I previously noted Gene Callahan`s interesting essay, "How a Free Society Could Solve Global Warming", in the October 2007 issue of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, at the website of The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
While I haven`t yet taken the time to review on these pages all of Callahan`s arguments, one of his points that deserves prominent mention - and is particularly salient today - is that public moral pressure is a perfectly appropriate way by which concerned citizens, acting in the market of public opinion, can inflluence behavior that generates externalities:
Even when economic transactions generate so-called negative
externalities (activities that shower harms on third parties), I still
contend that the free market is the best institution for identifying
and reducing the problems.
One way negative externalities can be addressed without turning to
state coercion is public censure of individuals or groups widely
perceived to be flouting core moral principles or trampling the common
good, even if their actions are not technically illegal. Large, private
companies and prominent, wealthy individuals are generally quite
sensitive to public pressure campaigns.
To cite just one recent, significant example, Temple Grandin, a
notable advocate for the humane treatment of livestock, asserts that
McDonald’s is the world leader in improving slaughterhouse conditions.
While many executives at the fast-food giant genuinely may be concerned
with the welfare of cattle, pigs, and chickens, undoubtedly a strong
element of self-interest is also at work here, as the company realizes
that corporate image affects consumers’ buying decisions.
But that self-interest does not negate the laudable outcome of the
pressure McDonald’s has applied to its suppliers to meet the stringent
standards it has set for animal-handling facilities. Similarly, to the
degree that the broad public regards manmade global warming as a
serious problem, companies will strive to be seen as “good corporate
citizens” that are addressing the matter.
(emphasis added, of course)