There are many in society who now hold to the idea that the world we have built is too complex to be “taken apart” and redesigned. They hold, as a result, that the best we can do is to make many small changes — small, so that if we make a poor choice, we can change away from it, and many, so that collectively these “add up” to redesigning the whole.
Add to this the concept that society can be perfected — or that the people in society can be perfected — and you get classical liberalism. Add to that the notion that experts know better than the common man or woman what needs to be done and how to do it, and you get modern liberalism, in its range of orientations from the socialist utopians through social democrats, through the power-and-influence band, to the social moulders and corporatists. In other words, today’s Republicans and Democrats in the USA, today’s Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the UK, and today’s five parties in Canada…
Some of us disagree with the very notions of liberalism. As with Hippocrates, we begin with the principle “Above all, do no harm”: change should therefore be slow and careful (yet not wholly forestalled). Yet we stand with the people, believing them capable of understanding complex issues and making good choices about them if they are treated as competent adults rather than children to be babied by the nanny state mentality. Experts thus advise, they do not control. From the span of social order and justice (the original CCF) to the indigenous Canadian Tory, this span is currently but a fragment found (almost exclusively) in two of our parties. But it is there.
With that, let’s turn to the question of the purpose of government.
Those of us who are not liberal generally agree that the purpose of government is the provisioning of peace and order, and clarity around the rules of engagement — this is the element of justice expressed not as equality (the liberal idea) but as fairness (the same rules for all) — and the capitalisation of infrastructure needed but not yet a viable commercial investment. We may disagree on the span of items requiring infrastructure investment, and on the number of rules of engagement that may be required, but, unlike the liberals in our midst, we do not try to invoke change beyond these limits.
At the moment, for instance, it is necessary to rethink the fundamental piece of infrastructure that is our socio-economic model. This is based in (a) the uninterrupted flow of cheap energy (underlying the expectation of endless growth), (b) a disregard for locality of origin of products and services — communities, in other words, should not be encouraged to be sufficient unto themselves (globalisation), (c) a notion that despite obvious regional differences around a continental scale country one’s location should not matter (equalisation) and (d) a redistribution model for taxation expressed through the funding of many “programs” providing services (the nanny state model of extensive welfare provisioning). On these principles we have built sprawling suburbs with no attention to transportation infrastructure beyond roads, which are provided at a market discount relative to all other forms for people and goods movement, to take but one consequence.
When the environmentalists in our midst start to talk about global warming, carbon reduction, etc., it is the consequences of these fundamentals that they point to. Thus, whether we are dealing with the Gordon Campbell Government’s decision that British Columbia will have a carbon tax (to change usage patterns) and a carbon trading scheme, or the potential for their national equivalents being bruited about by various people supposedly in the know about Liberal Party policy plans, the solutions on offer are all designed to attack the consequences of the fundamental infrastructure of society that we have built.
How, for instance, retirement savings and provisioning is to be handled in a society that no longer grows at a rate sufficient to afford endless growth in nanny state activities is apparently left to the typical answer: “Oh, you’ll do it somehow”. Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, showed how this was the underlying expectation of every initiative to throw sand in the gears to achieve “social purposes”. (What she failed to examine was the question of whether we needed a new fundamental infrastructure in the first place.)
Endless growth, you see, leads to endless demand. Only in a society which is fundamentally conceived of as as allowing initiative to flourish but which may not grow will our innovations overcome our limitations without setting off year-after-year redistribution of resources.
Take government paperwork. I spend, depending on the quarter, six to eight times the time and energy handling regulations and reporting requirements for my tiny company as I do on managing that company. That is utterly ridiculous: were I to have the money to retire today, I would shut the company’s doors immediately. Why contribute one more minute of my life to bureaucracy, practically none of which benefits me? Yet the real losers from that decision would be other productive people who today can engage me on solving their problems — and to whom I would be unavailable at any price. Stagnation would replace change. Multiply that attitude, and whole communities lose their spark and die to subsist on the dole of government programs, all of which suck more life out of them than initiative would do, and which demand more money and more bureaucratic “feeding” as time goes on. The weeds take over the garden and starve the plants of life.
That is what a carbon tax would do. Forget the rhetoric of “revenue neutrality”: how can it be? Who pays, and when, changes from today — the burden is shifted. Worse, it is shifted into places we have consciously and deliberately disadvantaged by limiting their options already — and there is, despite the speechifying of politicians and experts, no real set of choices for the automobile and truck dependent far-flung villages and towns, and suburbs, of the Canadian landscape. We at one time had alternatives which we systematically starved into extinction. They no longer exist. Nor — under our current laws — will they easily come back.
Meanwhile, since no existing taxes are outright discontinued — all proponents of the social engineering that is carbon taxation merely diddle rates rather than make it impossible to collect further taxes of other types — these will soon become revenue accretive (to pay for more programs demanded to “relieve the suffering” brought about by the destruction of value in motor-dependent communities by this tax). This isn’t just sand in the gears of the economy, as one writer has put it: these are a means to outright stop innovation that isn’t part of an “approved path”. “Grind to a stop, we will.”
You can kiss your savings for retirement good-bye, then.
Let’s stop diddling around the edges. The disease is liberalism and the infrastructure it built of an economic model requiring endless growth. To “do no harm” these days we must detox our society, so to speak: we must wean it from dependency back to self-sufficiency, and wipe out taxes and programmes left, right and centre rather than add to the pile.
The end of cheap energy will take care of most of the issues with carbon emission. Going beyond that into changing what we tax to influence behaviour must start with what we stop doing and stop demanding those of us who create economic results must do. Otherwise we will starve ourselves — and, two decades hence, see if that wasn’t a highly accurate statement of our impoverishment under the weight of a state we can’t afford without the endless growth model cheap energy provided — instead of free up the initiative space and resources needed to change our fundamentals.
Sometimes the Tory advances basic change with many follow-on effects to correct a path that has gone fundamentally wrong. This is one of those times. For without such a diagnosis, this patient won’t make it.
First, detox the junkie (don’t give him or her a place to shoot the drugs into their body “under supervision”). All three Insite studies show that that medical principle holds despite the promotion of “harm mitigation”. So, too, we must detox the junkie that is the body public, whose answer to all questions is “what’s the Government doing?”
Don’t expect me to support you, Mr. Campbell, in next year’s election, unless you get cracking on what should have come with your carbon tax. As for M. Dion, I’d expect you to get the picture, too — except you’ve spent your entire working life with your lips firmly coupled to the public teat. Take your carbon tax proposal and go away.