When this book was first published, the author of it and I were young men, together. Now, that can no longer be said. But, we are still together.
I greatly admired TANSTAAFL then, and even more so now.
This book, in a word, has passed the test of time, and then some. TANSTAAFL ought to be made compulsory reading for all adherents of left wing environmentalism; it is only fair that they be forced in such a way, as they have been for so long attempting to compel the rest of us to do things, and refrain from doing others; and with no rationality or coherence behind their demands. As for all others, we, too, ought to read this book, in order to better understand what economics can teach us about environmental issues. Consider for a moment those windmills now being foisted upon us by the government, at the behest of the watermelons (green on the outside, but red on the inside). The trouble is, even from their point of view, that these clean energy sources kill birds. So, what is to be done?
The lesson of all economics, as brilliantly pointed out by TANSTAAFL, is that we need comparative prices that indicate real costs. But this can only emanate in a regime of private property rights.
It's generally true that writing gets better with each draft, but at some point a writer must stop, as his cost of re-drafting exceeds his benefit (the benefit to readers is a different story).
But sometimes we get the chance to re-write an earlier work, not just to finesse the original perspective but to add wisdom and highlight important points.
Edwin G. Dolan has taken this second path with his "Version 40.0" 2011 update of his 1971 book, TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) - A Libertarian Perspective on Environmental Policy.*
Now some readers may be tempted to stop reading this review, since they are not interested in a "libertarian" book on environmental policy. Don't libertarians, after all, think that money should determine who gets what, in some kind of Darwinist struggle to allocate rainforest to the richest?
Not really, and definitely not in this book.
That said, Dolan doesn't shy away from highlighting the dangers of government failure and command and control myopia. In fact, he does an excellent job of exploring the tradeoffs between individual liberty and government guidance when it comes to managing our environment -- saying things I've said in the past, but adding more discussion that I wish I had and explaining more clearly than I ever did.
It seems like Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on the principles of economics and the environment presented in this short but excellent book. For a specific vision on what the U.S. can do in this area, I highly recommend the book "Reinventing Fire" by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Being an ardent fan of Robert Heinlein, the title of this book intrigued me immediately. I was not disappointed. This discussion of real-world costs of doing business and who ultimately bears those costs, is a great translation of Heinlein's description of life on the closed-system of the moon.
This notion of earth as a closed system is the basis of much of the book's discussion. The explanation of economics was accessible and didn't leave me with my eyes glazed over. There are many great ideas of how to redistribute the cost of doing business so that those who are paying also receive the benefits to which they are entitled. And for those to whom the word "entitlement" is considered profanity, the biggest receivers of those entitlements are the businesses who do not pay for the true costs of extraction and depletion of non-renewable resources.
This is a must-read for everyone. It is important to understand the underbelly of "business as usual" if anything is going to change. My only disappointment with this book is the lack of how to effect those changes. And sooner than later as the second maxim after "No Free Lunch" is "Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later" where "Later" is ALWAYS more expensive.
It's the single best prescription to save the planet in light of overwhelming market forces pushing us over the edge: realign those forces to work for -- not against -- us. Don't ban flights, or coal for that matter. Make sure that travelers don't get push off the pollution cost onto everyone else, or that coal doesn't cause more in unaccounted damages than it adds value to GDP. Dolan nails these ideas like few others. If you call yourself libertarian and you breathe on a regular basis, this is your go-to guide.