Thursday, December 18, 2008

Go Green, or Else

In late November the Houston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring that new homes, or remodeling projects involving more than 500 square feet, meet certain energy efficiency standards. The Chronicle has since pulled its article reporting on the ordinance, but the following was found at Lose an Eye, It's a Sport:
The new code requires new residential construction up to three stories to attain a 15 percent energy savings over the existing 2006 International Residential Code.

Builders can choose from a variety of options to meet the 15 percent goal.

I doubt any sensible person would argue that energy efficiency is not a good thing. But unlike the "green crowd", which thinks that a good thing should be imposed on everyone and enforced with the power of law, a civilized person understands that anything imposed by force is not good.

Mayor White, always eager to play up his "green credentials", defended the ordinance with a typically paternalistic argument:

"The modern trend among both some of the finer small and large home builders is to build much more energy-efficient homes," said Mayor Bill White. "In fact, you're going to see people are drawn into the city because we have good building standards."

People may be drawn to Houston by these standards, but many will not be able to afford to purchase a home. The new standards are expected to add $1,000 to $2,000 to the cost of a new home. This may not seem like a lot of money, but every dollar added to the cost of a home because of government regulations also imposes other costs.

For example, the additional costs will result in a higher mortgage, which means higher payments for the interest and principal on that loan. The home owner will pay more in taxes and insurance as well. But this extra expense is actually money well spent according to a portion of the Chronicle article quoted on blogHouston:

White said homeowners will recoup the added costs on their utility bills within four or five years.

"So, that is a good investment, and it makes it so homes are more affordable in the long run," he said. "If somebody is, say, laid off or suffers a financial reverse, then they will be able to stay in their house longer, and I would encourage people to shop for energy-efficient homes."

This may or may not be true, and it is completely irrelevant. It is extremely arrogant of Mayor White to make investment decisions for Houstonians. Further, some simple math shows that the Mayor's claims are rather absurd.

I do not know the energy bill for one of these homes, but let us assume that it is $400 a month (which is higher than my home, which was built in 1957 and is not energy efficient). The Mayor's mandate would save the owner 15%, or $60 a month. (And if the energy bill is only $200, the savings is cut in half.) But this savings will be offset by higher interest and principal payments on the loan, higher taxes, and higher insurance premiums. Is a savings of $10, $30, or even $60 a month really going to make or break a family financially and allow them to stay in their home longer? If so, I would suggest that energy efficiency is not the most important concern for that family.

But the real issue is: who should make these decisions? Should it be the individuals involved, such as the home builder and his customers, or should it be politicians and bureaucrats? Or to put it a different way, do you want to make decisions regarding your life, or would you prefer to cede those decisions to Mayor White and City Council?

In practical terms, government regulations amount to a ceding of individual decision making. But that process is not even voluntary--government seizes the decision making process from individuals without their consent. Regulations allow government officials to make decisions that impact your life, and ultimately make your life more difficult. And if you don't like it, too bad. Obey the mandates, or else. Despite their claims, government officials cannot make economic decisions that benefit you. They do not know you, your particular situation, or your values.

And even if they did, by what right do government officials believe that they can impose their values upon you? By what right do they believe that they can dictate what type of home you can purchase? By what right do they decide what is best for you, and then use force to make you abide by their dictates?

Government is an agency of force. Those who disobey its edicts face the threat of having their property seized or being imprisoned. When those edicts involve a violation of individual rights--the initiation of force--the individual must obey, or else face fines and/ or jail.

A civilized person relies on reason and persuasion to convince others of his viewpoint; a brute resorts to force. A civilized person presents the facts supporting his position; a brute uses a gun to support his position. A civilized person appeals to the rationality of others; a brute appeals to fear and intimidation.

Anyone who wishes to "go green" should be free to do so. Those who choose not to "go green" should be equally free to act on their judgment. Mayor White and City Council obviously see it differently. They think that we should all "go green", or else.


dave said...

Great Blog I have added you to my favorites. Keep up the great work.

Theodore Scott said...

You said "I doubt any sensible person would argue that energy efficiency is a good thing." Is that what you really meant, or is that a typo?

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks Dave.

Brian Phillips said...

That was a typo. It's been corrected. Thanks for pointing it out.