FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Wealth cannot be destroyed with surgical precision
The worse things look for global-warming hysterics, the more shrill and offensive they become. We’ve got Al Gore comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr. (immediately after saying he would never make such a comparison, of course) and MSNBC host Chris Hayes explicitly comparing “climate deniers” to Civil War-era slave masters (immediately after saying he would never make such a comparison, of course.) The only thing funnier than late-stage Church of Global Warming hysteria is these lunkheads scrambling to use fig-leaf debating conventions to make themselves look intellectually respectable before saying something abysmally stupid and insulting. Why, I would never dream of comparing my opponent to Hitler. But it’s interesting to note all the ways he’s just like Hitler…
The latest fatwas from the Church of Global Warming are all about quadrupling down on the basic premise that heretics should be burned at the stake. The argument is over, the science is settled, the debate is ended, and at this point all that remains is to wage the non-violent moral equivalent of the Civil War until all resistance is crushed. Or maybe not even so non-violent, since as Tim Cavanaugh at National Review noticed, Chris Hayes’ vision of “fossil fuel abolition” would kill several billion people:
The virtuous cadre of fossil-fuel “abolitionists” will have to compel these fat cats to give up their wealth. And like John Brown and Julia Ward Howe before them, they can take heart despite the immensity of the task, because the toll of human suffering is right before their . . . because the horrors of the vile institution are clear to . . . because the conscience recoils at the sight of . . . Well, it’s kind of hard to say what the actual societal gain of eliminating fossil fuels would be, because fossil fuels are the main reason modern society exists at all.
As simply as possible: It took 2 million years or so of human history for the population of Planet Earth to reach 1 billion, early in the 19th century. A few years prior to that landmark, the continuous-rotation steam engine was invented. And by the strangest coincidence, that population number went on to increase seven-fold in only 200 years.
A perceptive person might conclude that internal combustion and the use of fossil fuels had something to do with that progress, at least by providing a range of options beyond freezing, starving, dying in infancy, or any of the other indignities that constitute most of human experience in a state of nature. A person in an expansive mood might even say exploitation of fossil fuels is a miracle, enabling transnational markets for food, widespread travel and education, heavier-than-air flight, full-time employment for left-wing commentators, and even the abolition of slavery.
I found myself thinking about the North’s decisive advantage in railroad infrastructure over the South in the Civil War. What did those trains use for fuel?
But leaving the final desperate squeals of the climate-change movement aside, there’s a larger point to be made about the Left’s new romance with the outright destruction of wealth – going beyond seizure and re-distribution, to flatly punitive taxes and regulations designed to obliterate trillions of dollars in private holdings. That’s a big part of their bodice-ripping enthusiasm for the work of new-wave Marxist Thomas Piketty, who gives them a load of economic quackery that serves as a pseudo-intellectual argument for absolute political control of the entire private economy – solving “income inequality” by using sledgehammers to smash the fortunes of the wrong people, until there simply aren’t any rich people left. (Anyone foolish enough to fall for the Piketty snake oil will, of course, be dumb enough not to understand that there would still be fabulously rich people living in luxury estates, but they’d get their billions through political connections, rather than earning them by doing something productive for the rest of society. As I always say, if you want to see what real “income inequality” looks like, see if you can wrangle a dinner invitation at one of the Castro palaces in socialist Cuba.)
Climate change, like the rest of leftist philosophy, is fundamentally childish. What Hayes wrote is a temper tantrum, the wailing of an adolescent who just can’t believe anyone is allowed to disagree with him. It’s the kind of thing people write when they have no idea whatsoever how the real world actually works. And one of the things liberals studiously fail to understand is that wealth cannot be destroyed with surgical precision.
There’s no way to clean out the treasure vaults of the Evil Rich with tax and regulatory flamethrowers without burning the Little Guy, too. Wealth is complex, and interconnected. If you slam rich guys onto the mat by taxing away everything over a million dollars, the poor and middle class will suffer, too. They’ll suffer from the lost jobs, investments that aren’t made, opportunities that aren’t explored, and all the things rich people do to avoid those punitive tax rates. History offers this lesson time and again, but the childlike hive-mind of the Left refuses to accept it. They really do think wealth takes the form of gold coins and precious gems packed into wooden chests, and Utopia is just a matter of the right people seizing or destroying that loot.
The notion of a “fossil fuel abolition” crusade is an even better illustration of the principle, because Cavanaugh is exactly right: it would kill vast numbers of people, not just during the inevitably violent seizure and destruction of assets, but because the economy would grind to a halt. And that doesn’t just mean people start going to bed at sunset, sleeping under thicker blankets in the winter, and learning to live without personal motor vehicles. It means they die, in droves.
The hard-Left agenda can be understood as an effort to make conditions more primitive for the vast majority of people. They would move around less, consume less, and live outside of traditional family structures that provide meaningful independence from the State. They would be kept busy, because without advanced industrial technology, human labor becomes both more “valuable” and easier to control. Without machines to create what Marx called the “surplus value” of labor, there are no profits for capitalists, which means no serious power exists to challenge the State. Instead of controlling capital, citizens become capital; and because they are satisfied with less, they are more easily dominated.
The softer incarnations of leftist ideology are designed to make this agenda more appealing, or morally compelling, to the average citizen. Liberal culture has an endless fascination with primitive life, which is depicted as more honest, noble, and even magical than modern society in countless entertainments. (For example, take the James Cameron film “Avatar,” which romanticized the primitive to such a degree that people claimed to suffer severe depression after the movie ended, and they had to return to the real carbon-spewing world.) Global-warming theology was designed to make industrial life feel immoral – you’re killing the planet by driving a car, using an air conditioner, etc. Liberal culture also spends a great deal of time railing against consumerism and materialism.
All of which is meant to pave the way for a gradual descent into what Chris Hayes wants to inflict immediately: a more limited, slower, harder world in which the little people grow accustomed to limited options and reduced mobility. For the time being, there isn’t much popular support for plunging headlong into an America where our lives are controlled by the movements of the sun and shifting of the wind, while big-shot TV stars and film producers soar overhead in private airplanes. That’s why the fantasy of surgically destroyed wealth is so important. Voters must be tricked into avoiding the evidence of history, and simple common sense, to believe that big bucks can be stolen or destroyed, without the small change being disturbed at all.
If enough of the Middle Class goes on believing that for a few more years, they won’t be much of a political problem anymore. They’ve already been chased out of the stock market, convinced to abandon the traditional family arrangements that build wealth across generations, suckered into a health care system that makes people who earn over $50,000 a year dependent upon government subsidies, convinced they need to reduce their “carbon footprint” by elites who ride around in limousines, and – thanks to the hard work of the Democrats who brought you the 2008 financial crisis – told they might as well give up on the dream of owning property. Only after our economic independence is gone will we discover that meaningful political liberty went with it. We’re almost where the Left wants us to be.