True Costs are ‘Punitive’

I was listening to Coast to Coast AM tonight.

http://www.coasttocoastam.com/show/2011/01/15

The second guest was Eduardo Porter.

http://eduardoporter.com/

He was discussing his book, The Price of Everything.

The price of gas came up. Eduardo Porter mentioned data about the actual cost of gasoline versus the lower price we pay for it. The host, Ian Punnett, said he didn’t like such ‘punitive’ pricing. I’m not sure what Punnett believes about global warming, but I suspect he doesn’t believe in it. Anyway, his reaction annoyed me.

We know we aren’t paying the full cost of the pollution we create through such things as gasoline. This is true in terms of future costs, but the costs of pollution have direct impact on our lives in the present. For example, gas used to have high levels of lead. When the government regulated gas to lower lead levels the violent crime rates decreased. In order to implement such regulation, it does cost us money, but ‘punitive’ is such an odd way to label the attempt to improve the world and avoid negative consequences.

So, it’s ‘punitive’ to pay the costs of the environmental destruction we cause? I suspect future generations will feel our present actions were rather ‘punitive’ towards them if we don’t change our ways. This attitude of socializing costs is just bizarre. Private corporations socialize their costs and losses so that the rest of us have to pay for the economic and environmental problems they cause. In return, we the taxpayers want to socialize the costs toward future generations. It’s a constant shifting of costs that no one wants to take responsibility for. I find such an attitude to be depressing to say the least.

There is only one way I can see that this attitude can be rationalized. Someone like Punnett must believe there never will be any costs or at least nothing we need to worry about. I don’t know if Punnett is a fiscal conservative, but it would seem probable. Fiscal conservatives love laissez-faire ideology and believe that free markets can solve all problems. Such a belief is naive. Maybe future ‘free markets’ will solve the problems we cause in the present, but then again maybe not. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not create the problems in the first place? What advantage is there to destroying the environment only to later on trying to figure out how to fix it again?

Ian Punnett doesn’t seem like a bad guy nor does he seem stupid, but his opinion implies a profound disconnection from reality. He told the author that we can’t know what the true costs are. By doing so, he was dismissing what data we do know. Yes, the data is imperfect, but denying inconvenient data is even worse. How does it make sense to base one’s opinions on an anti-intellectual denial of all known data because one doesn’t like the data? If Punnett had other data that contradicted what the author presented, that would be different. But he offered no data. He just criticized. Punnett apparently was making the argument that, by basing our public policies on the known data, it would be punitive to make people pay for the problems they help cause. Huh!?!

If I was more cynical than I already am, I’d start thinking people like Punnett actually want to destroy the world. Such a disconnection from reality almost seems psychotic. No amount of facts can change this view because this view is based on a mistrust of the facts. It’s a self-enclosed worldview.

It makes me sad.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “True Costs are ‘Punitive’

  1. Marmalade, I just have to say a word about this section:
    Fiscal conservatives love laissez-faire ideology and believe that free markets can solve all problems. Such a belief is naive. Maybe future ‘free markets’ will solve the problems we cause in the present, but then again maybe not. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not create the problems in the first place? What advantage is there to destroying the environment only to later on trying to figure out how to fix it again?

    Laissez-faire is not anarchism. It’s my studied opinion that NONE of what you don’t like about the current reality would happen if within a laissez-faire economy there were appropriate laws against harm in place, and they were enforced.

    In fact, there are plenty of appropriate laws compatible with a laissez-faire economy (a truly free-market economy) in place which are not enforced, that causes a great deal of what we see that we don’t like.

    I suggest not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and making some fine distinctions like the one I just made. Free market and laissez-faire are not identical with “no laws.”

    Does that make sense?

    • My complaint in this post was about ideology being placed above facts. The problem is that the theory of laissez-faire is easily made into an ideology. In reality, there is no market that is absolutely free. It’s a matter of who controls the market, how it’s being controlled, and to what end it’s being controlled. But there is always control of some sorts.

      I’m not saying freedom isn’t a good ideal to strive for. What I am saying is even a good ideal shouldn’t get in the way of facts. When facts are dismissed, ideals become impotent or dangerous.

      Anyway, I think ‘free’ just doesn’t apply to markets. It’s not a helpful way to think about markets. Freedom from what? Freedom toward what? In this context, ‘free’ sounds like rhetoric. Freedom applies to people and not markets. Markets just represent human relationships. Free markets don’t make people free. Free people make markets free.

      Most people on the left and right see markets as a good thing in one form or another. Most people are supportive of anything that increases freedom or decreases oppression.

      Here is the fundamental conflict I see. Those on the left tend to see markets as a means. And those on the right tend to see markets as an end. Those on the left tend to see markets as amoral in that they are only moral to the extent that there is moral regulation and a moral purpose. But those on the right tend to see the market as an inherently moral system and so markets if left alone will naturally produce moral results.

      Ignoring that nitpicking, let me respond to one particular thing you said:

      “Laissez-faire is not anarchism. It’s my studied opinion that NONE of what you don’t like about the current reality would happen if within a laissez-faire economy there were appropriate laws against harm in place, and they were enforced.”

      I wasn’t saying laissez-faire is anarchism. However, some on the right treat laissez-faire as anarchism or close to it. To be fair, I don’t think Punnett meant it that way. But, when one mistrusts government regulation, one is forced to at best look for answers from a more anarchistic leaning ideas.

      We seem to be using these terms differently, but as far as I can tell your view is in alignment with my view. Do you still see something you disagree with?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s