6.30.2009

Our Generation's Smoot-Hawley

I'm shocked to find a speech by a Republican with which I can find nothing to disagree. In fact, this speech given on the House floor last Friday by California Rep. Tom McClintock, after the passage of the Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade bill, is insightful, well constructed, and makes a comparison to the history of the Great Depression I hadn't heard before.

McClintock first discusses California's climate change legislation of 2007 and how it drastically deepened the state's financial woes, and then compares cap-and-trade to the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff that sent the country into the Great Depression. It also doesn't hurt that he casually rips apart the claims of global warming alarmists used as a reason to support the bill. This is a very good speech, especially so in comparison to the dumbed-down discourse of our modern politicians.
Tom McClintock, June 26, 2009 8:31 PM - US House of Representatives:

I had a strange sense of Deja Vu as I watched the self-congratulatory rhetoric on the house floor tonight, and I feel compelled to offer this warning from the Left Coast.

Three years ago, I stood on the floor of the California Senate and watched a similar celebration over a similar bill, AB 32. And I have spend the last three years watching as that law has dangerously deepened California’s recession. It uses a different mechanism than Cap and Trade, but the objective is the same: to force a dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Up until that bill took effect, California’s unemployment numbers tracked very closely with the national unemployment rate. But then in January of 2007, California’s unemployment rate began a steady upward divergence from the national jobless figures. Today, California’s unemployment rate is more than two points above the national rate, and at its highest point since 1941.

What is it that happened in January of 2007? AB 32 took effect and began shutting down entire segments of California’s economy. Let me give you one example from my district. The City of Truckee, California was about to sign a long-term power contract to get its electricity from a new, EPA-approved coal-fired electricity plant in Utah. AB 32 and companion legislation caused them to abandon that contract. The replacement power they acquired literally doubled their electricity costs.

So when economists warn that we can expect electricity prices to double under the cap and trade bill, I can tell you from bitter experience that in my district, that’s not a future prediction, that is an historical fact.

Gov. Schwarzenegger assured us that AB 32 would mean an explosion of new, green jobs -- exactly the same promises we’re hearing from cap and trade supporters. In California, exactly the opposite has happened. We have lost so many jobs that the UCSB economic forecast is now using the D-word – Depression – to discuss California’s job market.

M. Speaker, the Cap and Trade bill proposes what amounts to endlessly increasing taxes on any enterprises that produce carbon dioxide or other so-called greenhouse gas emissions. We need to understand what that means. It has profound implications for agriculture, construction, cargo and passenger transportation, energy production, baking and brewing – all of which produce enormous quantities this innocuous and ubiquitous compound. In fact, every human being produces 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide every day – just by breathing.

So applying a tax to the economy designed to radically constrict carbon dioxide emissions means radically constricting the economy.

And this brings us to the fine point of it.

When you discuss the folly of the Hoover Administration – how it turned the recession of 1929 into the depression of the 1930’s, the first thing that economists point to is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that imposed new taxes on over 20,000 imported products.

Waxman-Markey is our generation’s Smoot-Hawley. In fact, it’s worse because it imposes new taxes on an infinitely larger number of domestic products on a scale that utterly dwarfs Smoot-Hawley.

Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the planet’s climate is constantly changing and that long term global warming has been going on since the last ice age.

Let’s ignore the fact that within recorded history we know of periods when the earth’s climate has been much warmer than it is today and others when it has been much cooler.

Let’s ignore the thousands of climate scientists and meteorologists who have concluded that human-produced greenhouse gases are a negligible factor in global warming or climate change.

Ignore all of that and still we are left with one lousy sense of timing. In the most serious recession since the Great Depression – why would members of this house want to repeat the same mistakes that produced that Great Depression? Watching how California has just wrecked its economy and destroyed its finances, why would they want to do the same thing to our nation?

M. Speaker, this is deadly serious stuff. It transcends ideology and politics. This House has just made the biggest economic mistake since the days of Herbert Hoover.

If this measure becomes law, two things are certain. First, our planet will continue to warm and cool as it has been doing for billions of years. Second, Congress will have delivered a staggering blow to our nation’s economy at precisely that moment when that economy was the most vulnerable.

You can watch the speech here, and see transcripts of his other speeches here.

[HT: IBD]

6 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

The focus of the speech is economic. Environmental restrictions are bad because they hurt the economy. ("This House has just made the biggest economic mistake since the days of Herbert Hoover.") True.

> "M. Speaker, this is deadly serious stuff. It transcends ideology and politics.

Economics doesn't transcend ideology, that is, those branches of philosophy that apply directly to understanding and changing our milieu: ethics and philosophical politics, with their foundation in metaphysics and epistemology.

The speaker fits perfectly into the conservative mold: disagree on implementation but don't challenge the underlying supernaturalist, mystic, altruist, and statist principles.

C. August said...

He is a modern-day politician, and as such, I wouldn't expect him to discourse upon (or even understand) the proper foundations of politics in a rational philosophy.

However, in the context of this speech alone -- I don't know anything else about him -- I don't see as much of a problem as you seem to.

When he says "It transcends ideology and politics," I take that he means those terms in the current, Washington D.C. way: left vs. right partisanship. So he's saying that these issues -- the importance of the guaranteed economic problems (based on CA's recent history and the history of the Great Depression) and the flawed science the bill is based on -- are above petty politics. I agree with that.

I agree with you that he is not opposing the bill on fundamental principles, and instead is saying that it won't work, it will hurt the economy, and is based on bad science. But at the same time, he isn't advancing a compromise, and nowhere is mysticism or altruism coming into the picture. Of the four underlying principles you mentioned, I think the only one that applies that he should have challenged is statism.

Is he a staunch defender of liberty? I highly doubt it. I don't think they make that brand of politician anymore. But in comparison to most of the awfulness emanating from Washington, I found this speech to be a well-reasoned, pointed criticism of bad policy, and thus a breath of somewhat fresh air.

Burgess Laughlin said...

If you don't object, I would like to continue this discussion a little further. I do mean "discussion," not debate. I think we can each bring out important points.

1. "But in comparison to most of the awfulness emanating from Washington, I found this speech to be a well-reasoned, pointed criticism of bad policy, and thus a breath of somewhat fresh air."

Agreed. On a personal level, I would like to meet him. I think I would admire him personally--and feel sad about his premises. I think he is a man of integrity who is benevolent and (within narrow limits) thoughtful. This is my "impression" from having read about him off and on over the years. His voice attracted my attention as being the best of a bad lot in California, but that's not saying much.

My personal assessment, based on news reports, matches your very perceptive comment: ". . . he isn't advancing a compromise . . . ." That is very rare and deserves applause.

2. "Of the four underlying principles you mentioned, I think the only one that applies that he should have challenged is statism."

Speaking generally now, not about McClintock personally, I should make explcit a point I usually assume: Statism cannot be challenged except by challenging altruism; altruism cannot be challenged except by challenging mysticism; and mysticism cannot be challenged except by challenging supernaturalism.

The reason is that supernaturalism (the belief, -ism, in another world or another dimension of this one) requires mysticism since reason won't work on that other dimension; mysticism requires altruism (because that's the only way to dupe people into supporting mystics); and altruism requires statism (because force is necessary to overcome objections and achieve conformity).

McClintock qualifies very well with the idea that some individuals can be ad hoc allies on particular issues: e.g., opposing certain gun controls or rolling back certain taxes. But I would never want to associate with him in any general way. That was the point of spelling out the radical differences between McClintock's and an objective position. I should have made that clear.

C. August said...

I don't object at all!

1. Thanks for the personal view on a politician I've only been aware of for 1/2 of a day. It is helpful, since I value your observations.

2. This is an interesting question, speaking generally about how to combat statism. Are you saying that the only way to combat the root of statism, in all cases, is through the statism --> altruism --> mysticism --> supernaturalism pathway? Or do you mean only in the case of religious conservatives? Because secular socialists/communists would substitute the mysticism/supernaturalism with collectivism and... ?

Regardless, my intent was to highlight political moves, and in the modern context that means in the most superficial way. (or perhaps it's better to say it "in the least principled, accidentally effective way") So at that level, if a politician who doesn't actually operate from principle were to address any of the principles you stated, statism would be the only one that might apply here because hoping that someone like McClintock would identify your pathway is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely.

That said, taking your argument as given, I'll focus on your statement that someone who is an ad hoc supporter of liberty (and all that it implies) can be a useful ally on particular issues, but isn't someone you would want to regularly associate with. If I've stated it correctly, I agree with your position. Such people can be helpful, almost in spite of themselves, on certain issues, but I would not want to develop close personal ties with them or become allies in the broader battle, because the differences in core premises would be too great.

But I'm curious about why this applies in the current discussion, because we were talking about a political speech. As such, by way of analogy, if Patrick Henry could sway fence-sitters with an impassioned speech and they would vote the right way on an issue, then that's a good thing. Of course it would be better if the fence-sitters would become wholesale supporters/adopters of the correct position, but a vote is a vote when the chips are down.

My point in highlighting this speech was, in the absence of Patrick Henrys in the Congress, I'll be happy to applaud the work of McClintocks. I think working to spawn Patrick Henrys is best served in high schools and academia -- the territory of the work ARI is spearheading.

Burgess Laughlin said...

This discussion has been useful. If neither of us had anything else to do in life, we could probably discuss these issues for days. We are both too busy for that.

I do want to look at one point which has an implication that needs discussion:

> "2. This is an interesting question . . . about how to combat statism. Are you saying that the only way to combat the root of statism, in all cases, is through the statism --> altruism --> mysticism --> supernaturalism pathway? Or do you mean only in the case of religious conservatives? Because secular socialists/communists would substitute the mysticism/supernaturalism with collectivism and... ?"

No, collectivism is not a replacement of mysticism and supernaturalism but merely a particular form of it. In social metaphysics, the collective is supernatural "reality." Likewise, in epistemology, the collective ("the voice of the people") is a particular form of mysticism.

Ideas cause actions. Fundamental ideas cause derivative ideas which cause actions.

Everyone--whether conservative theocrat or "secular" communist--has a philosophy of some sort, even if only a heap of randomly chosen elements. It is those who have consistent philosophies who have the most effect on history.

A communist, even though supposedly secular, has a philosophy that includes politics, ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. Communists support statism, altruism, mysticism, and supernaturalism. Now, the form of their supernaturalism and the form of their mysticism might differ from those of conservative theocrats, but "secular" communists are still supernaturalists and mystics.

E.g., the only alternative to reason is mysticism. Communists have no rational basis for their ethics or politics. Communists rely on mysticism. And their mysticism in turn is required by their supernaturalism. The latter might take the form of a vague version of Kant's noumenal world rather than a theocrat's heaven, but it is still a realm outside or "beyond" or "above" nature.

Ayn Rand's long essay, "Faith and Force," lays this out very neatly. See the first ten pages or so of that essay in Philosophy: Who Needs It.

In summary. the idea of a philosophical hierarchy -- and the need to undermine the whole hierarchy -- applies to all statists, whether they be allegedly "secular" socialists or theocratic conservatives.

That does not mean that every speech, no matter how narrow, must contain a hierarchical analysis. However, any speaker can at least say a few words about the next level lower, the level that causes and therefore explains the level under discussion. Someone discussing altruism (ethics) should certainly say something -- even if only a single sentence -- about reason/mysticism. Why? Because epistemology underlies (causes) ethics.

There will never be a revolution in our culture until the whole philosophy of supernaturalism, mysticism, altruism, and statism is overturned.

That's all for me, unless I have said something that needs clarification -- which I would gladly try to provide.

Francis Luong (Franco) said...

Gentlemen, I very much enjoyed reading your exchange.

-Francis