I don’t mean to spend half my time discussing New York Times columnists that my readers can’t read, really I don’t, but …
John Tierney has a truly stupid column running today. In it, he describes his plan for energy independence, which is: do nothing. There is a great deal of dimwittery encased in the short piece, but I just want to make one small point, about this:
When something finally comes along that’s cheaper and more reliable than oil, no national energy plan will be necessary. Capitalists will be ready to sell it to eager American drivers. For now, the best strategy is to buy gasoline and stop worrying that it’s sinful or dangerous.
What dreamy market idealists like this never seem to consider is that the uninhibited development of a market economy is perfectly compatible with a great deal of pain.
What if the oil peak comes sooner than anybody thinks? What if war breaks out in the Middle East? What if terrorists disable multiple major oil pipelines simultaneously? What if there is a sudden, widespread need for alternative fuels and nothing is there to satisfy it?
Will capitalists suddenly and magically have access to scaleable new sources? Will millions of suburbanites smoothly and happily move back to cities?
No: People will lose jobs. They will lose houses. They will lose food. People will suffer. Lots of people. And this will be a perfectly natural market response.
True marketeers will argue that under those circumstances the pain suffered under the free market will be less than that suffered under any course of action involving dread government. "The worst possible system, except for all the others." Maybe so, maybe not.
But people like Tierney, with their childlike faith that the market will ease us painlessly through any conceivable energy transition, are just irresponsible. Believing in markets does not require having your head
up your ass in the sand.