Re-designing Russel’s “green” economics [update 2]
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace
alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing
it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
Interesting to see Greens’s co-leader Russel Norman getting back at his party’s weekend conference to talking about the impending demise of the environment”—the alleged reason for the party’s existence, and for them the ultimate imaginary hobgoblin.
Mind you, while he’s talked up by the usual useful idiots as if he’s saying something new (“New Zealand needs to redesign its economy to live within nature's limits”) he’s still peddling the same warmed-over nonsense we’ve been hearing
since his first leader’s speech the 1970s the 186os basically forever:
You must know that the world has grown old, and does not remain in its former vigour. It bears witness to its own decline. The rainfall and the sun’s warmth are both diminishing; the metals are nearly exhausted; the husbandman is failing in the fields, the sailor on the seas, the soldier in the camp, honesty in the market, justice in the courts, concord in friendships, skill in the arts, discipline in morals. This is the sentence passed upon the world, that everything which has a beginning should perish, that things which have reached maturity should grow old, the strong weak, the great small, and that after weakness and shrinkage should come dissolution.
No, that’s not Russel Norman on the weekend. That’s a quote from third century doom merchants, hoeing the same row then as the Ginger Whinger now.
The fact is that ever since mankind starting putting one stone on top of another there’s been scare story after scare story about the so-called “limits to growth.” But there are no natural limits to growth. The Stone Age for example didn’t end because it ran out of stones—it ended with the discovery of Bronze and Iron and agriculture and beer.
Which is the way human beings survive: not by hunkering down in fear crying “Woe is me,” but realising “man must produce the goods on which his life depends; he must produce homes, automobiles, computers, electricity, and the like; he must seize nature and use it to his advantage.” Which is to say (and on this fact lies the fundamental refutation of Russel’s woe-betide-us environmentalism) man must create the very resources on which he depends.
The resources provided by nature, such as iron, aluminum, coal, petroleum and so on, are by no means automatically goods. Their goods-character must be created by man, by discovering knowledge of their respective properties that enable them to satisfy human needs and then by establishing command over them sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs.
For example, iron, which has been present in the earth since the formation of the planet and throughout the entire presence of man on earth, did not become a good until well after the Stone Age had ended. Petroleum, which has been present in the ground for millions of years, did not become a good until the middle of the nineteenth century, when uses for it were discovered. Aluminum, radium, and uranium also became goods only within the last century or century and a half.
The ultimate creator of goods character is man’s mind. In fact,
nature’s contribution to natural resources is much less than what is usually assumed. What nature has provided…is the material stuff and the physical properties of the deposits in these mines and wells, but it has not provided the goods-character of any of them. Indeed, there was a time when none of them were goods.
The goods-character of natural resources… is created by man, when he discovers the properties they possess that render them capable of satisfying human needs and when he gains command over them sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs…
And this brings me to what I consider to be a revolutionary view of natural resources... Namely, not only does man create the goods- character of natural resources—by obtaining knowledge of their useful properties and then creating their useability and accessibility by virtue of establishing the necessary command over them—but he also has the ability to go on indefinitely increasing the supply of natural resources possessing goods-character. He enlarges the supply of useable, accessible natural resources—that is, natural resources possessing goods-character—as he expands his knowledge of and physical power over nature.
Which means, when you think about it, that the ultimate resource is not what we find in the ground but the ideas we produce in our heads. Which means the only “limits to growth” that existed in the Stone Age, and exist now, are either in the heads of human beings who refuse to think—or in the legislation dreamed up by the likes of Russel to stop the exploitation and creation of new and existing resources.
Russel however continues to talk about "a smart, green economy.” But the fact is, no such thing exists—at least not in the terms he means, with bans on power producers and subsidies for so-called “green tech.” The failure of any “green stimulus to get off the ground—in Spain, in Germany, in the US—even with huge motivation and billions of dollars in subsidies is just another clue that Russel is talking nonsense.
If any “smart, green economy” were to exist, it would be the result of improvements brought about by property-rights protections—which is the simplest, most principled and most successful means of protecting both individual rights and the environment yet devised.
And if Russel really does want some lessons from economics for his environmentalism, he might reflect that the whole of economic activity consists in creating new values and, new goods and new resources, and moving them and transforming them to the place(s) and the state in which they are most valued. In other words,
all of economic activity has as its sole purpose the improvement of the environment—it aims exclusively at the improvement of the external, material conditions of human life. Production and economic activity are precisely the means by which man adapts his environment to himself and thereby improves it.
But this fact continues to elude Russel and his followers, who continue to cry wolf while remaining blind to the incredible results all around him.
Here we are. We enjoy an incredibly marvelous industrial civilization, whose nature is indicated by the fact that because of it vast numbers of human beings can travel at breathtaking speeds for hundreds of miles at a stretch in their own personal automobiles, listening to symphony orchestras as they go—indeed, can fly over whole continents in a matter of hours in jet planes, while watching movies and drinking martinis; can walk into darkened rooms and flood them with light by the flick of a switch; can open a refrigerator door and enjoy delicious, healthful food brought from all over the world; can do all this and so much more. This is what we have. This, and much, much more, is what people everywhere could have if they were intelligent enough to establish economic freedom and capitalism.
But all this counts for virtually nothing as far as the environmentalists are concerned. They are ready to throw it all away because, they allege, it causes global warming and ozone depletion, i.e., bad weather. [Or because, they allege, there are “limits” to such pleasures.] And the best way, they say, for us to avoid such bad weather [or confronting such limits], and thus to control nature more to our advantage, is to abandon modern, industrial civilization and capitalism.
In other words, to stop our depletion of so-called “finite” resources, Russel would have us exploiting them altogether, and would shut down the system of (already-well-shackled) economic freedom that produced them all.
Russel et al refuse to see any of the benefits in the present of any of these wonderful achievements. And to the extent their sky-is-falling doom-saying is successful in creating sentiment and legislation banning or hindering new achievements, the future we face will be all the worse for it.
The great irony here really is that while Russel decries the running out of resources, it is his own brand of politics that has stopped resources being used and created—on the West Coast, in the Coromandel, in Northland. In fact, the truly great irony is that the only way we would ever truly run out of resources would be if we ever did fully follow Russel down the path of abandoning our industrial civilisation. Only then would he be proved right.
The fear that Russel rests on is a fear of the future.
But since he and his arguments are so widely accepted, it’s worth answering and understanding the questions: Why are so many so gosh-darned afraid of the future?
And why are there so many votes in pandering to this fear?
UPDATE 1: Right on cue:
“It was interesting while it lasted. But it looks as if the ‘green revolution’ has entered the long slide into ‘What was all that about?’
“In January, the Spanish government ended absurdly lavish subsidies for its renewable-energy industry, and the renewable-energy industry all but imploded. You could say it was never a renewable-energy industry at all. It was a government-subsidy industry where in exchange for creating conscience-soothing but otherwise inefficient windmills and solar panels, the government gave the makers piles of cash consumers never would have.”
“At the beginning of his administration, President Obama insisted that if we didn’t follow their lead, we would surrender the hugely profitable renewable-energy sector to those sagacious Spaniards.”
"In 2009, researchers at King Juan Carlos University found that Spain had destroyed 2.2 jobs in other industries for every green job it had created. The researchers also calculated that the Spanish government had spent more than half a million euros for each green job created since 2000, and wind-industry jobs cost more than 1 million euros apiece."
“The reason the Spanish example is so important is that it demonstrates how the whole green-energy ‘revolution’ was really an ideologically driven green boondoggle from the start.
UPDATE 2: Russel bashes the increase in “dirty dairying.” Like virtually everything else he says, not true:
The number of convictions [for unlawful discharge] fell from 51 in 2008-09 to 18 in the year to date. Abatement notices and infringement notices have also decreased, from 537 to 329 and 500 to 330.
Further, the number due to dairying is falling. The number due to council sewage treatment however is rising…