Suppose there was a man who lectured and wrote about the catastrophic consequences of climatic change to adoring audiences worldwide. Yet, suppose this man was so ignorant about basic facts of science that recently, when on the Conan O’Brien national television show, he promoted geothermal energy stating the inner core temperature of the earth was several million degrees and that there are drill bits that could withstand that heat. (If the earth was that hot at its center it would be a star. The actual core temperature is very speculative, but is estimated to be around 3000°C to 7000°C. )
Further, suppose this man, who wants to control the lives of others, is an avid meat eater; even though if he switched to vegetarianism, he could shrink his carbon footprint by up to 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Further, suppose he has become so wealthy from his alarmist message that he owns a large home, and his home uses more energy in one month than the average household uses in a single year. Further, suppose he has convinced the government to subsidize a company in which he has invested, because the company makes an electric car that will sell for $89,000. Yes, according to the Wall Street Journal “A tiny car company backed by [this man] has just gotten a $529 million U.S. government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000.” This man according to the London Telegraph could become the “world’s first carbon billionaire” after investing heavily in green companies receiving government subsidies.
You already know from the title of my post that I’m talking about Al Gore. You might wonder why anybody listens to him? A charitable interpretation would be that, even though he is a flawed human being like us all, people listen to him because they value his message about controlling the effects of man-made global warming. No doubt that is true of at least some of his followers. In my view, many are not cheering his message of “climate control;” they are cheering his message of “control.”
It is a dirty secret of academia; professors who cannot teach well but who do mediocre research that very few will ever read, can earn a very nice salary. On an unsubsidized free market, the value of their services would be much less than it is today. There would be no government grants and contracts for their research. Consumers (students and their parents) would be less tolerant of shoddy college courses; and if these professors couldn’t teach, they might find themselves without a job at all. Some people value and cheer any message of control—because it is in their economic self-interest.
Of course, professors receiving government grants and contracts are not the only ones who value any message of control. Mediocre artists who depend upon government grants for their livelihood value control. Government workers of all types, as well as union workers, who depend upon government privilege cheer for more controls. And now we have a growing class of business executives who instead of selling products valued by the market turn to the government for subsidies and bailouts. They too are in the corner cheering for Al Gore, because it means more handouts for them.
None of these people read my blog; and even if they did, they are unlikely to be convinced by the arguments I make. They have weaved a tangled nest of lies in their minds which allows them to justify seeking for wealth that other human beings have produced and that they have not earned. Barring some epiphany in which they clearly see the unrevealed values they live by, they will never be convinced to change their behavior.
But there’s another group of people who support controls—not because they’re trying to live off their fellow human beings—but because they are fearful of the world without controls. They believe for instance that we are running out of fossil fuels and that they will be cold at night if government does not subsidize new green fuels. Al Gore feeds off this energy of fear.
In his book The Origin of Wealth, Eric Beinhocker estimated that the complexity of the economy in New York City alone generates tens of billions of available products to New Yorkers. To many this is evidence of waste that should be controlled by government. After all someone might say, “Why do we need 500 kinds of breakfast cereals? Why do we need to be able to choose from hundreds of automobile models?” For many caring and economically illiterate individuals, it is natural to believe it would be better if smart people, like Al Gore, directed us to develop the “optimal” car model that was both safe and fuel efficient.
Beinhocker estimates, “Over 97 percent of humanity’s wealth was created just the last 0.01 percent of our history.” Complexity goes hand-in-hand with wealth creation—it is no spurious correlation. What seems to be a mess of competing products is what leads to the discovery of new, innovative solutions. Currently, there are literally tens of thousands of entrepreneurs working in the green energy field. Like Al Gore, some of those are not real entrepreneurs; they are simply political operatives getting wealthy off their political connections. They prevent real discoveries from taking place. Every dollar directed to them, is a dollar that the market cannot allocate towards viable solutions. In contrast, real entrepreneurs only make money when they serve the most urgent needs of the consuming public.
Al Gore may well be right in that geothermal energy may be an important part of our energy future. But, there are many different ways to harness geothermal energy, many yet to be discovered; just as there are many different ways to harness solar energy, many yet to be discovered. More importantly, just as no one ever heard of the internet company Amazon in 1990, there are forms of energy that we have not yet heard of that will change our lives in lasting and meaningful ways.
The more the likes of Al Gore gets to control, the poorer we and children and our grandchildren will become. Instead of being directed to the most promising new sources of energy—as it would be on a market system of profit and loss—energy resources will be directed to wasteful products, like Al Gore’s hybrid sports car.
Al Gore, like all of us, has a narrow mind filled with ignorance. The discipline of the marketplace reduces our ignorance and helps to direct our energy and our capital in the service of others. Those who do not understand this and those who feel a sense of entitlement that others should serve them want more controls. They want others to serve them more than they want to serve others. Of course, this is the age-old human story—human beings trying to live off the labor of others. To the extent that we collectively forget that this path leads to economic ruin, is the extent to which Al Gore’s future brightens while ours dims.