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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Very Scary Speech

Some reactions to George II's State of the Union address:

He still can't say nu-cle-ar.

He says, "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. [Only 11 percent comes from the Persian Gulf.] The best way to break this addiction is through technology." I don't like to see the word "addiction" applied even to drugs because it implies passivity. So it is inappropriate for the American use of oil. The fact is that by a combination of oil's nature and U.S. government intervention, Americans use oil because it appears economically sensible to do so. It's hardly an addiction. Let's fully deregulate the economy, adopt a noninterventionist foreign policy, and internalize all costs -- and we'll see what happens. In fact, we don't know what a truly free energy and transportation industry would look like. So Bush shouldn't be trying to imagine it and bringing his vision to fruition through subsidies and whatnot. That will be a disaster, although it will make big bucks for the well-connected companies that get the contracts.

He's only partly right when he says technology is the best way to end the use of oil (assuming that's really a good idea). But he left out the most important part: free, unsubsidized competition. Give someone enough taxpayer money and he will come up with a technological alternative to oil. Big deal. The real trick is to come up with an alternative that makes economic sense. The only way to know which technologies make economic sense and which do not is to let the market process play out without state regulation or benefit. In other words, no privileges for anyone. All costs internalized. Laissez faire, laissez passer.

Obviously George II has something else in mind. Did you see all the subsidies in his speech? Take a look. Okay, I'll save you the trouble.
So tonight I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles.

We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen.

We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass.

Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.
The government contractors are licking their chops. Corporatist central planning is alive and well.

I know all presidents do this, but I -- I! -- was surprised by how aggressively nationalist, tribal, and collectivist George II was in the speech. Some samples:
We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy. . . .

The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership. So the United States of America will continue to lead.

Here at home, America also has a great opportunity: We will build the prosperity of our country by strengthening our economic leadership in the world.

In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India. [Emphasis added; what does he mean by "we"? If a Chinese or Indian firm wants to sell me things I value, it is not my competitor.]

Tonight I will set out a better path: an agenda for a nation that competes with confidence . . . . [Emphasis added; the nation is not an economic entity.]

Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it. [This sounds ominous. What if others don't wished to be shaped?]

Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. [The history of the U.S. government's opening of foreign markets is not pretty.]

With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker. [Unpacking that ominous sentence would take a dissertation. Does he really believe no non-American can out-produce any American?]

Well, you get the idea. And I didn't even cover the national-security part of the speech.


Larry Ruane said...

Your comments about Bush's energy policy reminds me of the sensation I had that the world had turned upside down during the 2000 presidential campaign, when the Republicans accused the Democrats of not having an energy policy. I thought, is this the same Republican party that denounced "industrial policy" during the 1980s?

Anonymous said...

Lead? Where's my electric (not "hybrid") due off the Big 3 assembly lines BY 1995 after our $1.5 B downpayment to them earlier in the decade?