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Is the Case for Liberty Too Extreme?

Somewhat Reasonable - April 08, 2014, 11:00 AM

If there is one label more than any other that principled advocates of individual liberty are often stamped with it is that they are “extremists.” How can you be so extreme, it is said, what is wrong with a compromise between personal freedom and some “reasonable” degree of government regulation, welfare legislation, and social intervention?

The first question that should be asked back when confronted with such an accusation is, with what is the friend of liberty being asked to compromise? The real answer, of course, is that the friend of liberty is being asked to compromise with the use of coercive force in human relationships.

Freedom or Coercion in Human Affairs

The simple fact is that human association may be based on peaceful and mutually beneficial agreement and exchange, or it may be based on one party in this human relationship threatening or using force to make the other party do something that he would not willingly do if he were free from the danger of violence.

Freedom is important not because a person might want to say, “yes,” to an offer made to him, but because he might want to say, “no.” If an individual cannot say “no” without being threatened with some form of physical harm from the other person in the relationship, then that individual is not free.

Being a slave is to be required to do what someone else wants without one’s voluntary consent. It is to be coercively made the means to another’s ends or goals. That individual’s life is no longer his own. Instead, to the extent that he is made to serve the ends of another without his voluntary consent he is no longer a free man, but rather the property of another to be used as the slave-master wishes.

Often when the friend of freedom gives this reply he is accused, again, of going to extremes. But who, in this debate over freedom and coercion, is the actual extremist and who is the actual moderate? The advocate of state coercion in social affairs cannot stand the fact that people make choices, and undertake courses of action, of which he disapproves. He objects to the fact that people fail to follow the paths that his reason and values consider rational and good. Everything else is either chaotic or sinister.

The Social Engineer as Political Madman

In this sense, he is like the maniac of whom G.K. Chesterton speaks in his book, “Orthodoxy” (1908). The madman, Chesterton says, is the one “who has lost everything except his reason…. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb uncertainties of experience. The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory.” The madman has a “most sinister quality” of “connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze.”

The advocate of state coercion has, in this sense, been driven mad by the outcomes of a free society. If some men are poor while others are well to do, he cannot accept the idea that this is due to the natural scarcity of resources, or is merely as far as free market capitalism has yet been able to raise people’s standards of living in an on-going and time-consuming process of savings and investment. No, it must be because men have not submitted themselves to a plan — his plan — that his reason has given him, and not others, the superior wisdom and insight to see.

If some men receive lower pay than others, or do not have access to all the goods and services they desire, the advocate of state coercion — like the madman — often sees sinister motives and dark conspiracies. If some workers receive lower wages, it can’t be because of a lack of marketable skills or insufficient personal ambition to better themselves. No, it must be because of the businessman’s greed and unwillingness to pay “a fair wage,” or a plot among the employers to exploit their fellow human beings. The advocate of state coercion believes that he can see beneath the “charade “and he, of course, knows the regulation or intervention to put the conspirators in their place and remedy the problem.

The social madman has the answer and the solution for everything. He has no patience for ignorance, good intentions that go astray, or some natural scheme of things. And like the madman, he has no doubts about his knowledge, the goodness of his intentions and their outcome, or what the scheme of things should be turned into. Human freedom and its advocates are the irritants that he tolerates when he has to, but with which and with whom he never compromises. He has too much confidence in his own vision. In his mind, extremism in the defense of the state-molded “good society” is no vice.

Smoking and the Political Extremist

Let me try to explain this with two issues that have dominated social policy in the Western world over the last several years. The first one is the growing ban on smoking in virtually all public and private areas. In the “bad old days” it was taken to be common courtesy and good manners to ask others in an enclosed space if they minded if he, the smoker, wished to light up his cigar, cigarette, or pipe. If there were any objections, the smoker would either refrain or move to another place to enjoy his nicotine fix. Sometimes, non-smokers would be, in turn, well-mannered enough not to object if the smoke was not too much of a nuisance.

The antismoking advocate just cannot reconcile himself to the existence of others who gain pleasure from something of which he disapproves, and by people who weigh the enjoyment of the present more highly than the possible consequences of health problems in the future. Nor can he stand a world in which the market provides options to those with different preferences: restaurants, bars or other public places in which the proprietor may see the economic benefit of providing both smoking and non-smoking facilities, including ones in which some such places are completely smoke free while other places permit unrestricted smoking.

For the advocate of freedom, the market alternative is precisely the reasonable and moderate one. It recognizes and accepts the varieties and preferences among men and offers a compromise, a peaceful resolution, of the differences among them. And it leaves a wide avenue open for one group of men to reason and persuade another to modify their choices and forswear “a filthy and corrupting” habit.

Religious Tolerance vs. the Politically Closed Mind

Another example is religious tolerance. For centuries in Europe, kings and governments did not tolerate religious diversity. Those who dared to confess and practice a faith differing from that of the monarch or the political authority were threatened with imprisonment, exile, or even torture and death. It took hundreds of years and numerous religious wars before men where willing to leave religious faith, or no faith, to the conscience of each member of society.

In the liberal society that slowly evolved during the last few centuries in the West it came to be accepted that religion was a private matter and not “an affair of the state.” Debates, disputes, and even heated argument over religious matters were to be left to the marketplace of ideas. Conversions and “crusades” for the acceptance of the “true” faith were only to be fought on the battlefield of the mind and the spirit, and not at the end of the hangman’s rope.

But now there has arisen a new political intolerance against any public demonstration for or stated disagreement with a particular religious faith. Religious views are to be locked away in the believer’s mind, and any public expression of his faith is considered somehow to be imposing that belief on others. Thus, if a private business establishment chooses to exhibit a religious symbol on its own property, (even if many of his customers desire or agree with it), it is increasingly considered grounds for legal suit and legislative prohibition.

At the same time, if the proponent of one faith declares his disagreement or disapproval of another faith this, in turn, is considered an act of religious “intolerance” that is to be regulated or legislated against as a supposed “hate crime.” Thus, in the name of religious “tolerance” governments are increasingly becoming intolerant of any individuals or private groups that express their differences and disagreements with other belief systems in that marketplace of ideas. A new form of religious censorship is being imposed on people of every faith.

The New Religious Intolerance vs. the Marketplace of Ideas

A widely publicized instance of this new intolerance a few years ago was the firestorm of controversy that followed publication of the Danish newspaper cartoons, which portrayed Mohammed in an unflattering light. When some foreign governments and domestic pressure groups called for the censorship and punishment of those who published the cartoons, the liberal reply should have been that law and politics have not place in this matter. One might question and even personally challenge the good manners or polite taste of those who published them, but this is all part of the peaceful rivalry of ideas in which both the vulgar and the refined compete for the attention and acceptance of the reading and thinking public.

When I was a small boy I was taught that when someone said something rude or insulting to me the appropriate response was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” Now, of course, words can and do hurt, and precisely because of this decent men in a free society should show a reasonable moderation in what and how they say things. And, indeed, it used to be taken as more of a demonstration of the “crudity” and “ignorance” of the speaker that he should rise no higher than the gutter in what he said and how he acted toward another.

But, instead, the intolerant, political extremist wishes to ban what he considers the religiously “insensitive” and what he labels “word harms” and therefore crimes. Does this settle disputes among men about matters of religious faith (or any other idea or belief)? No, this new political extremist intolerance for private religious expressions of faith and differences of views in the public arena threatens to potentially make social tensions even worse over these issues.

It makes people fearful of speaking their minds, forces them into a public hypocrisy, and allows differences and disagreements to fester below the surface. By driving men’s thoughts “underground” it generates a “black market” place of ideas where the truly corrupt, vile, and dangerous can grow and mutate precisely because they are not challenged in the bright light of open and public discourse and debate.

The advocate of freedom, with his deep belief in the sanctity and uniqueness of the individual and his right to peacefully live his own life as chooses, has always been repelled by the idea of condemning or punishing people because of the values or beliefs that they may hold but which they do not attempt to forcibly impose on others.

The friend of liberty has believed that all ideas should be treated with respect and can only be discussed and challenged and possibly be shown to be right or wrong on the basis of reason, logic and evidence. Attempts to politically discriminate against or ban open and free discussion of any ideas are the only things that should to be viewed as unreasonable and intolerable in the free society.

Liberty and a Society of True Tolerance

The free society tries to avoid extremes through the diversity of free men that it both permits and fosters. It restrains the practice of “extreme” personal behavior because it imposes costs and consequences upon everyone who practices them, in the form of lost economic opportunity, and possibly social ostracism by those who are repelled by it.

It also teaches the advantages of moderation — courtesy, good manners, tolerance and “socially acceptable” conduct – in the competitive arena of intellectual pluralism where to win an argument the only medium of exchange is peaceful persuasion.

In other words, the free society nudges men toward better behavior and rational thought rather than tries to compel it. It teaches good and tolerant conduct through reason and example. It fosters compromise by demonstrating the personal costs of being too extreme in one’s words and actions. And it raises the ethical conduct of society by the discovered advantages of personal improvement through time.

Are the arguments for and the advocates of liberty too extreme? Quite to the contrary. Freedom is the epitome of moderation. And it is freedom’s moderation, its tolerance and diversity that drive some men mad. But madness, by definition, is not the normal condition of a healthy human being.

The history of Western civilization is the story of man’s slow escape from the madness of political and social extremism in the form of coercion and force in human relationships. Our dilemma and our challenge is that this sickness still controls the minds of too many of our fellow citizens, and is the guiding principle of those who use political power to get their way.

 

[Originally published at EpicTimes]

Categories: On the Blog

If the Goal is “Energy Independence,” What Issues Should be a Priority in America?

Somewhat Reasonable - April 08, 2014, 10:00 AM

Recently the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent out a “2014 Priority Issues Survey.” In addition to the obligatory Tea Party bashing: “help the Democrats protect the progress we have made from Tea Party radicals, deliver the positive changes America needs and help Democrats win a Majority in the U.S. House of Representatives!” and the fundraising requests to “help protect House Democrats against Republican attacks”—there is a section on energy.

Section VII, asks: “Which of the following will help America achieve energy independence?” It offers five options that do little to move America toward energy independence—which isn’t even a realistic goal given the fungible nature of liquid fuels. Additionally, most of the choices given on the DCCC survey actually increase energy costs for all Americans—serving as a hidden tax—but hurt those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale the most. The proposals hurt the very people the party purports to champion.

The survey asks respondents to “check all that apply.”

Raising gas mileage standards for all new cars and trucks

This choice presumes that making a law requiring something will make it happen. Sorry, not even the Democrats have that kind of power. Even the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standard of 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025—finalized on August 28, 2012 and called “the largest mandatory fuel economy increase in history”—will be tough to hit.

The CAFE standards mean that a carmaker’s passenger vehicle fleet average must achieve 54.5 mpg. To meet that, and produce the big pick-up trucks and SUVsAmericans like to drive, the manufacturers must also produce the little itty-bitty cars with mpg above 60 and the more expensive hybrids (not one of which was on the top ten best-seller list for 2013)—or have a loss leader like the Chevy Volt to help bring down the average.

Suggesting a forced raising of gas mileage standards implies that auto manufacturers are in collusion with oil companies and are intentionally producing gas guzzlers to force Americans into buying lots of gasoline.

With the price of gasoline wavering between $3-4.00 a gallon, most people are very conscious of their fuel expenditures. If it were technologically possible to build a cost-effective truck or SUV that had the size and safety Americans want and that got 50 mpg, that manufacturer would have the car-buying public beating a path to its door. Every car company would love to be the one to corner that market—but it is not easy, it probably won’t be possible, and it surely won’t be cheap.

When the new standards were introduced in November 2011, Edmonds.com did an analysis of the potential impact: 6 Ways New CAFE Standards Could Affect You. The six points include cost and safety and highlights some concerns that are not obvious at first glance.

Achieving the higher mileage will require new technologies that include, according to Edmunds, “turbochargers and new generations of multispeed automatic transmissions to battery-electric powertrains.” The National Highway Traffic Saftey Administration and the Environmental Protection Agencyhave estimated that the average new car will cost $2,000 extra by 2025 because of the proposed new fuel-efficiency standards.

Additionally, new materials will have to be used, such as the proposed new Ford F-150 made with aluminum, which is predicted to add $1500 over steel to the cost of a new truck. Aluminum also complicates both the manufacturing and repair processes. Edmunds reports: “Insurance costs could rise, both because of the increased cost of cars and the anticipated hike in collision repair costs associated with the greater use of the plastics, lightweight alloys and aluminum necessary for lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. (Plastics, lightweight alloys and aluminum are all more difficult than steel to repair.)”

Another concern is safety. “The use of weight-saving materials will not only affect repair costs but could make newer vehicles more susceptible to damage in collisions with older, heavier vehicles, especially SUVs and pickups. Their occupants could be at a safety disadvantage.”

One of the subtle consequences of high mileage vehicles is the probable increase in taxes. Edmunds points out that lower driving cost may increase wear-and-tear on the nation’s highway system as consumers drive more freely. “Declining gas sales mean a further decrease in already inadequate fuel-tax revenue used to pay for road and infrastructure repair and improvement. … As more untaxed alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas and electricity are used for transportation, fuel tax revenue falls even farther. All of this is likely to lead to calls for a road tax based on miles driven and not the type of fuel used.”

Instead of increasing costs by forcing a higher mpg, a free-market encourages manufacturers to produce the cars the customers want. The Wall Street Journalstory on the Ford F-150s points out: “In 2004, as the auto market soared, Ford sold a record 939,511 F-series pickups. That amounted to 5.5% of the entire U.S. vehicle market. But four years later, gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, sales of pickups began tumbling.” Then, consumers wanted small cars with better mileage. I often quote an ad for Hyundai I once saw. As I recall, it said: “It’s not that complicated. If gas costs a lot of money, we’ll produce cars that use less of it.”

In response to an article in US News on the 5.45-mpg CAFE standard, a reader commented: “ALL CAFE regulations should be repealed. Let the market and fuel prices decide what vehicles are purchased. The federal government should not be forcing mileage standards down the throats of the automaker or the consumers. This is still America, right?”

Develop Renewable Energy Sources

There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea renewable energy. However, the cost factor is one of the biggest problems. When I do radio interviews, people often call in and point out Germany’s renewable energy success story: “The share of renewable electricity in Germany rose from 6% to nearly 25% in only ten years.” While that may be true, it doesn’t address the results: “Rising energy costs are becoming a problem for more and more citizens in Germany. Just from 2008 to 2011 the share of energy-poor households in the Federal Republic jumped from 13.8 to 17 percent.”

Germany has been faced with a potential exodus of industry as a result of its high energy costs. For example, in February, BASF, the world’s biggest chemical maker by sales, announced that for the first time, it “will make the most of its capital investments outside Europe.” According to the Financial Times, Kurt Bock, BASF chief executive explained: “In Europe we have the most expensive energy and we are not prepared to exploit the energy resources we have, such as shale gas.”

Throughout America people are beginning to feel the escalating costs of the forced renewable energy utility companies are required to add as a result of Renewable Portfolio Standards that more than half of the states passed nearly a decade ago.

But the cost is not where I take issue with the DCCC’s inclusion of “Developing renewable energy sources” in its survey. The survey question is about achieving “energy independence.”

In preparation for writing this column, I posted this question on my Facebook page: If the goal is “energy independence,” what issues should be a priority in America? The first answer posted was: “Smart grid and fast ramp natural gas turbines.” Another offered: “High efficiency appliances and lights. I am a LED FAN!” Yet, another: “Solar, tidal, water.” Bzzzzzzt, all wrong answers.

All of the above suggestions are about electricity. The U.S. is already electricity independent. We have enough coal and uranium under our soil to provide for our electrical needs for the next several centuries. Add to that America’s newfound abundance of natural gas and we are set indefinitely. By the time we might run out of fuel for electricity, new technologies will have been developed based on something totally different, and, I believe, something that no one is even thinking about today.

Developing more “solar, tidal, water” or wind energy won’t “help America achieve energy independence.” Nor will a smart grid or natural gas turbines. High efficiency appliances or LED light bulbs won’t either.

Encouraging consumer and industrial conservation

Consumers are already feeling the pinch of higher energy costs—both electricity and liquid fuels. When possible, people are restricting driving by taking a stay-cation rather than a traditional vacation. Many people who can afford the option are switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs.

As the BASF story above makes clear, most industry is energy intensive. In the story about the Ford F-150’s use of aluminum, the WSJ says that the new manufacturing process requires “powerful and electricity-hungry vacuums.” Industry cannot stay in business without profit. Therefore, in interest of preservation, energy conservation is virtually an instinct.

The cost of energy drives conservation.

Including this question in the survey is a red herring that would lead the respondent to think conservation is a big issue.

Investing in energy efficient technology

When the word “investing” is used in reference to a government document or program, it always means spending taxpayer dollars. In a time of ongoing economic stress, we don’t need to borrow more money to spend it on something of questionable impact on energy independence.

Remember, much of the “efficiency” numbers bandied about refer to electricity, which has nothing to do with energy independence. Energy.gov states: “Every year, much of the energy the U.S. consumes is wasted through transmission, heat loss and inefficient technology…Energy efficiency is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to … improve the competitiveness of our businesses and reduce energy costs for consumers. The Department of Energy is working with universities, businesses and the National Labs to develop new, energy-efficient technologies while boosting the efficiency of current technologies on the market.” Among the “solutions” presented on the page are “developing a more efficient air conditioner” and “a new smart sensor developed by NREL researchers that could help commercial buildings save on lighting and ventilation costs.” Nothing is offered that will actually impact energy independence.

Increasing offshore drilling and oil exploration in wilderness areas

Respondents are discouraged from selecting the one item on the list that could actually lead to “energy independence” by the inclusion of the words “offshore” and “wilderness areas”—as if those are the only places drilling could take place.

Yes, we should increase exploration and drilling—and, while there are risks, it can be, and has been, done safely in offshore and wilderness areas. But there are vast resources available on federal lands that are either locked up or are under a de facto ban due to the slow-walking of drilling permits.

Instead of phrasing the choice “Increasing offshore drilling and oil exploration in wilderness areas,” if the goal is energy independence, the option should have read: “Release America’s vast energy resources by expediting permitting on federal lands.”

While the options on the DCCC survey, even if a respondent checked them all, will do little to “help America achieve energy independence,” the survey didn’t include any choices that could really make a difference in America’s reliance on oil from hostile sources.

Some selections that would indicate a true desire to see America freed from OPEC’s grip should include:

-Approving the Keystone pipeline;

-Revising the Endangered Species Act so that it isn’t used to block American Energy Development;

-Encouraging the use of Compressed Natural Gas as a transportation fuel in passenger vehicles and commercial trucks;

-Expediting permitting for exploration and drilling on federal lands;

-Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and

-Cutting red tape and duplicative regulations to encourage development.

The fact that not one of these options that would truly make a difference was included belies the ideology of the Democrat Party. Its goals do not include energy independence. Instead it wants to continue the crony corruption that has become the hallmark of the Obama Administration as evidenced by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz’s April 2 announcement that: “the department would probably throw open the door for new applications for renewable energy project loan guarantees during the second quarter of this year.”

Like the Ukraine, until there is a change at the top, the U.S. will likely remain dependent on the whims of countries who want to use energy as a weapon of control. The goal should be energy freedom.

 

[Originally published at Townhall]

Categories: On the Blog
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