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The costs of energy rationing are not trivial. Energy is what makes it possible to have mobility, to have labor-saving technology, to have lives that are comfortable, to have hope for the future. Energy rationing would lead to slower economic and technological growth, a darker, less human-friendly world. The trillions we’re talking about spending over the next generations on global warming could go to much better causes, could save lives and inspire hopes today.
But we’ve been told—we’ve heard it from Ron, at least—that we must do something. Perhaps. But why must that something be the expansion of state power over our lives? Why do we limit ourselves to taxes or rationing? There are other alternatives out there.
We could do some more R&D. We could mitigate. What about mirrors in space? What about fertilizing the oceans? Those of us who have looked at NASA and so forth are not overly enamored with government’s ability to underwrite those kind of policies, but we should be equally optimistic about government’s attempt to tax in this academic-blackboard economic way.
Resiliency is what we should be talking about. Not whether taxes or quotas are the better way to suppress freedom, but how we can use the global warming concerns to advance an agenda of freedom. How do we find ways of accelerating economic and technological progress? How do we liberalize the economies of the world? How do we expand the institutions of liberty even into the air sheds?
We can free biotechnology. I’m sure Ron and I both agree with that. If the world is hotter, colder, wetter, drier, we’re going to need the ability to modify our crops much more than we have today. Freeing biotechnology from the regulatory straitjacket it’s in today would be a way of doing that.
As Lynne said, we could complete the job of freeing our electricity system, not just for pricing electricity but also for incentivizing the grid to be smarter and more robust so we can free the trapped electricity that sits idle throughout America. Move fire, storm, and other insurance out of the government subsidy range and put it back into the private sector so we can guide people away from living in high-risk areas.
Unilateral free trade. Extend property rights to water. Liberalize energy exploration. Cuba can drill off the coast of Florida; why can’t America? Where is nuclear power? Certainly Al Gore hasn’t mentioned it. Eliminate the corporate income tax. Accelerate the turnover of capital goods and equipment. That would mean a much more efficient world to live in.
Our agenda is the agenda of freedom, not the agenda of some form of a rational economic suicide pact.
It is understandable that many people grow weary. I know people very close to me who have grown weary in this fight. We get a bit depressed when we realize that logic is for losers in the political process. It’s hard to be the dissident at the cocktail parties. Any of you who have had the situation where your friends look at you and shake their heads sadly and walk away know how hard it is, but our challenge remains to speak truth to power, to find ways to make good policy good politics.
I chaired a global warming panel in Bucharest earlier this year. There are some European think tanks that have withdrawn from this battle also. It’s too costly, they say. It’s too difficult to resist the consensus. We have to give up a little bit. To them, I’ll argue as I do to you today, that we must fight; we must continue to risk. The loss of freedom in the global warming debate is far too great. That is our duty. That is our challenge.
For events of this type have happened before. In August 1914, European nations found themselves trapped in a consensus, a set of entangling treaties that forced them to move in an inexorable way towards disaster, towards World War I. Edward Grey, the British foreign minister, noted, “The lamps are going out all across Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Today, fears about global warming are pushing the world towards disaster. This time the threat is not just to the lamps of Europe but to the lamps of the world. Energy suppression, if it happens, might last for many lifetimes.
Statist intellectuals still dominate the global warming debate. We economic liberals are few, but we few are the thin line resisting those who would return us to the Dark Ages. This is not any time to go wobbly.
Matt Welch: Lynne, could you speak to Ron’s critique of cap and trade? Is it basically a great idea in theory that you’re wishing might work someday 20 years in the future? Is Europe really a catastrophe, and what’s keeping it from working?
Kiesling: Just because Europe can’t implement this doesn’t mean the idea is bad. The E.U. carbon scheme is a poster child for what can happen when you have too centralized and too politically motivated a process for allocating the permits. The E.U. decided how many permits each country would have, then each country then got to allocate them among their industries as they saw fit. This was the most politicized process imaginable. With a good market design and good testing and good analysis, we could do better.