As you may have come to expect at this point, I am not entirely fond of the education I have received at Columbia University. One of the major reasons for this is because of the bias inherent in almost every class I have taken here, from the most seemingly apolitical math course to the inherently political social science course. An example of the type of indoctrination one receives at an Ivy League institution was center stage this week in one of my courses.
Having completed a discussion on torts, we moved on to its application in emissions regulation. Emissions prove highly relevant because one party may cause damage to another party’s property because of the pollution one gives off. However, according to my professor, there is a solution to this that is equitable for all sides. My professor proclaimed, “It is the job of future economists like yourselves to solve these types of problems…otherwise what’s the point of studying economics?”
What was my professor’s solution? Well, since the typical Pigouvian tax wouldn’t work, of course we could follow the “market-based” solution of tradable carbon credits. The logic that my teacher put forth seemed infallible – the government can set the emissions level they so choose, and by creating carbon credit shares tradable on an open market, firms could buy or sell off their right to emit based upon their polluting needs. At the aggregate level, pollution will be reduced. Regardless of the initial allocation of carbon shares, trading will allow companies to emit at the level they so choose. Not only this, but the government won’t even intervene in this free market, and there will be total transparency to boot. Even more remarkable to my professor was the fact that this market was able to set the price, without necessary fixing by the regulator. Hooray for the central planners!
To be fair, my teacher did say that it is not necessarily easy to figure out the optimal level of emissions. But leaving out the fact that of course no government official nor any person period can know the optimal level of emission (especially given that this differs for every single individual), there are myriad other reasons why this solution is not “market based,” or socially beneficial. First, the market for carbon credits is being determined by government fiat. The government determines how many shares should be initially allocated to companies, and enforces the market on private companies. To whom does the burden ultimately fall to either pay for producing pollution, or build new plants that emit less? Why the consumer of course. This was not mentioned in the lecture. The question then becomes, are the social benefits of an emissions cap and market imposed by the government greater than the cost consumers will bare as a result of these policies? This writer happens to think not. Not to mention, of course there are going to be certain businesses that will increase their profits off of the push to decrease emissions as well, meaning government intervention will divert the natural flow of capital to specific sectors in the market.
There is of course as always the philosophical issue as well. Why should the government be in the business of controlling emissions? Of course, I’m sure any good politician, or economist for that matter would make the argument that it is for the public good. However, as always, I would argue that the free market provides a better alternative. First, if people are outraged by the emissions in their communities, they can take their cases to the courts and seek compensation from the company. If one’s private property is damaged, it is their right to seek just compensation, and the job of the courts to arbitrate in these disputes. Second, if this proves insufficient, and the company truly is tearing a community apart, the people in the community can boycott the company, making it financially impossible for the company to operate, and thus forcing the company to change its production techniques to emit less pollution. In an age where information is more readily accessible and transmittable than ever before, it should be easier than ever to rally people against a company. For those who challenge this, even with multinational companies, if the consumers are so angry at the producers for their treatment of the environment, it should be worth the effort of citizens to take shots at the bottom line of the polluting producer, or to rally lawyers and interest groups against the firm, as the firm like any defendant is deemed innocent until proved guilty. Further, if there was ever a time that citizens could rally against corporations easily, given the speed at which information can be disseminated today, people are more easily able to rally behind their causes than ever before.
Unfortunately, the professor of this particular class believes that if a divine central planner could accomplish the aforementioned “elegant” solution, this would be perfectly acceptable as well. It is all about “efficiency,” and “optimal allocations” to university professors. But there is never the question of right and wrong. Simple morality, and respect for natural rights is not a factor. It is always the obligation of politicians and economists to solve our problems, not private individuals. The left is able to veil their interventionism in the cloak of the free market. As long as academia continues to pander about the virtues of government, our future leaders will continue to make the mistakes of their predecessors.
As some of you may have seen recently, details of specific projects to be carried out under Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan have been trickling out into the media (transparency from the government for a change). One of the projects gaining perhaps the most notoriety is a plan to transform the humble town of 194, Edwardsville, Alabama into “a cutting-edge demonstration project for energy sustainability and a hub for tourism.” The bold new project comes replete with “a renewable energy museum, scenic railroad, and vineyards.” The asking price for the project? $375 million, or approximately $2 million per resident.
If this does not sound terrific enough, wait till you hear the details on some of the proposals that go into the package:
Along with the more traditional proposals to replace streetlights with solar-powered lights (cost: $3,479,200), to install solar panels on the town hall (cost: $77,000), and to build solar-powered recharging stations for electric golf carts and vehicles (cost: $620,000), Edwardsville and Talladega Springs have assembled a set of even more far-reaching projects.
An outlay of $50.4 million, for example, would go toward installing water pipelines beneath roads to soak up the sun’s rays, transferring heat. That technology is currently being used in the Netherlands, which found that while the cost of installation was double that of normal gas heating, the system halved the amount of energy required.
One of Edwardsville’s biggest proposed expenditures is for a “renewable energy museum and information dissemination center.” Phillips envisions exhibits, audio tours, seminars, a research center, and a satellite lab run by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. To fund the museum, Edwardsville is requesting $32.1 million.
The energy museum speaks to Edwardsville’s larger hope: becoming a tourist destination. The town has requested $37 million for a solar energy-enhanced “scenic railroad line.” It’s also asking for $9 million to go toward establishing an eventual 640 acres of vineyards, 160 acres of which would be launched first. Each of the four vineyards would be designed around the theme of a different European country and, in a bid for weddings, dotted with gazebos and chapels.
Now before we rush to judgment, there are a few things we must keep in mind. First, these projects would not just be serving Edwardsville, but a region of a robust 80,000 people. For perspective, this is just greater than the amount of people in one square mile (70,595) of Manhattan. All 80,000 will get to enjoy the beautiful new vineyards. Second, given Edwardsville’s poverty level (28.7% were below the poverty line according to the 2000 census), as E.D. Phillips, town representative to the U.S. Conference of Mayors notes, “Do you know how hard it is to fund some of these projects when your tax base is so low? So we just breathed this sigh of relief when we found out about the stimulus package . . . especially when it had a focus on renewable energy.” After all, green energy will solve your third-world poverty levels. Third, regarding the efficacy of the museum, according to Ford Bell, President of the American Association of Museums, just because a museum is rural does not mean it will be a failure, with Ford pointing to the success of a living history museum in Fishers, Ind. Quite the ringing endorsement, and might I add a lovely museum.
In all honesty, I don’t even know where to begin. In my wildest dreams I could never have envisioned a project like this. It seems like something out of the Onion. But it’s not. This is a real plan that could potentially be enacted by our soon-to-be-president Obama. As Mr. Obama noted in his most recent speech on the ironically named “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan,”
It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe…That’s why we’ll invest in priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century. That’s why the overwhelming majority of the jobs created will be in the private sector, while our plan will save the public sector jobs of teachers, cops, firefighters and others who provide vital services.
To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. We will modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills. In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced—jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.
For the detractors, Obama notes:
I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan. Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven’t yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy. That’s why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won’t just throw money at our problems—we’ll invest in what works. The true test of the policies we’ll pursue won’t be whether they’re Democratic or Republican ideas, but whether they create jobs, grow our economy, and put the American Dream within reach of the American people…
Every American will be able to hold Washington accountable for these decisions by going online to see how and where their tax dollars are being spent. And as I announced yesterday, we will launch an unprecedented effort to eliminate unwise and unnecessary spending that has never been more unaffordable for our nation and our children’s future than it is right now.
We cannot have a solid recovery if our people and our businesses don’t have confidence that we’re getting our fiscal house in order. That’s why our goal is not to create a slew of new government programs, but a foundation for long-term economic growth.
That also means an economic recovery plan that is free from earmarks and pet projects. I understand that every member of Congress has ideas on how to spend money. Many of these projects are worthy, and benefit local communities. But this emergency legislation must not be the vehicle for those aspirations. This must be a time when leaders in both parties put the urgent needs of our nation above our own narrow interests.
We have already tried the wait-and-see approach to our problems, and it is the same approach that helped lead us to this day of reckoning.
That is why the time has come to build a 21st century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded. That’s why I’m asking Congress to work with me and my team day and night, on weekends if necessary, to get the plan passed in the next few weeks. That’s why I’m calling on all Americans—Democrats and Republicans—to put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles; a sense of common purpose above the same narrow partisanship; and insist that the first question each of us asks isn’t “What’s good for me?” but “What’s good for the country my children will inherit?”
More than any program or policy, it is this spirit that will enable us to confront this challenge with the same spirit that has led previous generations to face down war, depression, and fear itself.
Ok Mr. Obama, let’s talk about “What’s good for the country my children will inherit.” Based on your plan, my children are going to inherit a large deficit which they will be forced to pay down in direct taxes, high interest rates, and/or inflation, a government with a legacy of redistributing wealth to build green energy museums, scenic railroads and vineyards in small towns in Alabama and a strong “sense of common purpose.” My future children can feel safe in their impoverishment knowing that they share that fortune with millions of others with a “sense of common purpose.”
This particularly egregious example of government waste and reckless regard for the taxpayer accomplishes none of the lofty goals Mr. Obama strives for. Money is not being used for anything that I would call a “priority.” Certainly the money is not going towards saving “the public sector jobs of teachers, cops, firefighters and others who provide vital services,” nor does it seem to provide for “long-term economic growth.” What this plan does is reflect a perverse diversion of hard-earned, taxpayer money toward asinine green energy initiatives, a railroad that serves no rational purpose whatsoever and a vineyard that the US News article notes many characterize as “dubious”, given that “The Southeast is subject to a disease that puts traditional European grape varieties out of reach, usually limiting vineyards to the muscadine grape. Partly as a result, vineyards haven’t exactly been the region’s strong suit…Funding more than “a fraction of the scope” of neighboring states’ vineyards with public money, therefore, would distort the market, says Bill Nelson, president of WineAmerica, the National Association of American Wineries.” But at least the taxpayer will have the comfort of holding Washington accountable by being able to go “online to see how and where their tax dollars are being spent.” You mean we actually get to see how the government is spending the income they took from us too?
What this plan amounts to is a robbery of the citizens in so many respects. The government is robbing us of our hard-earned dollars for experimental green initiatives and building museums so people can study about a green ideology which basically follows a Rousseauean logic that leads us to reject industrialization and technological advancement, and sacrifice these goals for the sake of “saving the planet.” Now I don’t think that intentionally harming the environment is a great thing to do, but I also don’t think that we as humans were put on Earth to sacrifice ourselves by not making use of its resources. The government is robbing us of our dignity by taking the common citizen to be a fool in not realizing that these proposals are the exact earmarks and pet projects that it claims to be protecting us against, and using scare tactics that millions of jobs will be lost without these projects, and also in naively and disingenuously claiming it will grow our economy and “put the American dream within reach of the American people” while “getting our fiscal house in order” without “unwise and unnecessary spending that has never been more unaffordable for our nation and our children’s future than it is right now.” The government is robbing us of our freedoms because it allows itself to dictate the best ways to use our money, instead of allowing us, the people (who it’s supposed to represent I might add), to determine how we would like to dispense with our cash, if we choose to dispense with it at all. The government is robbing our future generations by adding staggering amounts to our already colossal debt. It is robbing us of our confidence by basing itself on the fallacious argument that in the short-term only government can provide the lift out of the recession, not private American citizens acting with a sense of entrepreneurial spirit, appetite for risk and belief in the individual. Essentially, it is robbing us of all of our G-d-given and Constitutionally-protected natural rights to our lives, our liberty and our property. Perhaps worst of all, it is robbing us of our trust.
In closing, one of my friends from Alabama had the following response to the article: “They just tarnished everything Senator Shelby has fought for during these past few months. Fu@#in’ redneck hippies.” My sentiments exactly.