Monday, 3 January 2011

Why you should never get the government involved in anything as important as energy.

We all know that fossil fuels are dirty, smelly, bad for the environment, running out and too damned expensive. We know too, that controlling the last dregs of oil in the world is the reason British and American governments are in the Middle East dropping white phosphorous bombs on shepherds and their families. And we know that our governments intend to stay out there as long as possible, controlling the oil (while telling us they are fighting an imaginary war called 'the war on terror') because the war is generating a biblical amount of money!*
Custer Battles staff Posing with 
$2 Million in Cash they got paid for
 airport security work in Iraq.
[Source: US Congress.House Committe
on Government Reform] (click image to enlarge)
*By the end of 2008, the U.S. had spent approximately $900 billion of taxpayers' money in direct costs on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. And by 2010 the defence budget ALONE was more than $1.03 trillion. That's money they took from taxpayers' pockets and gave to contractors and suppliers that have all made walloping great piles of sweaty cash (see photo) out of this war against an invisible enemy. When you compare that to the paltry $15.11 billion net income off $419.24 billion revenue that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (the world's largest company) made last year it is easy to see how this war is by far and away the most successful business enterprise the world has ever seen.

We know all these things, and yet those committed to renewable energy are still going cap in hand to these self-same governments and asking for hand-outs to subsidise renewable energy development. That just beggars belief, it really does! They can clearly see the kind of people they are dealing with so why take an issue as vital as energy and ask these gangsters to help pay for it? I know the government openly courts these advances and the incentives are lucrative because they want a slice of the action but come on people, wise up!

Would you ask the local burglar to keep an eye on your house while you were on holiday? Would you ask the local drunk to mind your pub for you? Would you leave your kids at Josef Fritzl's Daddy Day Care?

So imagine our surprise when the government's 'green' schemes usually end up damaging the environment, and lining the pockets of industry lobbyists. Who could have possibly predicted that?

Take carbon emissions for example: Britain is signed up to a European guarantee called the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to source 10 per cent of its transport fuel from renewable sources, such as biofuels, within the next 10 years. Wealthy companies like Shell are given astronomical amounts of your money to develop biofuels for RTFO. But because the amount of land needed to grow the crops used to make biofuels is so enormous (about the size of Belgium to meet this target), massive deforestation is required. The carbon dioxide (CO2) that would have been taken out of the atmosphere by trees already growing naturally is far greater than the CO2 emissions you save by using biofuel. Who wins? Shell obviously because they get to keep supplying us with fuel after the oil has run out and are being paid with your money to fund the transition, and the government because they have propped up an industry worth billions in tax revenue and party donations.

One of the most transparent (and hilarious) enviro-cons in the UK was the car scrappage scheme. In a half-arsed attempt to stimulate the car industry under the pretext of taking old unenvironmentally friendly 'bangers' off the road, the government was giving people £2,000* to put towards a new car if they scrapped their old one. Essentially taking perfectly good working vehicles and wilfully destroying them and wasting the tonnes of CO2 used in their production. Who wins? The motor industry who get to use the public purse to pay for sales discounts to prop up new car sales, and the government who have again propped up the car industry worth billions in tax revenue and donations.

*I should point out that it wasn't the government's £2,000 they were giving to people as they don't have any money of their own of course. It's all our money. So what they were actually doing was giving people £2,000 of their own money back - effectively making them buy their own car twice and then forcing them to scrap it and buy a new one. I told you it was hilarious!

And yet mysteriously in both cases the environment ends up being either further damaged or at least not exactly 'protected' in any meaningful way. And these are not schemes dreamt up by imbeciles. They are carefully engineered by bright, educated people in government think-tanks. How can they consistently, accidentally (?) devise such ineffectual schemes that consistently, accidentally (?) end up making rich people richer? A topic for another time no doubt.

But regardless of the woeful misappropriation of environmentalism by the state to allow its acolytes to fill their boots, the statists I talk to about renewable energy (so, usually those on the left, like I was when I was a statist) are usually so hung up on it being the role of government to provide the kind of macro-societal stuff like education, healthcare and energy that they fail to recognise solutions that don't involve the state. And I get that, I totally understand that socialists are interested in the role government ought to have had in providing a better society for all, not just those at the top.

But what they fail to acknowledge is that despite 87 years of Labour and 145 years of Liberal governments coming and going in the UK it just hasn't worked. There is still a permanent underclass of poverty, there is still a growing gap between rich and poor, there is still elitism in healthcare and education. And these things have not gone away under left wing or right wing governments.

And get this; most people vote left because they want government spending on social welfare, education and health to increase. Most people vote right because they want the government to spend less on these things and allow the market to have a free hand to determine what people want and how much they are willing to pay for it. You would expect then to see drastic swings in government expenditure as successive left and right governments took office, right? Wrong:
From Economics by McEachern at this site
This graph (click on it to expand it) shows that expenditure remains almost exactly constant over time. Whatever it is that you think you are voting for by going left or right, it clearly isn't changing the percentage of GDP your government wants in taxation for it. Strange? I should coco.

There are fundamental inconsistencies between what people think they will get when they vote for a government, and what they actually get when the government is in power. There will be plenty of posts to come explaining why this stuff happens, why it is part of the DNA of statism and why it is so universally successful, and, like everything else in this blog, what the simple, logical solution is. But in the mean time, I urge you, if you are in any way shape or form concerned with the environment, renewable energy, conservation, ecology, or any of these vitally important things, PLEASE think twice before immediately lobbying government for a grant, or to pass another bloody regulation banning something. Instead just consider how you can engage your community to look after things themselves. That way your solutions will probably work better, last longer and be much more rewarding for everyone involved.

For anyone interested in a proper workable solution please read the sister article to this one here.


  1. Perhaps the title would be more apt if it read: Why you should never get the government involved in anything more important than picking your nose.