Paying Rent to Breathe?

If you’ve never seen Mel Brooks’ classic comedy Spaceballs, I highly recommend it. That’s not just because my last name is Shwartz –“May the Schwartz be with you” says Master Yogurt in an exaggerated Yiddish accent.

The notion that oxygen could be packaged and sold as people’s only way of breathing sounds silly, on earth at least, but what if it were true? How much would the lone air Monopolist charge? What if you couldn’t pay?

We often hear horror stories from poor countries about water “privatization”. “Privatization” can mean a lot of things with respect to user fees and taxes, centrality of water management, etc. Regardless of the particular situation and whether resources are considered public or private in some sense or another, the fear that a few monopolists may control the means of everybody’s survival is certainly founded.

The Perri-Air clip above, though comical, demonstrates an important and underappreciated idea. If a few people have control over natural resources, they have the power to charge everyone else exorbitant fees for their use. The only reason the clip is comical and not horrifying is that air can’t easily be monopolized like land, water, oil, diamonds, etc.

This hypothetical air situation begs another question though. Do individuals have any legitimate right to monopolize resources? You can find my opinion here. This is meant to be open-ended though. So, let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook.

This entry was posted in Economic justice, Inequality, Natural Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Paying Rent to Breathe?

  1. Albert says:

    Total Recall (the original at least) does a good job of demonstrating monopoly power over air. By placing the action of the movie on Mars, they take away the absurdity of monopolizing air and treat it with the gravity it deserves. Bravo for finding a pop-culture explanation of Georgist principles.

    • Jacob Shwartz-Lucas says:

      That was another clip I considered posting. I don’t know what the particular situation was in that movie, but if people willingly went to Mars and only a few were paying all the costs to transport oxygen to Mars, I could see why charging would be appropriate and should not be subject to taxation.What are your thoughts?

  2. Dan Sullivan says:

    Cap and Trade proposes to privatize industrial uses of air as storage for pollutants. Those who are already polluting become the “owners” of the right to pollute, and others, even who put out more product with less pollution, must pay their already polluting competitors to pollute less before they can pollute at all.

    The right calls this a “pollution tax,” but it is much worse, because the revenue does not even go to the government. It goes to the established polluters.

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