Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dictator Mentality at The New York Times

In its Monday editorial “Next Steps on Energy,” The New York Times criticizes the president’s proposals concerning oil that he made in his State-of-the-Union message on January 31. Its criticism is not aimed at the actual failures of the president in connection with his proposals, such as his description of Americans’ consumption of oil as an “addiction” and his resulting failure to state the need for expanded oil drilling within the United States—and freedom from the environmentalist-inspired government intervention that prevents it.

Another, potentially far more serious failure of the president’s speech was his advocacy of the use of taxpayer money in support of alternative fuel and automotive technologies. Even though the funds he requested may be modest by the standards of present-day government spending, they will be taken as a starting point by others and have the potential for being substantially increased in future years.

No. The Times criticizes the president because his proposals do not go far enough in failing to uphold the rights of American citizens, and in further violating them. It declares: “The real question is not whether Mr. Bush's proposals are going to make life difficult for some people but whether they are tough and adventurous enough. The answer is plainly no.”

The Times’ standard of accomplishment is apparently making life difficult for some people. And it’s better from its point of view to make life more difficult for more people than the president seeks to do. Thus, it wants “tougher,” more “adventurous” proposals than he does.

The only reasonable meaning that can be attached to “tougher” governmental action is more governmental coercion to compel more people, more often to do what they otherwise would choose not to do, or to prohibit more people, more often from doing what they otherwise would choose to do. One wonders why The Times cannot find room for the right of the individual man (or women) to choose the kind of vehicle he will drive and how much oil or other fossil-based fuel he will consume. Why does it seem like the only right to choose that The Times, and so much of the rest of the “liberal” establishment, is willing to recognize is the right of women to choose to have an abortion? Shouldn’t the freedom to choose apply across the board, to everyone, short of violating the equal right of others to choose how to employ their persons and property?

Not according to The New York Times. In a bizarre corruption of the concepts of “incentives” and “market,” it attacks the president for failing to propose the kind of “program” it wants.

But the biggest shortcoming is the total absence of a program that would deliver any of these dandy new technologies to the marketplace. By program we mean a uniform set of incentives — what the economists call market signals — that would drive American industry to build the more fuel-efficient vehicles and the cleaner power plants that we need.

For vehicles, there are two ways to get there. One, favored by most research groups specializing in energy, is to greatly strengthen the fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. The other, favored by many economists, is to enact a substantial gas tax. We like both. One way or another, through regulatory or market mechanisms, the country would soon be driving cars that were far more fuel-efficient.

The kind of “incentives” The Times wants the president to offer is greater use of the “incentive” to avoid being fined or imprisoned. That’s what will make the auto industry achieve greater “fuel-economy” and the utilities build power plants different from the ones they would otherwise build. Yes, in some cases, it also wants the government to offer money—subsidies. But the money is taken from taxpayers, who are given the “incentive” of staying out of jail as their reason for paying the additional taxes that will provide that money. And additional taxes, of course, is exactly what The Times asks for.

In its view, higher fuel prices resulting from higher taxes constitute using the “market mechanism” to provide a “market signal” to consume less fuel. Here The Times casually neglects the fact that the “market” that has a “mechanism” and provides “signals” is the market free of government coercion—that is, free of precisely what The Times wishes to introduce into it.

The Times idea of a “market mechanism” and a “market signal” is comparable to a dictator’s notion of the role of the press in the publication of election results. The dictator wants to use the press to announce his version of the outcome of the election.

We have markets for automobiles and for the fuel to power our automobiles. On those markets, the public has again and again expressed its choices. It wants a large number of large automobiles, and when it’s prohibited from getting them by such means as government-imposed “fuel-economy” standards, it wants large numbers of SUVs. It wants a supply of fuel sufficient to power its automobiles to the extent it chooses to drive them.

To borrow further from Ludwig von Mises: Like a dictator who is unhappy with the outcome of an election, The Times is unhappy with the outcome of the choices of tens of millions of American citizens expressed in their purchases of motor-vehicles and fuel for those vehicles. It contemptuously dismisses the market signal that is being flashed with the power of an aircraft searchlight into the eyes of anyone who is not blind, that the American people want more oil and energy and are willing to pay profitable prices to have it produced. It cavalierly describes the administration’s willingness to allow some additional drilling for oil in Alaska as “ill-advised,” “meaningless,” and a “fixation.”

Again and again, it joins with the rest of the environmental movement, of which it is a leading part, to frustrate the public’s choice for more energy of all kinds, energy that the American people are ready, willing, and eager to pay profitable prices for, and which the oil, coal, natural gas, and atomic power industries would eagerly produce if not prohibited by government intervention inspired by the environmental movement and applauded by The New York Times.

Like a dictator who is dissatisfied with the choice of the citizens, The Times again and again urges the dispatch of the police to change or prevent the outcome that the people want.

It dares to close its editorial with the assertion, “This [more government regulation and more taxes] is the right direction, whether the administration wants to go there or not.”

The role of the administration is totally secondary.

The primary consideration is the direction the American people seek. As they’ve demonstrated in the market day after day, year after year, they want the vehicles and the fuel they buy, and they want more of them, at lower prices, not less of them at higher prices. The right direction for the government of the United States is to respect the freedom of its citizens to choose and the choices they’ve made in the market. It is the opposite of the policy advocated by The Times. It’s the direction on which the United States was founded, the direction that is enshrined in its very foundation: namely, the “The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness,” a right held by each and every individual and exercised, in large part, every day in choosing what and how much to buy and what and how much to produce and sell. The government of the United States was established to protect this right, not to violate it.

The New York Times is a malevolent, alien influence, one that is hostile to the United States’ very reason for being.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that the author’s web site http://www.capitalism.net/ is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved.