Cass Sunstein thinks Paul Ryan’s proposals for regulatory reform are “progressive” because they call for analysis of the economic and social effects of new regulations. Mr. Sunstein, who thinks you are incompetent and who never met a government diktat he didn’t love, suffers from Social Justice Syndrome. This disease, common to the Left, causes Manichaean vision in its victims: they divide the world into greedy businessmen and the exploited poor. As one of the infected, Mr. Sunstein vigorously pounds the square peg of Congressman Ryan’s proposals into the round hole of this vision. More’s the pity, because if he really stopped to think he would arrive at a much more disturbing analysis of regulations and their evil twin, subsidies — one which confounds most of his life’s work.
Simply put, regulations and subsidies are two sides of the same coin: government interference in the operation of markets and lives, picking winners and losers through political criteria. True, some regulations, like pure food and drug or weights and measures laws, are there because the world of commerce has always had bad actors who are not above cutting corners to make a quick buck — one reason the Egyptian Book of the Dead has at least five negative confessions about not cheating customers. But most of this interference has another motive.
Let’s take the proposed EPA regulations having to do with “reducing carbon emissions.” These radical restrictions on the use of fossil fuels are justified by tying those wicked emissions to greedy, bad-actor companies who willfully create a plethora of modern problems from foul air to asthma. Worse, they are responsible for “global warming,” or “climate change,” or whatever the popular term of art is today for the catastrophic collapse of the biosphere that is projected to occur long after most of us are dead. The regulations are sold by images of coughing kids and stranded polar bears because those are telegenic and require little thought. Like Cass Sunstein’s analysis, they are superficial.
Consider instead the real and immediate effects of an elimination of coal-produced electricity will have: in Colorado, electricity rates will rise substantially. Power companies will attempt to switch to natural gas, which is a cheap, abundant alternative fuel, but ...
The Environmental Left is already in full howl about gas production, since it relies more and more on demon fracking to access our reserves. If they are successful in choking off this source, both fuel and electricity costs will skyrocket. Who will be harmed most by this?
Not people like Cass Sunstein and other prominent proponents of “Social Justice” like the president or Colorado’s very own Mark Udall. These are well-heeled enough that a 10 percent increase in their monthly power bill would mean less than the disappearance of one of their local Starbucks. But to a working-class family in Pueblo or Frisco, it may well spell the difference between coping and misery. Which brings us to the second part of the equation: subsidies.
Since hurting the poor in order to create the Left’s wind- and solar-powered Ecotopia conflicts with its oft-stated goal of “social justice,” the pain of such a change must be ameliorated by the application of money, either paid directly or through a mandate that power companies charge ratepayers according to their “ability to pay.” The latter is more appealing to the Left since it not only addresses the “From each, according to their ability” side of the Marxian equation, but it also punishes those who provide us with one of the central necessities of modern civilization for being the money-grubbing bastards everyone knows them to be.
Similar calculations abound throughout American political society. Politicians love subsidies for a simple reason: they create clients. Whether it’s General Electric or Don Concho from Pueblo, those receiving money the government has confiscated from others realize that the Santa Train’s continued operation depends on their doing their duty to return to office the politicians who have shown them largesse. New York’s infamous Boss Tweed couldn’t have invented a more perfect corruption, or one more damaging to the long-term national interest.
It doesn’t matter whose operations are affected by regulation or who is on the government dole; from Solyndra to Bear Stearns to Joe Shlobotnik, every product uncreated and every dime transferred from the productive to the indolent is the product of a class of politician-administrators each of whom thinks they are smarter than an open market. But here’s a tip: markets run by the wizards of smart fail every time and everywhere they are tried. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge; no one is better at picking winners than a market of hundreds of millions of individuals, each deciding for themselves.
Not Cass Sunstein. Not the president. Not even Mark Udall.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.