October 27, 2007

Strakon Lights Up

Global warming:
What if the Left is right?

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Al Gore keeps scooping up the System's rewards for ringmastering the global-warming circus, and now the World Authorities have seen to it that he received the Nobel Peace Prize. My attitude toward the creature Gore has always resembled that of Mary McCarthy toward the old Stalinist Lillian Hellman, of whom McCarthy said that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" Nevertheless, I have to ask a question about global warming that will really make the polar bears sweat: What if the Left is right?

Right, that is, in claiming not only that global warming exists but also that it is manmade.

The reasons for doubting those claims are legion, of course, but I can sum them up nicely thanks to an old anti-statist friend of mine, who used to warn against political science. He wasn't thinking of academic droners-on about the calculus of consent; he was referring to the mutagenic incest between Big Science and the Big State.

For decades now leviathan has financed much — maybe even most — of the scientific research in this country, so we are naturally entitled to be skeptical of any of its findings that have political import, especially when that import takes the form of tax-funded Big Scientists urging a further increase of state power over us ordinary people. Lovers of liberty and justice (but no others, apparently) understand that it is impermissible to leap from discovering a scientific "problem" to proposing a government "solution." That leap is propelled not by science but by ideology; and I'm one ideologist who's always ready to point that out.

And yet, and yet. What else does the Big State do, besides politicize science? Much else, of course; and we would have to expect that a great criminal organization that attacked our liberty, mind, family, and fortune would have to attack also the physical environment in which we live.

Those of us who paid attention as the established media finally found the cojones to criticize the Soviet Union — in the '80s and onward to the collapse — learned that the Soviets succeeded brilliantly in wrecking the physical environment of their empire. Chernobyl, however terrifying in itself, was only the poster child of an enormous enormity. And all the while, the Moscow leviathan — proclaiming that "the smoke of chimneys is the breath of Soviet Russia" — pretended that its poisonous state industry was creating a utopia for the glorious workers and peasants.

The Washington leviathan proceeds differently, and even more deceitfully. It pretends that it is protecting the environment from poisonous private industry, for the glorious soccerites and iPoders. But the fact is that any leviathan, relentlessly seeking to control all the commanding heights of the society it exploits, exerts a systemwide influence that depends not on economic rationality or justice but on the dark conjurations of political power and the lust for power.

The libertarian ruling-class analysts Walter Grinder and John Hagel have investigated the implications of government control of money and credit, in light of the fact that money, as the lifeblood of an economy, exerts a pervasive influence on its entire structure. Leviathan's regulations, subsidies, confiscations, and prohibitions outside the financial realm exert a pervasive influence, too. In terms of the present topic, we must not neglect the long-standing policies of leviathan that hobble the development of private ownership of natural resources and block the natural operations of the common law, which would recognize air pollution as a tort. But the environmental wreckage extends far beyond that.

As I write, the Southeast suffers from a drought — and the statist response is typical. Leviathan has suppressed a freely operating price system in an environment of "private" (i.e., actual) ownership of natural resources, which would draw extra water into the region to meet demand, so we are treated instead to a political struggle among the Pharaonic wizards of the Army Corps of Engineers and the state governments of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. And the inhabitants of the region, for their part, are being treated to those notorious weapons of socialist tyranny: rationing and prohibition.

In southern California, government water subsidies have achieved a similar success, with the aid of fascist war contracts from World War II onward. Using those instruments, leviathan has encouraged the intensive settlement of unstable, arid regions prone to earthquake, landslide, and fire. Last week the Authorities ordered 300,000 people to flee in San Diego County alone, owing to uncontrolled forest fires. We may reasonably imagine that, under a free market, the total population of that county could not much exceed 300,000, in contrast to its actual population of about 3 million. And certainly it is reasonable to doubt that the population of Los Angeles County would be anywhere near 10 million.

A reader may object that a free market might have called forth sprawling conurbations in unlikely places such as southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and the like, drawing in sufficient water on a long-term basis. I reply, Very well, let us adopt a free market and see what would happen without the taxes and official counterfeiting that burden all of society's taxpayers to support the massive populating of naturally difficult regions. (When a city hammered by disaster quickly rebounds without heavy government subsidies, one grants that there is a genuine economic basis for its existence. The prime example in California is San Francisco and its recovery from the 1906 earthquake.)

The late word, as I write, is that Emperor Bush has promised Central Government aid to the scorched districts — aid involuntarily extracted from taxpayers in all regions — in order to further subsidize the artificial settlements by means of state power.

Perhaps I should consult Prof. Gore before writing this, but apparently the wood smoke rising from California will have no detectable effect on global warming, as it seems to be light on "greenhouse gases." However, just now I am pursuing a more general point — namely, that the unremitting exercise of Central Government power, persisted in decade after decade, has profoundly and pervasively affected the very structure of our society, right down to its population patterns.

If we limit ourselves to chasing headlines about the latest disasters, we neglect the underlying factors that have produced them, and we may fall for leviathan's perpetual claim that it is only here to "help," in the face of calamities that are either acts of an inscrutable God or the result of ordinary people's fecklessness in going about their daily lives. As a thousand other writers have warned, the calamity of global warming — be it fact or fiction — has invited all the world's worst power-lusters to lunge forward, offering to "help" us even more by erecting a totalitarianism that will make the iron grid already pressing down on us look like a minarchist's airy daydream.

The "help" our supervisors have already given us has established the overall environment for our science, technology, and industry. Every politicized society gets no more than the science, technology, and industry it deserves.

It's rash to pronounce too specifically on "what might have been," in the absence of those iron-grid-makers, but seeing the discontents and derangements they have created gives us some room for cautious imaginings. Twenty-five years ago, sober-sounding futurists with a solid technical background were proposing a system of solar-power satellites that would beam energy down to microwave farms on the surface of the Earth. Coal-fired power plants would be a thing of the past, and — so they said — the price of electricity would plummet. They allowed that building such a system posed a few engineering challenges, but claimed that if sufficient financing and space transport were in place, the thing was feasible.

That's a fairly big "if," of course. However, we do know one thing. Thirty-eight years after the Central Government first landed some of its employees on the Moon, there is still no such thing as space-based industry. Government still exerts a near-monopoly over space, and heavily influences the commercial development, mostly involving communications, that it does permit. Where are the solar-power satellites? Where are the perfect crystals and super-strong materials that can be manufactured only in space, where a vacuum and low or zero gravity are easily accessible? Where are the specialized and efficient space-transport vehicles that orbital industry would have called forth? I don't know how economically feasible it would have been to lift inherently polluting and toxic industrial processes from the Earth's surface and segregate them in orbit — another possibility the futurists were broaching — but we will never know, and we will never know the answers to my other questions, so long as the dead hand of the state continues to suffocate space industry.

The entire electrical-generating industry as it now exists depends on companies either operated by local governments or privileged by them. Alongside formal grants of monopoly, established utilities enjoy important privileges courtesy of regulation, which discourages innovation and challenge by possible competitors. Central Government regulation helped determine the structure of the overall grid, and it also definitively molded the nuclear-power industry. Government-decreed limitation of liability for nuclear plants (through the Price-Anderson Act) gave rise to a particularly dangerous distortion. We may debate whether a free market would encourage or discourage an expansion of the nuclear-power industry, and a corresponding reduction in the emission of "greenhouse gases" — but we can never know until the iron grid of statism is lifted, and the insurance industry is permitted to function freely, along with the ordinary tort proceedings of the common law.

Government has also exerted a dreadfully mutagenic influence on our continental transport industries. In the 19th century, railroads benefited from massive government land grants; in the 20th century, the Central Government shifted to subsidizing motor-vehicle travel by building national highways (culminating in the Interstate system) and subsidizing auto companies by means of war contracts and protectionism. * Meanwhile, government intervention in the labor markets hobbled the railroads, and by midcentury passenger travel by rail was moribund. At that very time, the airline industry began to expand — but it, too, was doomed to mature as yet another twisted mutant of government.

It is questionable how well a free-market transportation industry would satisfy the Green Stalinists and their "carbon footprint" mumbo jumbo. But we may be sure that such an industry would reflect a different mix, an advanced degree of innovation, and an economic balance that was truly responsive to market demand, again including the demands of the insurance market and the market for protection from tortious invasion.

A true sci-fi maven would ask, at this point, Where are the 1,500-mph underground cross-country vacuum trains? — but I, as a solemn and responsible commentator, will refrain. Instead I will cite something that Ronn Neff, TLD's senior editor, wrote for TLD 18 in September 1997. First he quoted G.K. Chesterson, and I quote that quote in part: "The State has suddenly and quietly gone mad. It is talking nonsense; and it can't stop." Neff commented, "I sometimes wonder what chance we have of being sane if the world around us were already insane when we first started looking at it. Surely we took much of what we saw as more or less normal. If so, what does that mean about our sense of degrees of evil? What does it mean about our sense of the severity of the insanity around us?"

Our difficulty in detecting the mutagenic power of leviathan over everything around us rests largely on the fact that we, too, are its mutants, even if we didn't turn out Green.

October 27, 2007

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* One might, I suppose, call this "meta-protectionism," but in any event we should not neglect the service performed by the Central Government in destroying the factories of Detroit's foreign competitors and incinerating their workers, in the period 1943-45.

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