Sunday, September 24, 2006

Armed and Dangerous

The New York Times has reported that California’s Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, is suing the six largest automobile manufacturers because of their alleged contribution to “global warming” and its resulting damage to the State of California.

“Global warming,” it reports the attorney general as saying, “is causing significant harm to California’s environment, economy, agriculture and public health. . . . Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming . . . .”

The suit accuses the auto companies, in the words of The Times, “of creating a public nuisance by building millions of vehicles that collectively discharge 289 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.”

Mr. Lockyer and his supporters apparently to not think in terms of principles. If they did, they would realize that the logic on the basis of which he is suing the automobile companies would also enable him to sue Caltrans, the state agency responsible for highway, planning, construction, and maintenance. He could sue Caltrans for its role in making possible the presence of the millions of automobiles in the state emitting carbon dioxide. After all, if Caltrans had not built its roads, the number of automobiles that would have been sold in California would have been far less, and thus the problems that Mr. Lockyer complains of would also have been far less. By extension, he could add to the list of defendants the state legislators who voted for the annual budgets of Caltrans.

And by the same logic, applied at a more fundamental level, he could sue all the millions of individual California residents whose purchases of automobiles over the years provided the automobile manufacturers with the incentive and financial means to continue their allegedly destructive activity of providing people with convenient, low-cost means of transportation. Few things are more certain than that in the absence of their purchases, very few automobiles would ever have come into California.

As the chief law enforcement officer of the state, Mr. Lockyer is armed. His utterly bizarre lawsuit shows that he is also dangerous.

In an earlier era, when confronted with the possibility of encountering an armed and dangerous man, citizens were cautioned not to attempt to approach him but to summon law enforcement instead. The tragedy—the joke—is that today Mr. Lockyer and others of his ilk so often are law enforcement.

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 mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.