Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Big" Government: A Breath of Fresh Air...

Autumn by paynehollow
Autumn, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
A recent note from the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection said...

Did you know that, in Kentucky, the concentration of acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide in the ambient air has been reduced 81 percent since 1981? How about the fact that smog-forming nitrogen oxides are down 52 percent in the same time period?

Kentucky’s air quality has improved significantly in the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed. Making this downward trend in pollution levels all the more remarkable, Kentucky has seen continued economic development and population growth over the course of these past four decades.

Our improved air quality is a significant achievement considering that economic and population growth results in additional pollution sources from expanded industry, more traffic, and greater energy demand in a state that obtains roughly 96 percent of its electricity from coal. Yet as the economy has more than tripled, air quality has continued to improve – proof that environmental protection and economic development can go hand in hand...

You can read the whole story here.

The whole question of whether or not we need/want a "big" or "small" government is not the main issue to me. I want a SMART government. If a government has a bunch of rules intended to make things better and improve the commonwealth but the rules - however well-meaning - do not accomplish those goals, that is not smart government.

If we do away with rules in response to the problems associated with the rules - and the initial problem gets worse! - that is not smart government, either.

Well-written rules that help the common wealth while allowing for maximum freedom (and yet protecting liberties from those who'd abuse their "freedom"), this is what I want to see in my government.

I like the Clean Water and Clean Air rules and regulations we put in place primarily because they are effective at helping us all enjoy maximum liberties while ensuring that we do so responsibly. A state with many, many jobs where people are making plenty of money, BUT where the air and water is so polluted that lives are cut short and no one gets to enjoy the benefits of their jobs, that is not a goal I want to see lived out.

FEMA and having an adequate government response to disasters like Sandy is another example of smart government (as long as it's done well). Private, scattered support and charity has its place, but it would not easily be as concentrated and coordinated and guaranteed as a governmental response. When the GOP starts talking about making government smaller, there's always the risk of removing essential, wise programs.

Jobs? Sure. But jobs created within a smart and responsible context, in ways that don't cause harm/interrupt liberties of the masses.

That should be our goal.

As this article demonstrates in Kentucky, we can have both and should demand both.

And, as Wendell Berry has often pointed out: We must need keep in mind that the economy (and our jobs) are a subset of the environment, and not the other way around. So we need to keep that in mind as we prioritize. A sick environment can not long sustain a healthy economy or a healthy society.


Parklife said...

Dan.. I think Mayor Bloomberg would agree with you. The President picked up a nice endorsement today.

"But we can't do it alone. We need leadership from the White House – and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks."

John Farrier said...

The whole question of whether or not we need/want a "big" or "small" government is not the main issue to me. I want a SMART government. If a government has a bunch of rules intended to make things better and improve the commonwealth but the rules - however well-meaning - do not accomplish those goals, that is not smart government.

As I've mentioned before, I think that some environmental regulation is necessary because contaminants cannot be easily limited on property lines. So I'm not in disagreement with you there.

But I think that the objective of "smart government" is a doomed enterprise. This is in part because of what Hayek called the "knowledge problem." In short, it is this: people may know how to make decisions over their own lives because they have immediate local knowledge. But no one is smart enough to run someone else's life:

This is, perhaps, also the point where I should briefly mention the fact that the sort of knowledge with which I have been concerned is knowledge of the kind which by its nature cannot enter into statistics and therefore cannot be conveyed to any central authority in statistical form. The statistics which such a central authority would have to use would have to be arrived at precisely by abstracting from minor differences between the things, by lumping together, as resources of one kind, items which differ as regards location, quality, and other particulars, in a way which may be very significant for the specific decision. It follows from this that central planning based on statistical information by its nature cannot take direct account of these circumstances of time and place and that the central planner will have to find some way or other in which the decisions depending on them can be left to the "man on the spot."

This is why Obama's stimulus package failed so miserably. He figured that his central planners knew better than individual members of the population how to spend their money. But the aggregate, dispersed and distributed knowledge of the people was and is superior to the knowledge of Obama's central planners.

Both Obama and Romney argue that they are the best people to run the world's largest economy. They're both wrong. They're the smart people who can make smart decisions through smart government for the rest of us. They're both wrong. They aren't that smart--and no one is.

Marshall Art said...

I don't believe that it is so common that those who make their profits in enterprises that result in pollution are of a mind that the polluting they do is of no consequence and not something that troubles them. Some of our industries are far too integrated into our society to simply shut them down without massive harm to our economic system and way of life.

At the same time, we have improved how we do things so as to minimize, if not eliminate, contamination and pollution, and in this day and age I can't imagine too many corporate heads that don't recognize the advantages in improving even more.

The question is whether or not government regulation is a federal concern in these matters, and whether or not their intervention makes any difference, or enough to justify that interference.

One can Google the issue as regards the coal industry and find not only lost jobs, but decreased supply of needed energy (electricity). How is that a good thing for the nation? Fuel economy regulations have led to more traffic deaths as the cars get lighter.

The Clean Air Act has indeed led to cleaner air (assuming their was no move or public pressure already at work to compel change), yet a faction of our own people demanded Bush sign on to Kyoto. We find that it wasn't necessary for us to do this and reduce our pollution, as our results bettered any signer of that treaty.

Environmental regulations, and most others, are not necessary if our courts are honest and on the ball. Harm done by a corporation can be dealt with through the courts.

No corporation is compelled to alter their practices because of regulation, but by their bottom line.

If a regulation alters the practices of a corporation, it is due to the desire to avoid litigation for failing to comply. But a large corporation may feel its profit potential outweighs such concerns, as it might have the dough to cover any legal costs. So, if it was truly unconcerned about public safety, it would ignore the regulation anyway if it felt it could weather a trial, just as it might if the victims of its negligence were a few individuals who couldn't get a pro bono lawyer.

There's also the issue of who is writing the regulations. Dan has expressed a distaste for those who are part of an industry having anything to do with being involved in regulating their industry. But if one has no real knowledge of it, how is that fair, and how can an industry be protected from regulation that is poorly crafted?

Regs are like any other law. The wicked will ignore it, and the good never needed it. But the good suffer as a result of the burden the regulation places upon it.

Parklife said...

Thats great and all John. First, Obama's bailout didnt "fail". Second, what parts didnt succeed were b/c it was too small. Third, as you point out, there is somebody or rather some group elected to "fix" the economy. We all signed up for this government and have to live with Obama or Romney. There is no option of "none of the above".

I dont think the term "smart" govt. exists either. Mostly because I dont know what that means. Govt. can do a better job and should. But putting the bar of success at some imaginary free enterprise successful company is inappropriate.

John Farrier said...

Thats great and all John. First, Obama's bailout didnt "fail".

Barack Obama disagrees with you. Throughout his administration, unemployment has been not only worse than what he projected it would be with the stimulus package, but worse than what he projected it would be without the stimulus package.

By Obama's own definition, he has failed.

We all signed up for this government and have to live with Obama or Romney. There is no option of "none of the above".

Please elaborate. Are you saying that we can't reduce the size and scope of government or that we don't have third party options?