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You might remember the 2012 campaign trail when the Commander in Speech uttered, “You didn’t build that.” OK, so maybe that was out of context, and he didn’t really mean what his critics thinks he meant. Fine. Let’s assume the charitable version of his point – that even private enterprise “requires a village” and that it is the sound support of our government that helps all of us do what we need and want to be doing.

I don’t think folks in similar tribes as mine should reject that notion entirely. And this is not to make a philosophical point, it is to make a Global Warming point, again. I know, I know, you are all getting tired of my harping on the topic of Global Warming – what will you do if I keep writing about it, stop sending me the paychecks? But think about how global warming happened. And think about the (more than implicit) assumption that the alarmist community makes when they talk about dealing with Global Warming. I know this will come as a shock to many, but Global Warming was not caused by capitalists and the Koch brothers alone!

Cue the Victorian Vapours.

Yes folks, Progressives and Socialists and Communists and people of all stripes caused Global Warming. In fact, this is THE very point the President was making during that campaign speech. Sure, we have cool drugs and comfy clothes and homes and all of that nice stuff that “capitalists” bring us. But none of that is possible without the regulators, road pavers, government teachers unions, elected officials and so on. And presumably none of that is possible without the trillion dollar armed forces, mohair subsidies and so on. Fine. And considering that out of our $17 trillion economy, net government spending at all levels exceeds $6 trillion, over 35% of economic activity is directed by the government.  The government builds schools, weapons, hires nurses and doctors, does advertising, pours cement and asphalt and so many of the very same things that happen in “private markets.” Yet when you hear the invective of the “do something” crowd when it comes to global warming, we end up hearing a chorus singing, “end capitalism as we know it.” Which is weird coming from that crowd given they are also arguing, “the capitalists didn’t build that.”

So which is it? Did the capitalists build it on their own, and hence are responsible for wrecking the planet on their own? Or “did they not build that?” Because if you accept the latter, as I am inclined to do in the spirit of charity toward my opponents, then the capitalists are not only not totally responsible for global warming, but at best partially responsible. And to hear the anti-anarchists armchair theorists out there point to places like Somalia for what happens in a world without formal government, you might even have to believe that no productive activity is possible without government. In other words, according to some anti-anarchists, then global warming would not even be possible without government because we’d all be miserably poor and killing each other too fast to cause economic growth, population growth and pollution growth.

So I’m all in with ya guys. “The capitalists DIDN’T build that!” The Progessives and government lovers of all stripes not only helped, but perhaps are solely “responsible” for global warming. So, let’s be intellectually consistent and apply our solutions to the problem. If the problem of global warming was too much economic activity without foresight as to the consequences, it doesn’t follow that only “markets” should pay. Hence, the entire philosophical premise (NOTE THAT I AM NOT NOT NOT MAKING AN ECONOMIC POINT HERE). that “the capitalists” have to pay for their sins, that our current way of life cannot continue, and so on, is faulty. Indeed, it is not at all clear that EVERYONE shouldn’t have to tighten their belts to mitigate the worse impacts of global warming. So sure, impose a carbon tax, or a carbon cap or even ban coal fired plants. Then I very much look forward to seeing an argument that not only should any such tax revenues (from a cap or tax program) be rebated right back to the American people, but since government, too, causes global warming, the activities of government should be “taxed” as well. I am almost 100% flummoxed that this is not entirely obvious anyway. If, as the “progressives” claim, government actions are good and growth promoting, then those same government actions are also carbon producing and encourage more market carbon production. So it should be a natural argument to vehemently support a shrinkage in government at all levels.

What possibly could be a reasonable opposition to this? That “government is too important” to be shrunk? Well, you can’t make that argument and at the same time reject the arguments by anti-carbon-mitigation folks who argue that mitigation is too costly. You cannot. Because why is “the cost to government:” any more privileged than the cost to lost market opportunities? And taken to the extreme, if you truly believe “you didn’t build that,” I think you have to agree that the first place to look for carbon mitigation is by reducing the size and scope of government.

I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. But until (1) I see anyone who is in favor of carbon mitigation policy actually come out and argue that government actions should logically be curtailed as part of the mitigation strategy, and (2) that anyone in favor of carbon mitigation actually characterizes the real climate debate correctly, I am forced to assume that said people (perhaps I am included too) are just not serious, and are at best bloviating about the entire topic, or at worst, completely disingenuous, and for lack of a charitable term, too stupid to think through the logical consequences of their arguments and beliefs. And yes, for the record, I do put myself in the stupid camp. I am pretty sure there are holes in almost every argument I make. Where my stupid comes in is that I am not always sure I know quickly where to find such holes, though I do admit they are there.

So, join me in celebrating the very thing the Commander in Chief and his supporters celebrate and acknowledge as Gospel truth: you DIDN’T actually build that.

6 Responses to “YOU Actually Built That”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    I realize that not all of your arguments are necessarily economic ones …

    That said, I think a large part of the problem “we”have explaining our positions to collectivists/leftists/statists is that we are often making an economic argument, and they are holding what essentially amount to religious beliefs. I think that’s why you can explain that increased tax rates can result in lowered revenues for example, and they don’t care. Their primarily goal is to punish those they believe to be “sinners.”

    • wintercow20 says:

      Exactly Chris, which is indeed the point of this post. I was going to title it, in fact, “Progressives as Sinners …”

      It is they, too, who have sinned, or to use their logic, maybe even they are solely responsible for all of the sins of the world, since government is the font of all things. If that is their position, I am really excited for global warming mitigation. NOTHING at all in theory or philosophy says that “private markets” must be the entities to be penalized.

      • Gabriel Wittenberg says:

        I can’t help but think a “progressive” would respond that we just need a more, indeed, progressive means of production that uses alternative renewable energy. And what better entity to make these investments than the government itself (given that it is responsible for 35% of GDP). Even if they maintain you didn’t build that, they would still argue that it’s not the governments fault because the private markets took crude production to excess, much like the securitization of ABS’s. Enough with the devils advocate. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather allow the “progressives” to have their cake and eat it too versus funneling massive amounts of funds into crony’s pockets in the name of making the government greener. Not to mention armies of “bipartisan” consultants/beltway bandits being paid to keep the government honest. “I’ll pay my accountant AND my auditor, than you’ll believe me, right?”

  2. Harry says:

    I suppose we should allow him to concede everything for the sake of argument, since he runs this blog, not us. Or the Koch brothers run the blog, giving WC fancy cars and briefcases full of hundred-dollar bills to spread lies to his students about the value of hundred-dollar bills.

    Your loyal readers are not tired of hearing from a professor who teaches at a great university classes in environmental economics, including the volatile and important subject of Global Warming, or Climate Change, to hedge the futures bet. This is a big deal, after all, ending coal, modern agriculture, machinery in industry, etc. I used “etc.” because it is difficult to know where to begin.

    I do not rely on WC as my sole source of information, but he does spend his full time, when not caring for his family, on economics and philosophy. He gives us his take on the BER. He reads Picketty, to review what a French Marxist thinks about world taxation. One of the reasons I read TUW is that it gives me early notice of the controversies brewing among the radical left, sort of like the same reason one of the buttons on my car radio is talk NPR. (My brother once accused me of listening to the enemy.)

    As long as we are on Marxism/Leninism, Lenin said that Religion was the opiate of the people, and he was wrong. Marijuana is the opiate of the people, and the Denver Symphony is promoting fundraising concerts where music lovers can smoke reefers, second-hand smoke be damned. Where, “What’s the next number?” is not a question about whether it is the second movement, or the third.

  3. Harry says:

    I really liked WC’s tone in this piece, which was similar to my English translations of Bastiat, familiar to other TUW readers.

    I am still unconvinced that another fifty parts per million will make any difference, and that it will get to 800 parts per million in 2046, and even if it does, whether that will make a significant difference. Abolish freedom, and by 2046 we will all going to be looking fondly at the big pieces in the garbage.

  4. […] hey, neither Walmart nor you “built that.” We’ll have more to say about “You didn’t build that,” sometime next […]

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