Couldn’t have said it better myself

10 06 2009

My dad found this article on the American Enterprise Institute Blog.  It’s short, and worth the brief time it takes to read in its entirety.  Stephen Hayward, who I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of somewhere before, makes an excellent point:

It’s not just the 1960s policies of the Great Society that are making a comeback—it’s also the clichés.  The most annoying cliché of the 1960s, endlessly popular with lazy editorial writers, went—“Any country that can land a man on the moon can solve [fill in the blank] problem.”

It's science.

It's science.

It’s entirely true, in a way—America, or any country really, has the capacity to solve any problem and overcome any obstacle through individual ingenuity.  Many nations choose to stifle that ingenuity through repressive regulations and mandates, but hey, it’s their loss; the “human capital” or whatever you want to call it is there.  The energy crisis?  Inventors are busily working on 110 mpg engines on their own volition.  Healthcare?  I’m confident there is a market-based solution that could provide care better than that offered in any European country.

It’s not that solutions to the big problems aren’t out there, it’s inventors or entrepreneurs are often forced to compete with a government-approved and subsidized “solution” or, even worse, the government itself.  When the government is picking winners, we have no idea what potential the losers held.  But I’ve strayed considerably from the point of the article.

Okay, back on track: it’s not that we don’t have the creative capital to overcome poverty, energy or health-related issues.  But saying that, because we were able to go to the Moon (or beat the Soviets, or the Nazis, or whatever national milestone you pick), the government should step in to solve those problems is laughable.  After all,

No one ever seems to ask a simple question about moon landing analogies: Why did we quit going to the moon? Because, to use the environmentalists’ favorite term, it was unsustainable. Proving that something is technically achievable, whether moon rockets or hydrogen cars, doesn’t mean that it is affordable or economical. We quit going to the moon because it wasn’t cheap, and probably not the best use of scientific and engineering talent, either.

Yeah.  Just because something can be solved with the might of government, doesn’t mean it’s the best solution.  I’m sure someday it will be profitable to run private flights to the moon, and we’ll all be subjected to pictures of Richard Branson hopping around in a spacesuit.  Until then, the Moon buggies left up there will continue collecting Moon-dust.

The bottom line is pretty simple.  There’s really no reason that the Smartest, Brightest Young Minds in the Country who are all currently gathered around the feeding trough that is Washington, D.C.  couldn’t take a few hundred billion dollars and order the entire Midwest covered in windmills (except for the spaces between windmills, which would be covered with solar panels and smaller windmills)—it’s not like the money isn’t already being printed, and I suppose there are less efficient ways of spending it.  Like using it as a substitute for coal in existing power plants.

My point, er, Stephen Hayward’s point is, it could be done.  It might even supply a good portion of our energy needs.  But is it efficient?  No.  Does it stifle innovation?  Yes, by making windmills, smaller windmills, and solar panels the de facto winners in the green energy production market.

I was talking to my neighbor the other day.  He’s working on his PhD in something having to do with nuclear science (sorry Eric, in the off chance you’re reading this, I can’t remember exactly what the degree was called) and was excited to talk about the potential of the thorium fuel cycle, an even safer alternative to uranium-based nuclear energy production.  But that’s not something we hear being discussed today—it’s all windmills, solar cells, and biofuels.  When the the government focuses, Eye of Sauron-like, on one goal, all others fall by the wayside.

Build me a green energy grid worthy of Mordor!

Build me a green energy grid worthy of Mordor!

The “Any nation capable of [insert national milestone] is capable of [insert noble goal]” fallacy is just that-a fallacy.  Fortunately, it implodes as soon as you ask the next question.  Never hesitate to ask the next question.

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3 responses

10 06 2009
Min

Graham,

Did you mean subsidized “solution?” I got distracted looking at the typos (my pet peeve) … take a deep breath and slow down.

Otherwise, good job. I like reading your posts.

10 06 2009
grahamkozak

That’s exactly what I meant, thanks. This is what I get for relying on spellchecker.

11 06 2009
Gordie

Graham – Good points. Everyone wants “green” energy today. Just wait until they see their electric bills 10 years from now. It is not the most efficient answer – merely a mandate based on very loose science.

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