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The wrong direction

By Henry Lamb
web posted February 20, 2006

Nearly every week, there is a new poll released that says some percentage of the American public believes that the country is “headed in the wrong direction.” The percentage number is usually more than half, which means that most of the time, most of the people agree that national policy should be changed. The problem is, that there is little agreement on which policies should be changed, or in which direction these policies should move.

What passes for a national energy policy is headed in the wrong direction, and should be changed. The idea that government should force a reduction in the use of fossil fuel, and subsidize the development of alternative energy sources is simply wrong. Energy is the fuel that empowers our economy and our national defense. Energy should be as abundant and affordable as it can possibly be. A free market, not government, is the best guarantor of both supply and price.

Policies that restrict the use of fossil fuel - needlessly - increase the price. Policies that subsidize exotic alternatives such as wind and solar, may reduce the price at the point of sale, but extract the cost of the subsidy from the economy in the form of taxes.

The right direction for our energy policy should utilize all domestic resources - oil, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, and whatever - as determined by an unencumbered marketplace. There is no greater incentive for innovation than competition for the dollars of people who are free to choose in a free marketplace.

Policies described as “Free Trade” are leading this nation in the wrong direction. Agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA, and other alphabet trade agreements, have nothing to do with free trade; they are complex mechanisms for government-managed trade. They are sold to the public and to Congress as a way to increase exports and thereby create jobs in the U.S. The net result of these agreements, however, has been to increase the exportation of jobs, dollars, and major industries. Year after year, the balance of payments deficit grows, while the industries that supply not only good jobs, but also the vital products our nation needs, continue to downsize, move offshore, or simply shut down.

The right direction for our trade policy must be guided by the first principle of free markets - a willing buyer and a willing seller reaching a voluntary, mutually beneficial agreement. Free trade diminishes in direct correlation to the degree of government intrusion. In the global marketplace, government intrusion has put U.S. producers at a distinct disadvantage.

Wage, safety, and environmental regulations imposed by government force U.S. producers to compete with foreign producers that have no similar regulatory costs. Therefore, foreign producers can sell for far less than American producers.

The President says that “given a level playing field, Americans can out-produce anyone.” This is probably true, but the playing field is not level. So long as society demands regulatory protections that do not encumber foreign competitors, America’s wealth, and its capacity to create wealth, will continue to flow to foreign countries.

The rush to embrace “sustainable development” is the wrong direction for the nation. Sustainable development is nothing more than a euphemism to disguise government control. The essence of sustainable development is the authority to determine what activity and behavior is - or is not - sustainable. That authority, of course, is the government.

Government policies that dictate how much of his own land a private owner may use, and what size a private home may be, and what materials must be used in a private home, or what colors may be used - puts government’s nose where it has no business being.

Government policies that dictate where a private land owner may build a home - or not, policies that dictate a high population density inside an arbitrary growth boundary, and a low density on adjacent property, unfairly distorts the marketplace and makes a mockery of the principle of private property rights. History has proven that government has no special wisdom that makes its decisions better than the results of free people making their own decisions. In fact, the biggest blunders in America’s development can be attributed to “government wisdom” - or lack of it.

A half-century ago, Chicago’s Cabrini Green projects were thought to be the answer to housing for the poor. This government wisdom produced a haven for drug users and criminals, and it was eventually demolished. It was government’s wisdom that dug the canals throughout the Everglades. And now it is government’s wisdom that is devoting billions of dollars to fill those canals.

As hard as it may be for some folks to believe, free people, making their own choices in a free market, always produce a better result than the best wisdom government can produce. To the extent that government is pursuing policies that restrict free people and erode free markets, the government is, indeed, headed in the wrong direction. The right direction for government is always in policies that advance the principles of freedom.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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