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Another One for the List

Mises Daily: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 by

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Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
         –President George W. Bush in his speech to America on Sept. 20, 2001

Vali Ski ResortFor several years now, I have been watching one particular terrorist group launch attacks in this country as well as others, seemingly at will; a terrorist group whose actions seem to anger no one other than the victims. This group calls itself the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).

On the ELF home page, you will find the picture at right, which depicts part of the $12 million worth of damage to the Vail Ski Resort caused by terrorists associated with the ELF. The ski resort had just won a court battle against environmental groups who claimed that the resort's expansion would damage plans to re-release the lynx back into the local habitat.  

But it doesn't stop there. On the front page of the ELF's Web site is this heading: "ELF Claims Responsibility for Fires in 2 States; Over $3 million in Damages." This article boasts that the ELF in May set two simultaneous fires—one at a University of Washington horticultural research facility, the other at a tree nursery in Clatskanie, Oregon—marking "the first time in North American history that the ELF has targeted two separate locations in differing states at the same time." More than $3 million worth of capital, research, and livelihoods destroyed in these two fires. In all, the ELF claims responsibility for more than $23 million in damages since its inception in 1992. 

The ELF's main weapon is arson. Anyone can set a fire, but how do you destroy the resort and not the lynx den? Al Qaeda has terrorist training camps in remote parts of the world, but the ELF uses technology (funded and created through evil capitalist activities) to give this knowledge to anyone interested. The ELF includes instructions: Setting Fires with Electrical Timers - An Earth Liberation Front Guide

Considering how much damage has been done over the last decade by these terrorists, why have we not seen American citizens as outraged as we saw them on September 11, 2001, or even on April 19, 1995, when the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed? Is it because the ELF hasn't attacked a federal government office? Is it because they haven't killed large numbers of people at once? (If these arsons continue, that's just a matter of time.)

Frankly, I'm stumped. Why are Americans ready to give up their civil liberties (e.g., a national ID card, the Office of Homeland Protection, etc.) and willing to send their children off to war but unwilling to acknowledge the terrorism that has been occurring right in their own backyards?

Like the attack on the World Trade Center, the actions of the ELF are attacks on capitalism. In fact, in January of this year, after burning down the offices of the Superior Lumber Company, the ELF declared in a statement, "This year, 2001, we hope to see an escalation in tactics against capitalism and industry."  

Al Qaeda uses the excuse of religious fanaticism. The ELF seems to be an organization of spoiled children with a poor understanding of economics and facts, but at an age where they think they know everything.  

In December 2000, members of the ELF burned down a house under construction in Long Island, N.Y., causing over $50,000 in damage. According to an ELF press release, "There are over 6 billion people on this planet of which almost a third are either starving or living in poverty. Building homes for the wealthy should not even be a priority."  

How many of us remember another attack on the wealthy, when Congress pushed through a excise tax on luxury items back in 1990? A Joint Economic Committee report later showed that 330 people in jewelry manufacturing, 1,470 people in aircraft manufacturing, and 7,600 in the yacht industry lost their jobs. Unlike the members of the ELF, these people didn't have mom and dad paying their bills. These were real people with families to feed who were left without a job because of an ignorance of basic economics.

Much of the ELF's actions are against "urban sprawl." Many Americans do believe that this is a problem—and why shouldn't they? Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club, never misses a chance in his organization's magazine to point out the evils of sprawl. Even the grandfather of all journals, National Geographic, recently published an article on sprawl that basically said we were all going to hell in a handbasket. Are we?

The February 1999 issue of PERC Reports, printed by the Political Economy Resource Center, contains three articles on sprawl—the first by Randall Holcombe, a followup by Carl Pope, and a response by Holcombe. Holcombe very eloquently points out that "development patterns often characterized as urban sprawl can produce more efficient land use patterns and enhance people's quality of life.  Nobody forces people to live in [suburbs].  Developers build them because that is where people want to live" (emphasis added).  

In his article, Pope contends that urban sprawl is going to take over the continent unless swift action is taken through government purchase of land. The fact is, however, that most of the nation is undeveloped. As Holcombe points out, excluding Alaska, only 6.2 percent of the land mass of the United States is developed.  He notes further that the federal government owns:

  • 60 percent of the land area in Oregon             

  • 13.3 percent in New Jersey                      

  • 7.8 percent in Florida                      

  • 46.9 percent in California—and the list goes on for those willing to go and look at the facts!

  • Aping the uneducated rhetoric of so many other environmental groups, ELF claims that development has used too much land and that it must now stop. I have a very good friend who once told me, "They're building a new golf course near my house. That's stupid. There are already enough golf courses!" My response was that, obviously, there aren't enough golf courses. Are the owners of the land and the investors who are financing the course stupid?  Or, are they using the land to best meet the demands of the consumer?  

    In announcing window-breaking attacks it carried out in Louisville, Ky., in January to protest "corporate sprawl" there, the ELF proclaimed, "The once beautiful farmlands of Eastern Jefferson County, KY, are being destroyed by earth rapers at the expense of corporate profit (sic). This was the first, be it minor, direct action attempt to the sprawl (sic). It will be a long fought battle and more actions are planned in the future."

    The ELF is attacking people's homes because they're built on land that used to be farmland? When was the last time they went to their favorite vegan deli and were told, "Sorry, but because of the shortage of farmland, there's not enough food!"  Agriculture, like all other industries, continues to make great strides in technology; i.e., we can now produce more food on less land. 

    I could go on at length showing why the ELF's actions are inane, not to mention morally reprehensible. The president claims that the war on terror "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." Does this mean that our Justice Department will finally apprehend the arsonists or at least the leaders of the ELF? After all, if they aren't the actual terrorists, they certainly are supplying them with aid and comfort.  As my civil and economic liberties evaporate in the name of safety, will I at least feel safe from overfunded, undereducated Gen-Xers with Zippos?

    I'm not holding my breath.

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    Rob Blackstock teaches economics at Auburn University, and can be reached at MAIL. See his Mises.org Articles Archive.