely economic standpoint? Of course, first, let's find out what it costs, and then we'll see if there's a benefit commensurate with the cost.
Mike Munger: Recycling is diverting garbage from the waste stream because it has a resource value. Now, if you're saying that what we'd like to do is reduce the amount of the waste stream, that's a different thing. Recycling is very specifically diverting things from the waste stream. If you wanted to have laws about reducing packaging or something about making the amount of waste smaller, that's not recycling. If we're going to talk just about recycling, it's diverting stuff from the waste stream into some alternative use. Then, the default is that has to use less energy and less human time than it would to put it into a landfill.
One of my favorite examples of recycling, is the fact that recyclers value clean glass much more than they do glass, or plastic for that matter, that has food residue. If you're a good person, you will make sure and clean all of the glass and plastic before you put it into your recycling bin. I pointed out to this public relations person that's a lot of hot water and time, and time is the one resource we can never get more of. So, you want human beings to waste their precious time by cleaning out jars before they put it into the recycle container.
Again, she gave me a great quote:
"Ah, Well, they can just put it in the dishwasher.”
"Let me make sure I've got this right. You want people to run their mayonnaise jars through the dishwasher?"
Her answer was:
”Yes because it's much easier to recycle them”
Notice that they're assuming what needs to be proved. The question, “Is this environmentally and economically wise to try to have this as a resource and reuse it, or should we just throw it away?”
They're assuming we should not throw it away. The question is, how can we make it the most valuable?
When I lived in Chile they had just opened up a recycling facility in Vitacura, which was a wealthy part of Santiago de Chile. In order to get there, you had to drive up and they had a bunch of bins where you could put plastic, glass. I counted there was a 15- to 20-minute wait of people in line in their cars with their engines running so they could put 2-liter bottles into the recycling container.
It was 20 minutes of their time and probably a tenth of a gallon of gas turned into carbon in the atmosphere so that they could put two bottles into the recycling. I'm Catholic – I realized what this was. This was a religious ceremony. Instead of getting the host, you put the sacred material into the recycling container. I think that was the clearest example that I've ever seen that this is a religious ceremony.
Bob Zadek: Michael, we're coming to the end of our show. We end where we began, with Frédéric Bastiat and the unseen. The engines burning, the CO2 going into the air, the carbon particulate going into the air is the classic Frédéric Bastiat's unseen. How miraculous. We have gone full circle in exactly the right amount of time. You should be a producer of a talk radio show, Michael. We've been speaking with Professor Mike Munger, who can be followed on Twitter at @mungowitz.
His most recent book, Is Capitalism Sustainable?, is available at Amazon. Mike's writing can be followed at aier.org. Mike, I know your time is valuable and I and my audience greatly appreciate the hour you've given us today.