The Age of Reason and the Age of Innocence are past. The Age of Unreason is upon us.
Consider the national energy policies being promoted by McCain and Obama, as examples, or consider the current energy policies of the nation. These policies are rational and reasonable for those who aim to benefit from them and succeed in doing so. Who are these people? They are those who seek to aggrandize their wealth and power at the expense of others. They are those who succeed in their endeavors by getting laws passed that favor them, such as biomass, ethanol, and solar panel subsidies. They are those who succeed at deceit and trickery, and who shift risks and costs from one set of persons to another. In other words, they are those engaging in criminal behavior. They are criminals.
But if we conceive of these energy measures as being aimed at the welfare of you and me, or at the General Welfare, then the national energy policies typically are irrational. By this I mean that they are not policies that you or I would engage in, either as reasonable personal choices or as choices made by persons, such as we are, who respect the property of others.
We would not lawfully take money from our neighbors, and then we would not reasonably pay this money to farmers to grow corn to produce ethanol and end up paying more than if we had purchased gasoline from the nearest supermarket or Mobil station. We would not claim to own the sea bed of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and prevent others from looking there for oil or minerals. We would not force everyone to use a particular kind of washing machine or light bulb.
We find ever more of our choices being made for us by national policies, all of which share this common defect of being not only unreasonable but necessarily unreasonable. We observe a widespread unreasoning acceptance of this unreasonable procedure. We observe the general run of leaders in our major institutions (press, university, pulpit, science) who are either silent about these national impositions or support them.
This widespread acceptance of unreason by unreasoning persons is why I nominate this age as The Age of Unreason. An alternative label is The Age of Irrationality.
What is energy policy? Energy policy, in common parlance, means a national energy policy, a made-in-Washington energy policy. And that means a diktat, a decree, an edict, emitted from the bowels of Congress, signed by the Executive, enforced by the bureaucracy, and paid for by us.
The last thing that (national) energy policy will be or can be is a rational policy aimed at the production and consumption of energy by free persons. The last thing that it will or can aim at is the General Welfare. The last thing that it will or can be is constitutional.
Instead, the next energy policy will, like the current one, be unreasonable and irrational. As now, the next energy policy will be a set of complex commands fashioned behind closed doors and covering everything from light bulbs to lawn mowers. It will abridge natural liberties and constrain our personal actions to irrational paths. The next energy policy, like the current one, will blanket the entire U.S. with one set of unconstitutional rules.
What is a non-criminal rational energy policy? There is no such thing as a non-criminal, rational, national energy policy. Congress can only create national policies, but no national policy (with any non-zero content) can possibly be rational or non-criminal. The only rational and non-criminal national energy policy is the null set, that is, nothing, the set of commands that is empty, no national commands at all, no national energy policy whatsoever.
Corn ethanol subsidies do not just happen by chance to be an unreasonable policy. Restrictions on ocean drilling do not just happen by chance to be criminal. National policies like these must typically be unreasonable and criminal because of the business that Congress is in. The business of Congress is to shift costs and risks from one set of persons to another. The business of Congress is to tax, seize, and take. The business of Congress is to subsidize one person at the expense of another.
The only national energy policy that does not, in the way of the fascist, curtail liberty while leaving standing the shell and pretense of private property and free markets, is no national energy policy whatsoever. Liberty means the liberty to choose one’s own autos, fuels, energy sources, light bulbs, appliances, boats, means of transportation, location, insulation, furnaces, without being influenced by regulation, subsidy, and taxes. Liberty means not being told what to do by the dictator known as Congress.
I am no fan of constitutions. Ours has loopholes big enough to drive trucks through. The Framers aimed at fostering a strong national government, and they succeeded. Nevertheless, it takes large doses of unreason to torture the language of the poor Constitution to death, such that it yields up as legal the powers and measures that today routinely make up national policies. With all of the defects of the U.S. Constitution, it still takes considerable unreason to overpower its provisions in favor of the criminal government we have today.
Another election year is upon us. McCain and Obama are out voicing their energy policies. Will this talk influence some votes and the election? It might. Will it affect what eventually comes out of Congress? Maybe. Will it result in an energy policy that improves our lot? No. The opposite is far more likely.
There is scarcely any line in any McCain or Obama speech on energy policy that is not unreasonable. The premise of their speeches is unreasonable. Who needs a national energy policy? Such a monstrosity can be right for no one except the special interests it is designed to benefit at our expense. Each of us already has his own energy policy, and that is the way it should be.
A news article says "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to free the United States from dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela within a decade…" McCain’s policy is the same (see here.) "As President, I’ll propose a national energy strategy that will amount to a declaration of independence from the fear bred by our reliance on oil sheiks and our vulnerability to the troubled politics of the lands they rule."
Policies do not get much more unreasonable than a national policy of oil independence. Both candidates intend to reshape energy markets, or what is left of them, in a major way. Their laundry lists differ, but they both are engaging in large-scale national planning. Both have already pre-judged the case by declaring a goal of oil independence from the Middle East. Why? What if millions of Americans want to trade with the Iranians or Iraqis or Saudis? Why do we need these bozos to tell us when we should stop using someone’s oil and switch to a more or less expensive domestic or foreign source? Why are we not each of us in a better position to judge and adapt as time passes? Why are we not in the best position each of us to decide what to do concerning energy? Aren’t we the ones who are deciding on location, transport, housing, heating, travel, clothing, and so on? Aren’t we the ones who face the changing costs and prices? Who are these obnoxious politicians with their suffocating arrogance and paternalism telling us what to do?
One would have thought that central (national) planning went out in 1989 with the Soviet Union. But in the Age of Unreason, such is not so. The unreasoning mind still considers that command and control make things work. But central planning is maladaptive and unreasonable as von Mises showed decades ago.
Personal adaptations to changing prices will accomplish the transition to alternative energy sources at appropriate times and places and in appropriate ways. They will do so smoothly, whereas the State’s planning will increase uncertainty, make faulty decisions, be subject to political whims and forces, undermine economic growth, and destroy wealth.
An energy transition is a type of emergent or spontaneous process. It can, if allowed to, happen naturally through decentralized decisions
To learn from the errors of others, like the Soviets, is reasonable. To learn from the logical thoughts of others, like von Mises, is reasonable. At present, the political machinery that is shaping our destiny is a force for Unreason that dominates the voices of Reason, and this is why we live in an Age of Unreason.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.