Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Triple Dose of Altruism

The Chronicle has once again jumped on the "save the planet" bandwagon, while simultaneously demonstrating its complete ignorance of basic economics. In an editorial yesterday, the Chronicle endorses "weatherization":
Here’s the concept: Local governments and nonprofits provide free energy-efficiency upgrades to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

The editorial states that this will create jobs immediately, improves the environment, and helps the poor. So we get a triple dose of altruism, all wrapped up in one neat little program. How happy the advocates of sacrifice must be.

Using money from the "stimulus package" the city will send contractors into low-income neighborhoods to weather-strip doors, caulk windows, and make other improvements that will reduce energy use. The Chronicle ignores the fact that the money for this program is taken from other citizens. So, while the contractors and home owners might have more money, taxpayers have less.

Henry Hazlitt addressed the fallacy behind the Chronicle's position in Economics in One Lesson:
But if we have trained ourselves to look beyond immediate to secondary consequences, and beyond those who are directly benefited by a government project to others who are indirectly affected, a different picture presents itself. It is true that a particular group... may receive more employment than otherwise. But [that empoyment] must be paid for out of taxes...

Therefore, for every public job created by the... project a private job has been destroyed somewhere else.

While the beneficiaries of this program are visible and known, the victims will remain hidden and unknown. Many of these hidden victims will be forced into the same situation as the beneficiaries--they will be unable to improve their own homes, forced to choose between paying utility bills and buying food, etc.

Saving energy is certainly desirable. Nobody wishes to spend money unnecessarily. But to do so in the name of "saving the planet" is a detestable motivation. It is to accept and embrace a philosophy that aims to destroy industrial civilization; if the environmentalists had their way, there would be no need for weather-stripping doors, caulking windows, or insulating attics--we'd all be huddled in a cave.

If "creating" jobs and "saving the planet" aren't enough to convince us to support such a program, the Chronicle offers one last altruistic "benefit"--helping the poor. This, the editorial tells us, is "one cool idea" and "a powerful concept".

The city has no legitimate right to involve itself in such programs. Forcing taxpayers to upgrade homes is not a legitimate function of government, and a violation of the rights of all taxpayers. Instead, the city should limit itself to the protection of individual rights and drastically cut our taxes. Citizens would then have the money to upgrade their own homes. Economically, allowing taxpayers to spend their own money is more efficient. Morally, it is the right thing to do.

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