The Energy Spectator

Hey America! Are You Ready to Go Back to Work?

How much more bureaucracy can we stand before we're all unemployed?

By 6.29.12

Send to Kindle

Read any recent analysis of the election in the mainstream media and it will tell you that the Presidential Election is going to be about: 1) race, 2) Hispanics, 3) the "war on women," 4) gay rights, …… etc. etc. etc.

As usual, they are wrong. These are side issues. They will invigorate small segments of the electorate, most of whom are going to vote for Obama anyway. They entirely lack perspective -- like the New York Times' front-page story this week telling us how Democratic campaign managers in Chicago see Gay Pride Parades around the country as a potential "Army for Obama." Good luck with that.

This election is going to be decided by jobs and the economy. And on this Republicans have an overwhelming advantage. They are the party of free enterprise and the private sector, where jobs are created, while the Democrats are the party of big government and bureaucracy, where jobs are created in Washington, D.C. but asphyxiated everywhere else. Outside of the Oval Office and Northern Virginia, plus the offices of the Service Employees International Union, everyone knows that the private sector is not doing fine. If reviving the economy and putting people back to work is the issue, Romney is the one to do it.

Here's a small example of why we're in the fix we're in now. Three years ago the Historical Society of San Juan County, the most thinly populated county in the state of Colorado, decided to cut the $600 monthly electric bills at its Mayflower Mill, a National Historical Landmark, by installing a hydroelectric turbine that would use water crossing the property to generate electricity. The Society raised $100,000, trucked a 300-squre-foot historical shed up from neighboring Eureka to house the turbine, and by last summer was ready to put the system to work. Then it ran into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

It seems that generating electricity with water anywhere in the United States is a federal matter. That means any project is subject to all manner of environmental, architectural, biological, archaeological, and anthropological oversight and approvals. "First they required us to produce detailed architectural drawings of the shed housing the generator," says Bev Rich, who heads the Historical Society. "Then they needed a new survey of where the shed actually sits on the property. Next we had to open a 30-day comment period from every federal agency you can think of, including responses from downstream Indian tribes. The whole process added an additional $25,000 and would take months and months to complete." The end is still not in sight. And this is a project that will generate 8 kilowatts of electricity.

The conceit of Democrats is that this election will be all about race and therefore anyone who votes against Obama is a racist. Heads I win, tails you lose. But race is not the President's race defining characteristic. He is, above all, an academic surrounded by other academics. Almost everyone in the Obama Administration has come straight out of academia or worked their way through the familiar chain of non-profit organizations and government agencies without ever encountering the private sector or being aware of it except in some computer model. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is a Princeton engineer who worked for the EPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, plus several non-profits, before assuming her job. Elizabeth Warren, who was supposed to be given the job overseeing the entire credit industry, was the representative Native American on the Harvard faculty. Her replacement, Richard Cordray, managed only two years of private practice between law school, clerking for various judges and running for public office. Christina Romer, the former head of the Council of Economic Advisers who oversaw the Stimulus, is a career professor at Berkeley whose specialty is building computer models showing how incomes can be equalized. Larry Summers had shuttled back and forth between Harvard and the Clinton Administration before becoming President of Harvard in 2001. John Bryson, who was Secretary of Commerce until last week, was co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. His replacement, Rebecca Blank, is an economics professor who has specialized in poverty studies and regulation. That's the Secretary of Commerce! I won't even bother telling you the credentials of the Secretary of Labor or Health and Human Services.

In other words, the Obama Administration has been one long powwow of academics schooled in John Kenneth Galbriath's famous dictum that the private sector has "solved the problem of production" and all that is left is for government bureaucrats to save the environment and carve up the fruits of affluence. The outcome has been a high water mark for bureaucracy and a low water mark for the private sector. They generally rise and fall in inverse proportion. The only real question now is whether the current extreme is reversible.

"People are saying that America will never do anything great again." That was a comment I heard from several people at a conference of nuclear engineers I attended last week. When asked why we were able to build 100 nuclear reactors from 1970 to 1990 but can't build any more than one every ten years now, I usually remind them that Egyptian Civilization lasted almost 3,000 years but built all the Pyramids in the first 500. Egypt was never able to duplicate its early accomplishment, either.

Indeed, we seem to be following a well-worn path down history's lane. Practically every civilization that did great things in its youth has ended up mired in bureaucracy. By the time of the Caesars, the Egyptians were famous for a swarm of government officials who did nothing but roam the country collecting exorbitant taxes and telling farmers what to plant. Byzantium, which was the end point of the Roman Empire, created a bureaucracy so dense and impenetrable that it gave us the word "Byzantine." Chinese civilization stagnated for two millennia under a class of civil servants who gave us yet another term for bureaucracy -- "mandarins." When the British arrived in India in the 17th century they found it ruled by a class of Brahmins that lived off the merchant classes through taxation and regulation. The British were never able to pare it back much and as late as twenty years ago the New York Times was reporting how it took the approval of eight cabinet ministers to start a corporation in India. Over the last twenty years, however, the country has been able to trim back the bureaucracy and make room for a thriving private sector -- which means that there is always hope.

Whole books have been written on the subject of why societies reach this point of self-strangulation. Twenty years ago, in The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation and Social Rigidities, Mancur Olsen compared bureaucracy to the accumulation of barnacles on a ship. For a while the ship can carry it along, but in the end the mass becomes so great that the ship can no longer steer and progress ends.

In America today we have the benefit of seeing all these anti-growth forces out in the open in the persona of the Environmental Movement. Environmentalism has combined three deadly strands -- 1) the old aristocratic disdain for commerce; 2) the self-satisfaction of any affluent group in trying to prevent others from attaining what it has already achieved; and 3) the intellectuals' desire to control everything through rules and regulations rather than trade and negotiation -- and turned them into a powerful juggernaut that is essentially running the country. Why else would Barack Obama risk his entire presidency in order to prevent the construction of a pipeline?

Just as liberals and the New York Times think they have discovered that the key to all politics is race, so environmentalists believe they have discovered that global warming is the key to controlling all human activity. Everything we do -- burning fossil fuels, building manufacturing plants, raising flatulent cattle -- must be controlled and regulated. It is impossible to engage in almost any commercial activity in America today without running into the EPA or some other federal agency. The battle is being fought this minute in Congress, where House Republicans have passed a jobs bill calling for cutting back on EPA micromanagement and opening up federal lands in order to foster energy development, while Senate Democrats are stonewalling and President Obama has already promised a veto. The disagreement says all you need to know about why we still have 8 percent unemployment.

A Romney Presidency can change all the first day in office. On the afternoon of January 20 the new President can approve the Keystone Pipeline. That will be a couple of thousand jobs right there. Then it's only a matter of clearing the regulatory underbrush and letting new enterprises grow again. The stock market will rally and in a matter of months we'll be talking about the Romney Revival. (Former President Obama, now back at Harvard, will take credit for all of this, saying his four years in office laid the groundwork for the revival. The New York Times will publicize several academic studies backing his claim.)

Nor does this revival have to come "at the expense of the environment," as Democrats will inevitably charge. In one stroke a Romney Administration can outdo the Obama Administration by placing a simple tax on carbon emissions and using it to reduce other taxes. If you want less of something, tax it. There is indeed reason to be concerned that carbon emissions are warming the earth, in addition to all the pollution put in the atmosphere by coal, oil, and gas. The record-breaking heat in Texas, the long drought in the Southwest that has produced the devastating Colorado fires, the unprecedented temperatures in Russia where wheat fields around Moscow actually caught fire -- all indicate that something unusual is happening to the world's climate. It's just that we don't to close down our entire economy in order to do something about it. A simple, revenue-raising carbon tax would accomplish all President Obama ever wanted with his armies of EPA bureaucrats and cap-and-trade. The Heritage Foundation has recommended this for years.

The important thing is that a Romney Administration will have the opportunity from Day One to reduce bureaucracy and revive the economy. As Peggy Noonan wrote last week, anyone who remembers the Reagan Era knows Americans still have another comeback left in us. Just send the bureaucrats home to academia and put America back to work. In fact, that doesn't make a bad campaign slogan, does it? "Hey America! Are You Ready to Go Back to Work?" Because we are.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
William Tucker is news editor for RealClearEnergy.org.