The US, Now and Then
Today is a holiday in the US. Americans celebrate what they used to be. And pretend they still are.
But back then, the government was microscopic. No Department of Energy. No Environmental Protection Agency. No troops all over the world. No foreign wars. No unpayable debt, unresponsive bureaucracy, or unworkable plans. Washington, DC, was still farmland.
With the important exception of the slaves, Americans were free to pursue happiness in their own way. And if they didn’t get a hold of it, it was their own damned fault. There were no ‘Independence’ cards. No unemployment benefits. No ‘disability’ or gimmie-stimmy cheques. The government did not aim to save people…nor save the planet. It neither led nor prodded; it was too feeble to do much of either.
Today, it’s a different story. Whether it is the inflation rate…poverty…the business cycle…racism…diversity…drugs…crop yields…working conditions…medical care…airline safety…the governments of foreign nations, the borders between them and who can trade with whom — the feds are on the case. With so much time and money devoted to stamping it out, it is amazing that there is any evil left in the US at all.
But now we focus on what must be the feds’ boldest — and potentially, most disastrous — program. Forget invading Russia! Forget the Cultural Revolution! They’re aiming higher than ever — trying to control the world’s weather. We’re just wondering how it will turn out.
The feds want to wean the world off fossil fuel. This, they say, will reduce carbon emissions and keep temperatures from rising. We offer no opinion as to whether this is true or not. Nobody really knows; it’s never been done before. We only note that reversing the Industrial Revolution is not risk-free. And if the program succeeds, it will be one for the record books, a remarkable exception to the general rule: the more ambitious the government program, the greater the calamity that follows.
Will it turn out like the First World War…the war that was supposed to make the world ‘safe for democracy’ and ended up killing 20 million people? Instead of promoting democracies, it led to a Bolshevik revolution in Russia and a fascist crackpot in Berlin.
Or maybe the fight against higher temperatures will go like the fight against alcohol after the First World War. There were a lot of very good reasons for wanting to ban booze. But prohibition turned drinkers into criminals…gave a big boost to the mob…and may have actually increased consumption of alcohol!
Or maybe we’re looking at something more like China’s Great Leap Forward. That program was supposed to increase food production (by planting seeds closer together)…and bring China into the modern age (with backyard steel furnaces).
Result: 50 million people starved to death.
So, let’s look at what an energy cut-off, in a poor country, looks like. VICE reports:
‘Jason Anthony has been in a two-kilometer [sic] fuel queue for two days now. In the capital city of Colombo, in the crisis-hit South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, the 35-year-old sleeps in his tuktuk when he’s exhausted, or sits on the pavement with other drivers who have been there for several days too.
‘When the fuel station closes for the day, he walks several kilometers [sic] back home, only to return the next day to queue up. He showed VICE World News his makeshift home by the road over a video call.
‘“I was forced to quit my job as a tourist guide in February when things got bad here and tourists stopped coming. I had to become a tuktuk driver,” Anthony said. “Now, the fuel is so scarce that I’ve not worked in the last month. I can barely make ends meet at home but I’m forced to spend my days at fuel stations.”
‘Last week, newly-appointed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe admitted at a parliament meeting that the country’s economy has hit rock bottom.
‘“We are now facing a far more serious situation beyond mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food,” he said. “Our economy has completely collapsed.”’
‘Demonstrations have continued over the past month’, adds The Guardian, ‘as the country faces its worst economic crisis in 70 years with food, fuel, and medicine in short supply…’
Meanwhile, Argentina — always ahead of the curve — is suffering from rolling blackouts and fuel shortages, too. When we left in May, gas stations were running out of gas. Lines were forming. Rationing was proposed.
The country has substantial reserves of oil. But the gaucho feds rigged the price of gasoline (keeping it low) to appease the voters. And with an inflation rate of 50%, even the state-owned oil companies can’t raise the capital needed to drill for oil and refine it into gasoline.
The story is much the same in Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the world. For years, the country kept the price of gasoline below the cost of making it. And it paid oil workers in currency that was almost worthless. The employees got even. Parts disappeared. Tools disappeared. Trucks disappeared. Then, the employees disappeared…and finally, the gasoline itself disappeared.
Even natural gas — for cooking dinner — disappeared, which was not such a problem, because there wasn’t anything left to cook anyway.
None of these countries were always in such desperate straits. How did they get that way? Government policies — regulations, restrictions, corruption, incompetence, a big idea, a few bad decisions — and a little bad luck.
Could that happen in the ‘Western’ world…to modern, fully developed countries? Imagine Sri Lanka’s problems…or Venezuela’s problems…
…imagine a Great Leap Forward to a Post-Fossil Fuel World projected onto the US, France, Britain, and Germany.
What could go wrong? The same thing that went wrong in Sri Lanka, Argentina, and Venezuela? We don’t know. But we’re going to find out.
For The Daily Reckoning Australia