Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The hope and the terror

One cannot but sympathize with Barak Obama. He will ascend to the presidency at a time of unprecedented challenges, both domestic and foreign. Also, the hype surrounding him suggests that he is a miracle worker. He is bound to disappoint his adoring fans when they find out he is mortal - talented but mortal.

To a large extent he will be the victim of his own rhetoric. He has promised everyone fulfillment - whatever your issue he will handle it for you. And now, as people look to him to deliver, they will find out that you cannot deliver to all of the people at the same time - especially when their interests conflict.

So whom will he satisfy? For example, will it be the populists who look to him to sock it to the rich and banish poverty and inequality forever or will it be those who take comfort in his assurances that he will put America back on a sound fiscal footing? I have hope that it will be the latter but fear that it will be the former - and I think the probabilities favor the former. If one is to gage by the type of people he has thus-far appointed the message is very mixed. One wonders how such a stable of mixed cabinet ministers will work together. Two of these appointments cause me great concern - labor and the environment.

On the labor front, Congress is considering a bill, supported by senator Obama to greatly strengthen the power of labor unions - it will banish secret-ballot voting. This is a terrifying prospect. Unions are legal labor monopolies that can, and have, done great harm to whole economies. They achieve short-term benefit for their members at the expense of the rest of the economy (non-member workers included) - often by using violence or the threat of violence (a strike is a violent act since it prevents the employer, on pain of severe penalties backed up by the fire-power of the state, from dealing with non-union workers). Labor unions came close to destroying the British economy and are responsible for much of the trouble now faced by the Detroit auto makers. 

On the question of the environment, he has appointed two scientists who have declared their strong opinions on the reality of global warming and the necessity to modify our production and consumption behavior to deal with it. This is incredibly dangerous. Scientists using their version of "national security" to alarm us into thinking that disaster is imminent may, in their own way, be more dangerous than real terrorists. They think like engineers, not economists, and habitually undervalue the costs of any economic policy they think is necessary to achieve some engineered outcome. Global warming may be a myth or it may be true - this is pretty much irrelevant. What is almost indisputable is that any realistic modification of the productive activity of human beings (in the emission of CO2) will have a very insignificant affect on it. It is not clear we could, as a practical matter, modify our activity to make a difference even if we drastically modified whole economies. And the costs of doing so would be enormous - many of them invisible as they squashed and drove out productive entrepreneurial activity. All this talk of "creating jobs" is a joke in the face of such draconian long-term job destruction. 

But the climate alarmists refuse to be deterred. They are the socialists of the age, convinced in the righteousness of their cause they are prepared to use the power of the state to pursue wholesale interventions into the private lives of citizens - producers and consumers - if only to make token gestures in obeisance to the green god. Will Mr. Obama bow to their wishes? Another terrifying prospect!

No comments: