Monday, February 05, 2007
The latest attempt to disguise as capitalism new government intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens would be a proposal by Garrett Gruener, the founder of Ask.com, that the government give us the "choice" of either (a) spending our own money or (b) having it confiscated from us in the name of fighting something that may or may not exist (global warming):
Voters on the American political left might be content to stop there and let the federal government spend the tax proceeds to fight global warming as it sees fit. Voters on the right would likely object on grounds that taxes are already too high, that market solutions to the energy problem are preferable or that government investment in clean-energy technologies will only spawn inefficient bureaucracies. But because taxes are a third rail of U.S. politics — touch it and you die -- politicians might never get around to making us pay for the solutions we all know we need. [We all "know" we "need" this? Really? --ed]"If you don't want to be bothered"?! -- like being told, "Spend your money on global warming hysteria, or else!" doesn't count as being "bothered"! This proposal is fascism -- the pretense of private property with government control -- plain and simple.
The alternative is to place the authority to spend the tax money directly in the hands of the American people. This approach would make a carbon tax more palatable, equitable and efficient at reducing greenhouse gases. The average American would pay roughly $555 a year for all of the carbon used in his gasoline, electricity and home heating.
But instead of going to the Treasury, the tax money would be credited into individual "energy savings accounts." Each taxpayer could decide how best to spend it to reduce carbon emissions, to benefit himself and the planet. You could use your $555 toward installing solar panels on your roof, cutting your electricity bill to zero. Or you could direct your tax money to a charity that plants fast-growing trees at the equator, or to a private company that would suck up the carbon in the atmosphere and sequester it under the ocean floor. You could pool your "cooling tax" money with your neighbors and build a windmill to supply your town with electricity or a plant to supply you with a non-carbon alternative to gasoline. [And leftist cast Henry Ford as some kind of tyrant for saying "any color you want, so long as it's black"! --ed]
Any plan that produces energy without emitting carbon, or gets rid of carbon already in the atmosphere, would qualify. Companies would compete for your business, and more would surely develop to serve the burgeoning clean-energy market.
If you don't want to be bothered with this scheme, or if you believe the federal government is the best "decider" for how to solve global warming, you can do nothing. The Treasury would collect unallocated funds from energy savings accounts and put them to work tackling global warming as it deemed best. Poor people could apply for tax rebates, so that the tax would not be regressive. And better market choices would presumably reduce the tax bill for most people each subsequent year. [bold added]
Gruener is one "venture capitalist" whose theoretical understanding of capitalism is just a wee bit lacking. Two things are worth commenting on here.
First of all, I have said it before and I'll say it again:
Just because the government creates a 'market' by permitting the wholesale violation of rights (liberty in the case of slavery or property in [the case of California's 'market' in carbon tax credits]) does not mean that it is promoting capitalism.Gruener here confusing the fact that our names (and a very circumscribed amount of discretion) would be on these accounts with the notion that they would still constitute our "property".
Second of all, a very valuable lesson for actual advocates of capitalism lies buried under all this. I recall, back in the mid-to-late eighties or early nineties, that school vouchers were first becoming a popular idea, especially among advocates of capitalism. Implicitly, many of us saw these as a good first step towards removing government control of education by at least giving some citizens the power to use the money that had already been taken from them to send their own children to decent schools.
I also recall around that time reading an essay, probably by an Objectivist, to the effect that advocates of capitalism should be very careful about supporting voucher programs, which are in fact fascism (as I described above for these so-called "energy savings accounts"). I do not recall much else from that essay, but ever since I read it, it has been clear to me that one must always very carefully evaluate just what advocates of any given "market-based" form of government interference are trying to accomplish.
For example, in the case of school vouchers, many efforts have nothing to do with transitioning from a public education system to a private one at all. Instead, they are just attempts to fund religious schools with government money. And here, we see a leftist proposal designed to appeal to many of the same people who have been hoodwinked by the religious right to call a massive effort to establish government funding of the Church of Gaia "savings accounts".
This is why a full understanding of what capitalism is is necessary to become an effective advocate for capitalism. Not only can programs look like they could aid in the transition away from the welfare state while in fact they are doing nothing of the sort -- but many "market-based" reforms are being actively used today to accelerate the growth of the welfare state in new ways.
The lesson for advocates of capitalism is this: One must be very especially careful to evaluate the context within which any "market-based" proposal is raised before even beginning to consider lending one bit of support to it. And then, if lending this support, one must be very clear that this support is contingent on the measure leading towards a genuinely acceptable state of affairs. Furthermore, if such a proposal does not deserve support, defenders of capitalism should make it clear that it is anything but capitalism.
To wit: These so-called "energy savings accounts" are clearly designed to force everyone in America to pay, in one way or another, for a series of leftist goals. This idea is a form of fascism, a gross trampling by the government of individual rights, and as such, it deserves no support whatsoever. This last would be true even if we knew for a fact that human burning of fossil fuels caused global warming to occur exactly as Al Gore claims.
It is bad enough that so many people are falling for global warming hysteria. It is also unfortunate that so many are confused as to the true nature of capitalism and the proper role of government. It would be far worse, however, for those of us who do understand capitalism to stand back and allow both forms of confusion to feed off one another and further threaten our freedom.