How to Go Green
Tibor R. Machan
Some influential, even powerful, public policy pundits, like former VP Al Gore and columnist Thomas L. Friedman (of The World is Flat fame), have gone on a crusade to champion what they vaguely call “green.” Among the measures they promote is high taxes on gasoline, so as to wean drivers from fossil fuel and encourage some alternatives like solar energy and wind.
Not that this is anything new—it’s been in the air for decades. Sadly, those pushing for it pretty much reject the best way to encourage switching from gasoline to various alternatives, some of them not yet invented. This is to promote privatization—to build up a legal infrastructure that emphasizes private property rights.
Though a bit late by now, perhaps, without the massive and decades long public subsidization of the gasoline fueled automobile and other vehicles, there would have developed a diversified production and use of fuels throughout the world. Indeed, it is nearly always the centralization of decision-making about such matters (as what kind of fuel people will have to use to move about) that brings and prolongs problems—waste, environmental destruction, over-dependence on a particular type of fuel, etc.
Yet once the world was steered toward reliance mostly on fossil fuels, along with the fact that vehicle movement began to be seen as a natural right, dependence on gasoline became a fact. Here and there small inroads have been made to come up with alternatives but for most of us these haven’t yet become cost-effective. So what do the champions of “green” promote? Higher fossil fuel taxes, that’s what. Yet another attempt to deploy top-down problem solving, which invites all the problems public choice theorists warn about and encourage the growth of bureaucratic tyranny and mismanagement.
For champions of “green” this is an especially counterproductive policy to pursue. And warnings of it have been aired all along. Just the other day news came of a huge cloud of nasty pollution emanating from China, the biggest of the few remaining official, centrally planned economies in the world. It is quite natural that it would be a country in which official legal acknowledgment of the right to private property is lacking where pollution is most severe. That’s because private citizens and groups there are legally ill equipped to fight what economists call negative externalities—the bad environmental side effects of various industrial and farming activities.
In relatively free societies if pollution gets severe enough, one need not wait for some remotely initiated central government to begin to defend against the impact of it. The fact that pollution moves from one individual’s—or, more likely, company’s—region into another’s makes it possible in a substantially private property based economy to contain it by private and local legal action. The government need not be involved much. And since moving a central government’s policies is akin to turning around an aircraft carrier—meaning it can take a very long time—problems such as air pollution must await decades to be addressed. This was evident throughout the rule of Soviet style socialism and is still very much with us in such places as Cuba, North Korea and China.
But the dirty secret is that the governmental habit is still the norm among all those who champion “green.” Al Gore & Co. just don’t get it and even when they do manage to identify problems, their suggested solution is Neanderthal. Always wait for government to step in and rescue us, never mind that that’s the most unreliable source for solving problems like air pollution, the world wide use of fossil fuels, and so forth.
It is better late than never! When it comes to dealing with macro political-economic problems, it is best to decentralize. Instead of having to rely on changes at the top and on some imaginary team of virtuous and wise “leaders,” a decentralized system can get down to business in people’s and various firms’ back yards.
Unfortunately, Al Gore, in his movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” or Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times columnist who is about to come out with his Discovery Channel movie, “Addicted to Oil,” seem to be oblivious to all the problems of entrusting governments with problem solving. They never learn from the malpractice perpetrated by FEMA and other central government agencies and keep putting their faith in the state.
If one is seriously interested in steering the world toward “green,” do not count on governments to help with the task.