Tuesday afternoon, as I was reading Barack Obama’s Georgetown University speech on “climate change,” it occurred to me that the biggest and perhaps most consequential difference between the government and the private sector is how each reacts when reality doesn’t behave as expected.
The public sector does not have a monopoly on people who become irrationally wedded to ideas and programs which have become outmoded, obsolete, redundant, or worthless. The difference is what happens to such people — and in some cases, their firms — in the private sector when they stubbornly stick to their guns.
At a private firm, if a new product or idea loses — or is on track to lose — serious amounts of money, or if a research project is going nowhere, it gets killed (see: the Ford Edsel, New Coke, Apple Newton). Those who fall in love with these flame-outs and blindly defend them even when the handwriting is on the wall get fired. If a bad product or idea isn’t terminated quickly enough, it has the potential to jeopardize entire companies, even large ones (see JCPenney’s three-tier pricing plan and HP’s 2011 Touchpad debacle).
But within government?
If a new idea or product is failing or initially seems destined to fail, bureaucrats, their corporate beneficiaries, and their cronies work to get them underwritten or subsidized. The fact that the government is even involved likely indicates that the private sector knows better than to touch it without putting taxpayers on the hook. This explains why the Obama administration has had losers like Solyndra, A123 Battery, Beacon Power, and so many others in its energy “loan” portfolio.
When companies continue to flounder, governments usually either institutionalize their failures or double down on them.
Hopeless passenger-rail romantics and then-powerful rail unions couldn’t bear to see the end of nationwide train travel, so they convinced Congress to have the federal government take over the entire enterprise in the early 1970s. What followed were four decades of annual Amtrak losses averaging over $800 million, and benefiting far less than 0.1 percent of daily travelers nationwide. Recent narrower losses should — but won’t — bring on discussions of selling off Amtrak’s profitable routes to private firms and abandoning the losers once and for all.
After a $5,000 price reduction to about $28,500, the Chevy Volt, produced by General Motors — an entity which is still under de facto government control — still sells only about 1,600 units per month. The vehicle’s fully loaded cost to produce is about $75,000. Yet don’t expect GM to pull the plug, figuratively or literally, on their financially disastrous electric car experiment any time soon. Too much false pride is on the line.
Private companies which kill products or ideas administer the pain quickly and move on. If government ever tries to end a program or operation — “ever” is the operative word, as Ronald Reagan frequently noted: “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program” — they go about it slowly, in hopes that outraged politicians or constituents will come to their rescue. If total termination ever occurs, they call it “a learning experience,” which of course was carried out with other people’s money, and rarely includes any learning.
They also frequently replicate their mistakes, which is how Uncle Sam ends up having “47 separate job training programs run by nine different agencies” costing $18 billion per year, and why 173 out of 209 science, technology, engineering, and math programs overlap with at least one other program.
This brings us to President Obama and “climate change.”
If climate science was not completely controlled and directed by agenda-driven public funding? If it was instead a competition between private-sector players selling their research to public and private customers without becoming overdependent on any one entity for their well-being and survival?
Well, the idea of human-caused global warming might still have gotten off to a pretty good start. The concern seemed to make some initial sense: the world is indeed warmer than it was 40 or so years ago when the cataclysmic scare du jour, and even the supposed cause of a bad run of tornadoes, was global cooling. The increase in overall temperatures for the next quarter-century or so appeared to be loosely correlated with the spread of the Industrial Revolution to much of the Third World and dramatic worldwide increases in the deployment of fossil fuel-burning autos, trucks, manufacturing equipment, and electrical devices.
But correlation is not the same as causation. In the late 1990s, even as worldwide carbon emissions continued to rise, average global temperatures leveled off. They haven’t gone anywhere for 15 years, something even the New York Times, Reuters, the New Republic, and the Economist have felt compelled to acknowledge.
That was over three years ago. The temps still haven’t moved.
If warmists had to justify their work to clients with business decision-making interest in their results — instead of needing to keep politically vested true believers at the EPA, anti-progress environmental lobbyists at “public-interest groups,” and radical wealth distributionists happy — they wouldn’t be influential anymore.
They would have long ago been forced to objectively reexamine their assumptions and to modify their models to explain the lull, or be fired for incompetence and replaced by those performing more reliable work.
That’s not happening. The more reality continues to mock them, the more recklessly the warmists lash out at, threaten, and litigate against “deniers,” the more they deliberately manipulate their data to fit their dogma, the more they falsely claim “settled science.”
Along those lines, Obama’s Organizing For America recently sent an email asking members to “Call out climate deniers in Congress,” saying that: “The science on climate change is clear.” One thing is very clear: “the science” isn’t what they say it is.
On Tuesday, the “punk” president himself childishly ridiculed those who disagree with his Chicken Little belief that “climate change” is “the global threat of our time” when he said: “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” What we really don’t have: the luxury of enduring at least three-and-a-half more years of tyranny carried out in the name of what looks more like a colossal government-enrichment scam than anything resembling legitimate science.
Obama’s “Climate Change Plan” madness must be fought at every turn, including in Speaker John Boehner’s House of Representatives, which must move to defund and forcefully challenge every authoritarian “climate change” move this administration attempts.