Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another Inquisition?

T. J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corp. — which owns solar-power manufacturer SunPower — says, “You serve people by making things people want.”

If people want green power and they are willing to pay for it, the private sector will make it. The politicians won't have to do a thing, except get out of the way.

What's the alternative to what we might call going green privately?

Going green publicly. And contrary to the feel-good propaganda, public green is not a comforting vision.

The scary thing about using government to engineer green power is the terrible naivety of those who advocate it. In the words of George Washington, government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. The only issues we should turn over to government are those where we are convinced it is necessary to compel people to agree.

Here are the relevant questions anyone advocating government action should be prepared to answer:

Are you willing to fine those who do not agree with you?

Are you willing to send them to jail?

Are you willing to seize their property?

Are you willing to condemn them to death?

This is how government operates. This is the only way government engineers a social consensus.

The more we insist on political solutions to everything from our personal problems to the problems of the world, the greater we run the risk of another cruel inquisition and a persecution of the innocent.


Swamp Fox said...

Re: "[Force] is the only way government engineers a social consensus."

In the words of the best president of the last century, "There you go again." That's just wrong.

There is an intersection outside my neighborhood that had four way stop signs, which slowed down traffic and kept drivers from crashing into each other. Actually that worked pretty well each day, with most people being relatively polite without any police around to force anyone to do anything. The government provided the rules of the game so people could cooperate voluntarily, and we all got through the intersection quicker and more safely.

Eventually the traffic became too congested for the stop signs. Recently, the government expanded the intersection and put up red lights. Again, almost everyone obeys the traffic signals without any police enforcers around, and traffic is flowing again. So the government provided enhanced rules, and again people are cooperating voluntarily to our mutual benefit.

Why does this work? Because there is a very broad social consensus that is in each of our enlightened self-interests to obey the traffic signals. The government didn't have to engineer any social consensus. Those of us going through the intersection already had a consensus that the stop signs weren't working anymore because it was taking 15 minutes sometimes to go a few hundred feet. All the government needed to do was give us better tools.

Occasionally the government does have to penalize someone for disobeying the rules. But that is NOT to "engineer a social consensus," but because there are idiots on the road that insist on violating the social consensus that the vast majority of people at the intersection are voluntarily willing to live we because we recognize that life is a better if we don't run over each other.

Ben Asa Rast said...

Do you assume that I believe government force is the ONLY way we achieve a social consensus?

Whether it acts to affirm a social consensus arrived at voluntarily, or it attempts to create something entirely new, government always relies on its power of enforcement, i.e., its police power.

As Washington (another great President, by the way) pointed out, government is force by its very nature. Hopefully, force used to expand the social space for peaceful cooperation and competition, but force none-the-less.

Perhaps you would prefer the phrase "enforce the social consensus?"

Swamp Fox said...

Washington was a great President, but he wasn't right about this.

My previous post didn't suggest that government created the social consensus about the need for traffic control. You said "government always relies on its power of enforcement, i.e., its police power." As my example demonstrated, that's just not true. Except for a few idiots willing to ignore the traffic control signals and put the rest of us at risk, almost everyone at the intersection obeyed the government rules voluntarily without the police any where around. The police aren't necessary to "enforce the social consensus" for almost all of us.

Most of us most of the time obey the law, not because the government has a gun to our head, but because it's the right thing to do to have a more civil society that benefits everyone.

Ben Asa Rast said...

Just because a majority of people voluntarily obey traffic signals does not mean there is no threat of force. You admit as much when you say government must occasionally enforce the rules.

Last year, I was on a bus in Guatemala City. Traffic signals were definitely not a matter of voluntary social consensus, nor a matter of enforcement.

I remember the same thing being true when I was in Rome almost thirty years ago.

Government is socially acceptable force. It is not correct to deny that statement simply because that force is not immediately necessary or visible.

However, this is not the same thing as saying government is evil, any more than it is saying the use of force is evil. There clearly are times when government and force are necessary.

The difficulty comes in deciding when to invoke government. My advice is this: use it sparingly. Using force or the threat of force to engineer a social order -- whether religious or secular -- has been the cause of much human suffering.