Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Basic Error or, How NOT To Argue Against Cap and Trade

Progressives in the White House and elsewhere are making a lot of noise about regulating greenhouse gases to combat global warming. It isn't only their views that are wrong, but their entire viewpoint.

A White House memo recently released discusses how regulating businesses that produce carbon dioxide, et al will raise costs. Republicans, in response, argue they have a plan that will be cheaper. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) argues in the WSJ, for example, that nuclear power would be a much better idea.
This is not the way to go. Instead, House Republicans this week unveiled legislation that will lead to lower prices, more jobs, a cleaner environment, and greater energy independence. The centerpiece of our American Energy Act is a commitment to increase the production of our abundant domestic natural resources, and not to punish traditional energy producers and consumers.
True, but beside the point, the big point.

The debate on this issue tends to revolve around whether the cost is justified. That's the wrong debate.

That we're even having a public debate about regulating greenhouse gases represents a fundamental error in not just American politics but American culture. It implies that the government has a right to make laws not only to protect individual rights - which are not threatened by global warming - but to achieve allegedly desirable social outcomes.

This error is behind every major problem the U.S. is facing and every public debate about them. Whether the subject is energy alternatives, health care legislation, economic fixes, or any of the rest of the passing parade of hot topics, this point of view is almost universally shared by all popular points on the political compass.

And what is behind that error? In a word: collectivism, essentially the view that your life and choices belong to 'society' to do with as 'it' - in the form, today, of an elected representative, tomorrow of a dictator - thinks best. The collective decides what is best, not you.

Economic debates on the 'net display this error starkly. They inevitably involve, for example, Progressives claiming that such and such didn't cause the Great Depression or that FDR's policies did in fact help, with the opposition claiming the opposite. The debate continues with each side claiming its historical interpretation shows that a particular piece of legislation should or shouldn't be adopted now.

That's a worthwhile debate, not only because maximizing wealth is important to a whole lot of people, but because the issue is intimately tied up with which basic political philosophy — socialism or capitalism or some hybrid — actually delivers the goods. But it's too easy to get bogged down in endless examinations of statistics, historical events, and speculative projections about the future.

Virtually no one comes out and declares that, in the end, it's not overwhelmingly important whether Keynesian or Monetarist or Austrian economics leads to better economic outcomes. The fundamental political issue is whether freedom is or is not a right, period, even when it might lead to worse economic results in a particular case or in general.

By the same token the decisive question is not whether or not human generated CO2 leads to a rise of a few degrees in the average global temperature. If it doesn't, there's no problem to solve. If it does humans can adapt, if left free to do so. The fundamental question is whether individuals have an inalienable right to that freedom.

On that question, Progressives would very much prefer to remain silent. Unfortunately, so do too many Republicans.

1 comment:

Jason_Pappas said...

An excellent post. The Republicans have become collectivists, who merely argue that their management of the economy would be better.

I haven't been online for awhile but keep up the good work.