The Corner

Turning to the Greatest Challenge Facing Humanity…

George Mason economist Don Boudreaux has a great column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review putting the economic/moral case for “neglecting” global warming:

Capitalism produces so much food that we are never malnourished; it produces ample clothing and sturdy homes to protect us from the elements; it produces the soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and detergents that we use every day to cleanse our bodies and living spaces of bacteria and other dirt. And by continually substituting machines for human labor, capitalism progressively makes our work less backbreaking and less perilous.

These gains are significant and real. And they are continuing; no one knows where, or even if, they will stop.

Those of us who recognize these important benefits of capitalism — those of us who understand that capitalism’s true greatness lies not (as many critics insinuate) in producing oceans of pointless trinkets and baubles but in making the lives of ordinary people richer and fuller and longer — are reluctant to yield power to governments to tackle global warming. We worry that this power will kill the goose that’s laying this golden egg.

If you think that such a worry is exaggerated, recall the language Al Gore used in his book “Earth in the Balance.” The former Vice President asserted that we are suffering an “environmental crisis” that can be avoided only if we “drastically change our civilization and our way of thinking.”

“Drastically change our civilization.” Hmmm. This sounds like a call to significantly scale back markets, trade and industrial activities in order to lessen humankind’s “footprint” on the Earth and its environment. We can, no doubt, make our environmental footprint smaller — but how great a benefit will this achievement be if it returns us to the ages-old condition of high mortality and morbidity?

Undoubtedly, most people who seek government action to fight global warming are “reasonable.” They envision no drastic changes to our civilization. And I concede that, in principle, cost-effective steps to reduce global warming are possible. But I’m sure that it’s also true that most of the “reasonable” people who demand action against global warming are unaware of the critical role that capitalism plays in improving the lives of ordinary men and women.

So given this fact along with the hysterical language used by the likes of Al Gore — who, after all, is not on society’s fringes — it’s a perfectly legitimate stance for truly reasonable people to conclude that the best policy regarding global warming is to neglect it — and let capitalism continue to make us healthier and wealthier.

This brings me to another point.  Who is one of the greatest supporters of “green” causes in the Senate?  Joe Lieberman.  Environmental Defense, the NRDC, Greenpeace et al all have vast coffers and networks at their disposal.  Yet they did not lift a finger to help him retain his party’s nomination.  The agenda of the leaders of these groups is the same as Al Gore’s – the destruction of capitalism.  I have never been able to figure out how Lieberman squares his support for economy-destroying policies with his vision of a strong America, but for most of these people, that’s not a dilemma they face.

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