THE Mistake to Avoid

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Anyone who understands that the only legitimate purpose of government is the protection of individual rights -- and yet remains somehow under the illusion that he has a home in the conservative movement -- need only visit a few times a week to disabuse himself of that quaint notion.

Today's bitter pill comes in the form of perhaps the most ironically-named column I have seen in ages: "Mistakes to Avoid in the Global Warming Fight", by Steve Chapman. The entire column is devoted to making the biggest mistake anyone can possibly make in any discussion of the role of government, which is to forget the proper purpose of government.

Chapman's argument is easy to summarize: (1) The Bush Administration now regards man, and specifically, carbon emissions, as the reason for global warming. (2) It is the proper role of the government to do something about this. (3) Central planning has been tried and has failed for other tasks. (4) A "carbon tax" will reduce greenhouse emissions by discouraging consumption of fossil fuels under a "market-based" scheme. (5) This will permit government to remain "small" (whatever that means) by apparently avoiding central planning and by allowing other taxes to be reduced, and therefore, it is a good idea.

Here's how Chapman himself puts it.

[A carbon tax] also has the advantage of keeping the government role as small as possible. When the government gets directly involved in controlling energy use -- by fiddling with mileage rules, handing out grants and tax incentives, and underwriting particular energy sources -- it invites boondoggles and special-interest gimmicks that benefit politicians without doing much to temper climate change. We'll all be better off if Washington merely levies a tax and gets out of the way, leaving producers and consumers to search out the cheapest means of minimizing emissions.
As if by not taxing anything, the government could not be even smaller. As if a carbon tax somehow does not represent the government getting "directly involved in controlling energy use". As if the market distortions introduced by the government's de facto price-setting are not invitations to boondoggles. As if it is the government's job to "minimize emissions" and levying a tax (i.e., stealing money from those who use certain types of fuel) does not already constitute "getting in the way".

For those who observe the huge amount of momentum in favor of "doing something" about climate change and worry that by not getting a "market-based" or "small-government" proposal out the door, they will lose even worse, note that Chapman never once challenges the absurd idea that governments were instituted among men to ... save the planet. How the hell can anybody expect to win by not even trying?

And guess what? When this style of clothing for our nanny state goes out of fashion, another will come, and the Steve Chapmans of the world will give up even more ground. The answer is not appeasement. It is to understand the principles behind the government of a free country, to proudly and uncompromisingly state them, and to defend them.

It is only in this way that others who are aware of these principles will know they are not alone, the confused can gain clarity, and the enemy will at least know that he is being watched, and will therefore be less sure he can get away with posing as a moral crusader. Any and all of these would slow and eventually reverse the tide of history that Steve Chapman seems content to impotently "stand athwart", powerlessly, screaming "Stop!"

Had Steve Chapman remembered why men have governments, he would have realized that the scientific answer to the global warming debate is totally irrelevant because even if the answer is that man is causing radical climate change, it is not the purpose of government to address the problem.

Of course, as I have noted many times lately, the conservative movement has long ago ceased being about dismantling the welfare state, and all about coopting it. If I have made any error here, it has been in assuming that Steve Chapman really does oppose the global warming-induced drive to expand the government. Regardless, his contention that carbon taxes can in any way be part of a truly "free" market is totally wrong.

-- CAV


Galileo Blogs said...

Appeasement is the right word to describe the continual surrender of the conservatives over the last 70+ years. I had always used that word in a geopolitical sense, e.g., when Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler on the eve of World War II or President Bush appeased the [United Nations, French, Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, etc.].

However, appeasement is spot-on to describe the conservatives. They appease and statism grows.

Furthermore, it really is too generous to say that conservatives even stand for limited government. A tactical withdrawal by a principled opponent of statism or a foreign enemy is far different from craven appeasement where you actually mouth the slogans and platitudes of the enemy. Then you become the enemy. That is where today's conservatives are.

Gus Van Horn said...

"A tactical withdrawal by a principled opponent of statism or a foreign enemy is far different from craven appeasement where you actually mouth the slogans and platitudes of the enemy. Then you become the enemy. That is where today's conservatives are."

Very well put. This is a very hard fact to face, but one that must be faced if freedom is to have any hope at all.