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The problem was not on the private property where the pollution originated. The problem was on the property held in common.

But I understood, and possibly incorrectly, that Dave was saying that China needed strong personal property protections and laws before environmental laws would work.


China has a population of 1.3 billion people. So a working-age population of probably about 450 million. If 20% of them are working for the government (exclusive of state-owned companies), and 10% of those are anti-pollution enforcers, that's 9 million pollution enforcers.

But pollution enforcers aren't paid to prevent pollution. They are paid to go through the bureaucratic motions of enforcing the existing pollution laws.

If you want pollution actually controlled, you need to give LOTS of people positive incentive to do so and the means to do so. Strong property rights provide incentive and a big chunk of the means. They could have about a billion anti-pollution enforcers overnight, and not have to pay any of them to do the job. The only further need is good trustworthy (and preferably cheap) pollution testing facilities.

You don't need air pollution laws. Just choose between two positions: (a) the polluter has a right to pollute other people's property, but those other people have a functionally enforceable right to appropriate compensation for that pollution; (b) the polluter has no right to pollute other people's property without their consent, and can be legally compelled to desist from doing so.

(If we could ignore transaction costs and absolutists, those two positions would be functionally identical.)

Air pollution laws effectively attempt a third and rather nonsensical solution: A has a right to pollute B's property on terms and conditions set by - and fees paid to - C. B has no say in the matter and collects no compensation.
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