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Environmentalism’s Perilous Ignorance of the Free Market

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From THE VN/VO:

I leave nearly every light on in my suburban house, even in rooms I don’t plan on being in for hours. I drive an SUV-like vehicle, and I am notorious for making a single back-and-forth trip out of everything I need to get from various stores. I use copious amounts of paper towels to clean up any spill. I have never recycled a day in my life, and I prefer plastic to paper.

Oh, and I’m an environmentalist.

Hypocritical? Not so fast. You see, I could have listed a variety of personal likes, dislikes, and characteristics of mine that are much more eco-friendly- I work from home and probably drive only 40 miles total each week, I have a compost pile in my backyard, and so on. I could then rage on about how you, too, should follow in my footsteps in a communal effort to help our environment.

Today’s environmentalists (by that I mean the past 30-ish years of the movement) practice what I call “back-filled morality.” This is where one builds specific rights and wrongs around actions they already partake in because of personal preference. My favorite is the trend of modern, young urbanites to bike rather than take cars. One-hundred percent of the time, it’s a completely personal preference first- driving a car in the city is a nightmare, its good exercise, its fun, and so forth. However, for those who bike and are of the “environmentally conscious” ilk, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that isn’t convinced that cars are wrong for everyone, and that cars are an evil we’ve leashed onto the planet.

Funny how arguments of global rights-and-wrongs always fit nicely into- and demand zero sacrifice of- the personal likings of the individual making the argument.

– FREE MARKET ENVIRONMENTALISM –

Americans don’t generally make sacrifices. I don’t, environmentalists don’t, no one does. It’s not that we’re selfishly corrupt and perilously greedy, as many like to think. Though many are in denial about it, we all inherently know, through centuries of inherited personal experience, that we actually have a system that figures out how to conform to both mass personal preferences and external necessities like a good environment- all without the need for much sacrifice at all. It’s called the free market.

The big, ugly, money-obsessed, take-no-prisoners free market? Well, the “free market” is a bit of a misnomer. The “market” is only a small part of the whole system. When people think of the free market, they assume it applies only to the trade of goods, services, and currency. They assume that seemingly non-economic issues like environmentalism inherently exist outside of the free “market” and must be regulated through some other system. Not true.

Take, for example, the problems in America that are slowly arising from dependence on a depleting and hostilely-controlled oil supply, and foreign oil specifically. A problem, indeed. Yet, when you look at the adoption curve of alternative systems- like hybrid and non-gasoline cars- it mirrors the beginning stages of pretty much every other culture-altering invention before it. We, as a people- with minimal regulatory interference- invented and adopted electricity in a matter of a decade. We invented, learned to use, and widely adopted the Internet in a matter of a few years.

Will hybrid cars be the same? Of course. The instant such products become cheaper and more convenient as today’s pure gasoline cars (and they will), is the instant we’ll begin to decrease- and probably someday eliminate- our reliance on oil. Anyone who worries that we won’t adopt such things is worrying about nothing (and could use a refresher course in American industrial history).

None of this is to say that adoption of environmentally friendly products in general, and alternatives to oil specifically, shouldn’t be happening a bit faster. It should. And who do we blame for the slow-down? Environmentalists blame the oil companies, along with their government lobbyists, and public relations machines. I, however, blame the environmentalists.

Pipe dreams aside, oil companies have one responsibility, and thus one need: to make a profit. Over future decades, oil companies, for the most part, couldn’t care less where this profit comes from- or even if it actually continues to come from oil itself- as long as its profit. No company that wants to be profitable has any agenda beyond pure profit. As harsh and unforgiving as it seems, this is a good thing. Only in a system where each entity has an essentially singular focus can global change happen. And, along these lines, such change can only happen with one other component: demand.

– ENTER, ENVIRONMENTALISTS –

Environmentalists have spent the better part of the past 30 years attempting to force extra responsibility into the supply side of our economic culture (i.e. corporations), attempting to bypass demand through forced government regulation, and attempting to guilt the public into making sacrifices. Sometimes the result seems successful, sometimes it fails. However, in nearly every situation, the process is flawed.

Environmentalists do serve a critical role in our economy and culture- a role that is often ignored because of their general dogmatic prejudice against capitalism and the free market. That role- and the only role anyone outside the supply side of capitalism can take on successfully- is to inspire demand.

Demand is a pretty powerful thing. It may be the most powerful thing in our economic culture. Demand can’t necessarily be fully manipulated, but often latent demand- like that which certainly exists for alternatives to oil- can be inspired. Thus, environmentalists hold the responsibility to work within the system (in other words, shed the guilt trips and hope for magic, quick-fix regulation) and figure out a way to marry the public’s non-prejudicial need for cheap and convenient products with the environmentalists agenda.

Such responsibility is often shirked. It’s a lot easier (effective or not) to complain about grand conspiracies and anti-environmental agendas. However, if you know anything about economics, the (often surprising) truth is that no corporation, organization, or any other entity can avoid or silence demand. All the lobbyists in the universe cannot squelch something that people actually want. Its never happened, it never will.

– CLEAN SKIES WITHOUT SACRIFICE! ON SALE NOW! –

So maybe in ten or fifteen years I’ll be writing a follow-up to this article on a landfill-friendly laptop, from my solar-heated house, where I park my hydrogen-fueled car. Certainly, if it makes my life easier, and is cheaper than other products, then I- like all people living in the free market- will be happy be that environmentally-friendly with my purchases. But- like all people living in the free market, including every single environmentalist- I won’t make sacrifices for it. I won’t need to.

Sacrifices, of course, are never necessary. The same economic culture which we all contribute to and take from just so happens to provide the right things, at the right time, at the right price. Any environmental problems will be lessened- or eliminated- in the process. They always are. Assuming, of course, that environmentalists are willing to take the responsibility for guiding such a demand.


View story at THE VN/VO:

Environmentalism’s perilous ignorance of the free market

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  • http://www.psychopundit.com Dave Nalle

    Yikes, an article so sensible that no one can find anything to comment on. Good job.

    Dave

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Well, it was my first article posted to BlogCritics. And it was a Friday night. I was assuming everyone had just started their drinking for the weekend?

    Heh.

    I kid. Thanks for the compliment, Dave.

  • Eric Olsen

    very compelling Christopher, thanks and welcome! It is all about priorities, isn’t it? We typically can’t have everyting we want at the same time.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Eric:

    Indeed it is about priorities. But its important to note how those priorities are “decided” globally. I find that environmentalists completely mis-understand this.

    And, most importantly, their “understanding” of this would in no way *hurt* their cause.

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com lono

    Sorry Chris,

    but you are a tool. First I’d like to say Welcome to Blogcritics though, as you mentioned this is your first post. I imagine judging by the very well written content that you and I will be sparring often.

    In the meantime, you are a tool. Though we aren’t terrific at making sacrifices, that doesn’t mean we should all lay down to the Bush doctrine and give up potable water and breathable air.

    Thanks, and don’t take it personal. I don’t dislike you at all… but I do really dislike most all Republicans.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Lono, I like the way you’re kind of an ambush bigot.

    What makes you think Chris is a Republican or even a Bush supporter?

    He made a completely reasonable, non-partisan posting and you assume that because it isn’t kool-aid pro environmentalist he’s a Republican ideologue?

    Oddly enough people can hold sensible opinions and NOT be Republicans. I know you’re used to all the common sense coming from Republicans, but it’s not guaranteed.

    Dave

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Lono,

    Don’t worry, I don’t take things personally. But I think you missed the complexity of my point. Maybe you were offended by my anecdote on my own “environmentalism.”

    Look. Environmentalism is not going to succeed without going through the free market. Sorry, it isn’t going to happen. That’s reality. It has nothing to do with Bush- I am not sure where you got that?

    (FYI, I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I am technically a card-carrying Libertarian, but I differ even with them right now on some major issues like Iraq).

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>Look. Environmentalism is not going to succeed without going through the free market. Sorry, it isn’t going to happen. That’s reality. It has nothing to do with Bush- I am not sure where you got that?< <

    He got that from his assumption that everyone who's not a dyed in the wool leftist must be a Bushite.

    >>(FYI, I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I am technically a card-carrying Libertarian, but I differ even with them right now on some major issues like Iraq).<<

    You sound rather like me, so you’re doomed to be lumped in with the Neocons by the unthinking lefties on BC.

    Dave

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Dave,

    I mean Lono no personal offense here, but I agree… this is the unfortunate effect of this new universe of pure black-and-white political thinking.

    In all honesty, you *can* most likely pigeonhole most people based off a few thoughts. People lately tend never to stray from the party line. So I can understand where Lono’s comments *come from*.

    Nevertheless, I believe one has a responsibility- if not to try and remove their own self from pure partisan conformity- to at least read into anyone else’s complete thought to make sure they aren’t pure partisan hacks (as I do believe I am not).

  • Bennett Dawson

    Wow, let me add my welcome. Great job on making me think about how really big cultural changes are market driven, and the the sneaky hypocracy of self proclaimed sacrifice.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    What Lono and others do is identify one issue position which they then assume can only be held by a certain group of people who subscribe to a whole different set of views too, be it Neocons or Bush supporters or Republicans.

    The typical example of this is when you express any kind of support for the Iraq war they immediately decide you’re a Bush-loving Neocon Republican. This despite the fact that there are a considerable number of Democrats who support the war, not to mention Republicans who oppose it.

    It’s bewildering.

    Dave

  • http://emeraldcitycomments.blogspot.com/ Roy Smith

    More from NPR on Bush – Saudi Meeting. Bottom line: 1) Saudis are at max of current production capacity; 2) Any increase in production capacity will require massive investment; 3) Saudis may not wish to make that investment but would rather take the windfall in oil profits they are getting now.

  • Tom French

    So after reading your article I get the impression that you think the market buying public will sort out any dangers greedy corporations might want to inflict on unsuspecting consumers.

    Without the environmentalists who would be alerting the country to water and air pollution that companies try to hide to guard their profits? The government?

    Without environmentalists, who will call attention to the commercial pillage of oceans? Whale hunting. Overfishing. Unintended dolphin catching?

    If fuel remains inexpensive, who brings attention to the massive air pollution your SUV and wasteful electric habits cause?

    Only by a concerted nation wide anti-market influence will anything that is not harmful to the environment, but is helpful to someones bottom line, be effected.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    The market is complex, unforgiving… but it works. In fact, its really the only thing that *works*, per se.

    You mention “without environmentalists,” but I never said anything to the effect of there being no environmentalists, or that they’re wrong in their base opinions.

    All I am saying is they’re wasting a bunch of energy, and thusly are far less effective with their goals/message by not *using* the free market

    Which they do not. They’re generally against it. They generally, like even you are starting to hedge toward, think that the market works *against* their cause. The free market doesn’t have a cause. Its all how you use it.

  • Tom French

    The free market does have a cause. To allow people to make money using whatever means does not hurt their profitablility. Without someone saying,” hey all that oil were burning is going to kill us in the future” The power companies will keep on profiting from natural resources. The environmentalists aren’t profitting from saying those things. So how are they working within the free market system?

    The free market allows the strong to survive, but doesnt take into account the implications of its actions in the future. If we pollute and make the planet generally ininhabitable, there will be no free market.

    PS There are plenty of people who do make sacrifices for a better environment. Saying everyone is as selfish and short sighted as your article makes you out to be is silly.

  • sydney

    I agree with Tom here.

    And yes there are all sorts of holes in your argument. You seem to reduce environmentalists to a bunch of idiots who haven’t thought about what they are doing.

    Firstly, environmentalism and many social issues do exist outside of free market economy. The free market has one objective, other than to maximize profits. If consumer demand aligns itself with an environmentally beneficial position, than yes, in that case both come out winners.

    Governmental manipulation of free-market is the best way to ensure the two align themselves. For instance, if the government mandated eco-friendly cars than our free market would only suffer a short-term loss while the environment would benefit enormously.

    Ya I drive a car, quiet often, but I’m not going to dispute the merits of an environmentalist’s reasoning, because I know it to be sound. I haven’t the personal discipline to live a totally eco friendly life. However, I would vote for changes that made it mandatory that we all live that life.

    I don’t understand your argument that seems to suggest there are no con’s to a free market capitalism. It would seem something personal is blinding you to the reality. I don’t suggest it needs to be totally removed, but what is the matter with creating caps and restrictions where it would benefit society. Americans are so opposed to this because they see Capitalism as their baby. Well, I say, open your eyes! Look around you! There are plenty of improvements to be made.

  • Tom French

    agreed.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Sydney,

    I don’t believe the free market is perfect, but its just been proven over and over (in reality, and in any Econ 101 text book) that “government regulation of the free market” often does not produce the results that were wanted in the first place. Sorry, it just doesn’t work. I don’t have a personal agenda… maybe I could *wish* it works, but with the inherent complexities (read: ineffencies) of government, all I am saying is this… environmentalists are looking to the wrong place to extend their cause.

    I use this anecdotal example often: go to the DMV to renew your drivers license sometime. This is how the sheer majority of government works. And *this* is who you want to cling to for your solution?! Its foolish.

    I saw a documentary on Discovery Times about BP and their environmental commitment (yeah, I know a lot of people will be immediately disposed to laugh without checking it out, but I recommend it). I’ve forgotten the title. BP *knows* they’re going to need to move away from their old practices on many fronts (environmentalism is one of them). Not because they’re all just nice guys. Because it *will* be profitable.

    I merely blame environmentalists for moving demand along so *slowly* by looking to Mother Government to do its dirty work, rather than inspiring demand in the market.

    And you think this is impossible? Look at the movement- in the market- for organic products. The government didn’t mandate this. People want it, and certain eco-friendly companies have done an excellent job marketing it.

  • sydney

    Ok , I take your point.

    Your example of organic products is a good one. This is one case when a producer sees an opportunity to market something eco-friendly.

    However, for everyone of those, their are 50 examples of products that are marketed though they do damage to our environment.

    Even the whole goal of a market based economy is to create want, to increase the amounts of stuff we consume. The sheer increase in volume of stuff we increase is majorly increased by capitalism, and as such detrimental to our environment.

    In Canada , the average person has doubled his/her living space in the past 35 years. That’s an amazing statistic isn’t it? It speaks volumes about the effect of capitalism and market based economy on our consumption and waste production.

    I agree that often governments are inefficient. Sometimes inefficiency is the price you pay in choosing the right direction. I hate to use Canada as an example, but I find it a vastly superior society, in many regards, to America, one reason is its social infrastructure, which as you say, are very inefficient. Granted I appreciate the innovation that was allowed to develop in the American Brand of capitalism.

    I just think American capitalism is a beast with its own objectives, often opposed to the good of our society. I find Environmentalism to be an example of how the beast has taken us in the wrong direction.

    Other than that, I’m all for using the free-market to improve our environment. Why not use both? The free-market and free-market restrictions?

  • JR

    I use this anecdotal example often: go to the DMV to renew your drivers license sometime. This is how the sheer majority of government works. And *this* is who you want to cling to for your solution?! Its foolish.

    True story: I went to the DMV-Express in the mall when I first moved to Northern Virginia. I walked out 15 minutes later with a new driver’s license and plates for my car.

    Try having your car totalled and getting fair compensation from the other driver’s insurance company. And this is who you want to trust for a solution?

    I saw a documentary on Discovery Times about BP and their environmental commitment (yeah, I know a lot of people will be immediately disposed to laugh without checking it out, but I recommend it). I’ve forgotten the title. BP *knows* they’re going to need to move away from their old practices on many fronts (environmentalism is one of them). Not because they’re all just nice guys. Because it *will* be profitable.

    Yeah, and Exxon Mobile is trying sell all the oil they can while it is profitable. There are different strategies to making a profit. In your “free market”, what’s to stop someone from exploiting all the resources in the short term and holing up in bomb shelters when the food riots start?

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Sydney,

    The big problem is you end your argument with “American capitalism is a beast with its own objectives, often opposed to the good of our society.”

    People drive the free market, the free market does not manipulate the people. Though you may think that this happens, it just doesn’t.

    People can remove demand very easily and kill anything they don’t want. We do it every day. That which we don’t kill, we can assume people want.

    *You* may think its foolish or dangerous for people to want X, Y and Z… but you have to look at it globally. What happens when you force A, B and C over that which people want? What are the consequences of that?

    More often than not, those consequences are worse… because you cannot ever force or manipulate demand.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    JR,

    In your “free market”, what’s to stop someone from exploiting all the resources in the short term and holing up in bomb shelters when the food riots start?

    Simple. BP as a corporation, its shareholders and execs would much rather just stay in business- fulfilling NEW demans, rather than cause “the end of the world”.

    (Yes, I know you’re exaggerating. At least I hope)

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    JR,

    To address your other point:

    Try having your car totalled and getting fair compensation from the other driver’s insurance company. And this is who you want to trust for a solution?

    Then leave your insurance company for not handling it for you.

    No one said every participant in the free market is good. That’s why companies (even insurance companies) go out of business!

    (In all honesty, personal opinion here… I have had nothing but good service from the insurance industry. Now, I don’t go bargain-basement… and if you do, then you get what you pay for)

  • sydney

    “People drive the free market, the free market does not manipulate the people. Though you may think that this happens, it just doesn’t.”

    Well here is our fundamental point of disagreement.

    My education, across many disciplines, always points to the fact that the free-market economy creates desires, and wants, which are often opposed to the betterment of society.

    I’ll give the most basic example. People know that smoking is bad for them, and that it is bad for society as a whole, yet we still create them, we still create a desire for them, we still load them with addictive additives, and so people still smoke them.

    I smoke cigarettes, but I am all for banning smoking in all public places and banning them completely. If they weren’t sold I wouldn’t have ever started and I wouldn’t be able to continue smoking. Sure it would suck for the first month or two but I would get over it.

    This example can be extended to cars, pollutants, the effect of the media on self-image etc.. on and on and on… There are cons to the free-market, and people lack the organization and motivation to combat them. Instead people give in to the short-term temptations. In this way, the free-market controls society, not the other way around. The only way to control the free market with external restrictions that people can vote on and have uniformly set in place so that all abide.

    This is not to say I’m all for censoring everything in sight and creating all sorts of restrictions on everything but I think that slowly, we should introduce more restrictions where the public deems it beneficial. America is so dead against this that it’s come to bite them in the ass.

    So, I think that, often, by the time Society rises up to stop a “bad”, it is too late.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Sydney,

    I smoke as well. It was my choice. I cannot blame anyone for keeping me smoking other than myself.

    Nothing is the antithesis to “freedom” than your statement to the effect of “everyone should be forced to stop because I want to stop”. Come on.

    Now, if you want to prosecute cigarette companies for *lying*, that is perfectly fair. They should be. But other than that, they worked within the free market.

    Its called personal responsibility.

    The only real *argument* that people have come up with to show some “danger to society” is health care costs.

    Well, the government shouldn’t be bankrolling healthcare for someone who became injured/sick from smoking!

    Personal. Responsibility.

  • sydney

    I’ve heard that argument lots before and I just don’t agree with it at all.

    Smoking kills people, left to our own devices, people will not do what’s best for them. Sometimes you need to enforce laws to protect them from themselves.

    If for instance, Heroin is readily available and sellable on the free market, than people would become addicted and would continue to kill themselves. Sure these people would be irresponsible, but the truth is that people make mistakes and often act irresponsibly. Your and angry, rebellious kid who wants to do what your parents warned you not to do, you take up smoking. Maybe your really in a fucked up mood and you try heroin. Shit happens, lets not sit back and lecture people about being responsible. Lets help out, lets prevent it from happening in the first place.

    Secondly, smoking kills people. It’s more than just a huge drain on the health care, it actually kills people. I see that as a danger to society. I don’t think any smokers would complain that they want the right to smoke, had they never started.

    Sometimes you need to decrease the temptation for these things. There are plenty of other ways we can learn about responsibility.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Do you honestly think laws against heroin have stopped anyone? Maybe in extrememly rare cases, but come on…

    You honestly think that there are a massive amount of latent heroin users, who are just waiting for it to become legal?

    I’d be willing to bet if it were legal, you would have just as many users.

    Secondly, I just don’t believe its the responsibility of government to protect us from ourselves.

    If you want to kill yourself, that is your choice. If you want to do something stupid, that’s fine. Just don’t hurt others or drain the system.

  • Mike Fitzhugh

    Nice writing, but the essay has some flaws.

    For instance, Christopher says:
    “We, as a people- with minimal regulatory interference- invented and adopted electricity in a matter of a decade.”

    Did not the government (taxpayers) fund a rural electrification program? Yes. No private company would have gone to the expense to pay for running power lines to thousands and thousands of homes. The government made the widespread use of electricity possible, not the free market.

    There are also plenty of examples of free-market failures. The Exxon-Valdez is a good example. If Exxon had been using double hulled tankers, that accident would not have been nearly as disasterous to the economy around Prince Edwards Sound as it was. Double hulled tankers were around, Exxon could have used them, but didn’t, because there was no economic incentive.

    I think it is a good thing to implement environmental friendly business practices through the free market where possible, but that’s not enough, because the bottom line of a corporation does not usually account for externalities. Like oil spills.

    The free market, just like government, is man-made, and subject to all the faults of the people who made it.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I have to say that I think the market is going to solve the problem of alternative energy vehicles and do it damned quick. The recent development of higher gas prices, coinciding with the introduction of first hybrid and soon fuel cell vehicles is going to make those vehicles very successful and lead to huge sales. That will encourage more research, better technology and a better, more fuel efficient product. And once these types of vehicles become accepted in the marketplace there will be no stopping them. The advent of hybrid and fuel cell SUVs will also make a huge difference. Imagine the joy and comfort of an SUV withou the guilt of excessive gas consumption – oh joy!

    Dave

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Mike,

    You’re discussing a program that brought an already-adopted commodity to people that didn’t have it. The government didn’t invent electricty, nor did it make it “necessary”, nor was it the major player in making it popular.

    Yes, the Government was involved in bringing it to rural areas. Was that the most efficent way to do it? I don’t know. I’d assume not, but its a detail of a specific application that’s not too relevant here.

    But, to address it anyway. You say:

    No private company would have gone to the expense to pay for running power lines to thousands and thousands of homes.

    I would? Please. Take me back 70, 80 years and I’d invest my last dollar in building a company that provides electricity to people that didn’t have it.

  • sydney

    Christopher,

    As happens occaisionally, I’ve argued myself into a circle and find myslef disagring with myself.

    THE heroin example was a poor one. Put it down to tiredness and boredom and too many hours spouting bullshit on BC.

    However, I do think that the free-market needs restrictions placed on it. Some of the other BC’s have provided examples for me.

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Dave,

    I agree with you.

    But be careful with the term “higher gas prices.” You’ll fall into the trap a lot of people do.

    (Adjusted for real dollars gas has always been nearly the same price, if not cheaper over time. The few spikes go away very quickly, as this one will)

    I prefer the term “perceved high gas prices”

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com Lono

    Sorry, I am coming in way late… but should explain myself. I apologize for implying you were a Repub. These days I have a siege mentality regarding politics because I am so fearful and so distrustful of this administration.

    anyhow, I don’t think the free market is going to step up to this one. This is a case where we need government interference to say ‘No, bad consumer!’

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Lono,

    No offense taken, though I did think it was short-sighted.

    Nevertheless… if this is one place where the government should say “No, bad consumer”… what if I could prove the following things to be dangerous consumer practices (And, I bet I could use the same logic to do so):

    1. Reading anti-government magazines

    2. Supporting blatantly anti-corporate causes with no government-approved logic.

    3. Wasting time playing video games rather than working.

    …And so on…

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>These days I have a siege mentality regarding politics because I am so fearful and so distrustful of this administration.<<

    When irrational fear leads you to ill-conceived judgements and drives your decsions making, then it might be time to step back and reconsider your fears and look for a more rational alternative.

    I’m not a big fan of the administration, but I can step back and look at it and see how it’s no worse than one would expect it to be and no worse than other administrations have been. It has strengths and weaknesses and has done both good and bad things, but you’re never going to be able to function in political discussion if you start from the viewpoint that the administration is somehow evil.

    Dave

  • JR

    Take me back 70, 80 years and I’d invest my last dollar in building a company that provides electricity to people that didn’t have it.

    Well you can still invest your last dollar building a company that provides health care to people who don’t have it. What are you waiting for?

  • Mike Fitzhugh

    I did not claim that government invented electricity, nor did I claim that government made it a necessity. I did not say that it was an unadopted commodity.

    On the other hand, you did claim that the country was electrified with minimal government regulation. Maybe by saying “regulation”, you are being technically accurate, but government involvement in the electrification of the US was not minimal.

    If it had been the wise market thing to do, some private company would have strung power lines all around the country, but that did not happen. The fact that the government played a major roll in the electrification of the country is very relevant to the point you were trying to make if you want to use the availability of electricity as an example of the magic of the free market.

    Please remember that I did say I think free market solutions to environmental problems are good. I just don’t think the free market is a panacea to all lifes’ problems.

    Of course, with the perfect 20/20 hindsight that comes with living in 2005, we would all be fools if we had a chance to travel back in time and fund the electrification of the country out of our own pockets, but chose not to take that opportunity. While we were doing the time travel, we could also invent velcro, invest in Apple Computers, and bet heavily on the New York Jets v. the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

  • godoggo

    OK, my two bits, couldn’t resist. I’ve seen something like this argument made by economists who happen to be of the libertarian ilk, and I’ll leave it to the experts to argue it on the econ blogs so I can read what they have to say. However I must add that simply identifying an idea as “Economics 101″ does not make it true. Quite the contrary. The idea of supply and demand curves that are the basis of so much of orthodox macroeconomics simply has no basis in reality. If you have read an Econ 101 text and not taken it with a whole bag of salt, I highly recommend Steve Keene’s Debunking Economics. There’s also a website to supplement the book.

    I’ll accept evidence for the superiority of market solutions on a case-by-case basis, but the idea that the market is the best solution to every problem without exception is nothing more than religion. I should think that a reasonable amount of government investment in environmentally fuels would be wiser than simply hoping everything will work out.

    Also, the suggestion that no-one ever acts out of true altruism, aside from being untrue, has nothing to do with the economic argument.

    Presumably a previous commentor has mentioned that the government invented the internet, but I’ll do it just in case.

  • godoggo

    BTW Mr. Keene is a supremely qualified economist. His argument is not for no economics but for hetorodox economics – in his survey of which, he is even able to find some value in the Austrian school, for G-d’s sake! Really a good book and an essential antidote to Econ 101 oversimplicities.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    I’ve never met an SUV driver who feels guilty about gas consuption on teir part.

    Your start put me right off reading the rest of your piece Christopher. It was offense. Nobody who believes in the concepts and goals of environmentalism would do all of those those things.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Even if the SUV driver doesn’t feel guilty about consuming gas, he doesn’t like paying more and more for it. The market works to encourage him to purchase a more efficient vehicle.

    But as an SUV driver myself, I know I’d like a hybrid. I need a 4 door to carry kids, and a small SUV gets as good gas mileage as a large car and it’s more roomy and more comfortable, so that’s what I have. Sadly the only hybrid SUV available right now is the Ford Escape which is really a piece of crap. The Toyota Highlander is coming with a Fuel Cell enginenext year, but it’s a very cramped, uncomfortable car. I’m holding out for the hybrid version of the Honda CRV.

    Dave

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Temple Stark:

    I’ve never met an SUV driver who feels guilty about gas consuption on teir part.

    Are you saying they’re supposed to be? When has guilt ever worked for anything?

    Nobody who believes in the concepts and goals of environmentalism would do all of those those things.

    You say “the” concepts and goals as if there is only one set, agreed upon by all.

    Some of us happen to love our planet, love what it provides us, and at the same time completely disagree with the “sky is falling” concept of environmentalism.

    I just don’t believe the sheer majority of what we’re doing will actually be seen to have a (relatively) significant impact on this planet. And those things which are having a slightly negative impact are swallowed up by economic progress anyway.

    (Did we get rid of coal burning stoves because people were crying out about their dangers? No. It was because of economic progress)

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    godoggo:

    First of all, Econ 101 is oversimplified… hence the “101”. And I purposely don’t get into arcane details of economic theory in my articles, because a lot of it is “theory”.

    Things like simple supply and demand, “value of limited resources”, etc are completely lost on most people. (I, personally, was never made to learn them in High School. I had to learn them on my own!)

    I’ve never dug too deeply into his stuff, but I am not sure that his title “debunking economics” is really apt. It is, like you say, more of a companion… going into ecnonomic theory *after* Econ 101-type stuff.

  • Shark

    Falvey sez: “Americans don’t generally make sacrifices.”

    “We” don’t nowadays, but you should check out a history book every now and then.

    Falvey sez: “It’s not that we’re selfishly corrupt and perilously greedy…”

    Despite all the evidence that indicates WE ARE.

    What a naive maroon.

    But Welcome to Blogcritics. You met David Flanagan and Dave Nalle yet? Yall should get along swell.

    Or are you just another screen name

  • JR

    I need a 4 door to carry kids…

    Why? I grew up in two-doors. Not too long ago, huge families were raised with no car at all. How did American families get so spoiled that they can’t function without an SUV or a minivan?

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    Shark:

    I don’t believe I stated that American never have, nor never should make sacrifices.

    I am speaking of specific sacrifices at a specific time.

    The sacrifices made during war (i.e. WWII) are tremendously important, for example. Wars don’t play in the free market.

    I *did* however say “Americans don’t generally make sacrifices.” We don’t. Like it or not. You have to come to terms with reality, even if you find it ugly.

    Environmentalists, to their own detrement, classically cannot do this. If its against their principles, they won’t touch it.

    Again, re-read the article. Its not anti-environmentalism or pro-environmentalism. Its “envronmentalists are losing their battle because of unworkable principles”

  • http://www.vnvo.com Christopher J. Falvey

    JR:

    Why? I grew up in two-doors.

    Yeah, but you’ll never win with that argument, as it can be taken back pretty much infinitely.

    Are you to say that the era you grew up in is the *golden* era, by some way?

    Otherwise, I can take all the luxuries you’ve had your whole life and use the same logic.

    What logic accurately defines “bad” times, “right” times, “greedy” times?

    In 200 years people will look back at us and be amazed that we could even survive without all the luxuries they invent over the next few centuries.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>I need a 4 door to carry kids…

    Why? I grew up in two-doors. Not too long ago, huge families were raised with no car at all. How did American families get so spoiled that they can’t function without an SUV or a minivan?<<

    The point is that we DO have SUVs and minivans, so why not make our lives easier by using them? I carry half my office around in my car, plus I’m 6’2″ and like some leg room. Then I’ve got to have a car seat and it’s a pain in the ass to put a small kid in a car seat in a 2 door.

    Suffering just because you have an opportunity to suffer is called masochism. Not suffering when you have the opportunity to avoid it is just good sense.

    Dave

  • SFC SKI

    Very good article. The comments are also illuminating, and thankfully they remain civil in tone.