Hurricane Perry Bashes East Coast Print
Dean Baker
Truthout, August 29, 2011

See article on original website

Climatologists tell us that we cannot relate any specific weather event to global warming but there is no doubt that human-caused global warming increases the likelihood of extreme weather events like Hurricane Irene. This means that by the Washington politics standard of evidence we absolutely can blame the death and destruction caused by the hurricane on Governor Perry and other opponents of measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If we continue to emit GHG without restraint we can expect many more Irene-type catastrophes in the United States and around the world.

The story of Irene and restrictions on GHG is a great example of conservative philosophy. Many liberals portray conservatives as "free market fundamentalists." This is nonsense as this debate clearly shows. Those opposed to restricting GHG are not defending any free market principle.

The philosophy of Governor Perry and other opponents of GHG restrictions is that they have the right to throw their garbage on their neighbors' lawn. And, if you don’t like it, well he’s got a gun.

Restricting GHG emissions is not about telling people that they can't do what they want with their own property. It is telling people that they don’t have the right to endanger the lives and property of people around the country and around the world. This is what we are arguing over.  Governor Perry and his gang claim that they have the right to screw over whomever they want, because _____, fill in the blank.

It is amazing that environmentalists have somehow let the debate over restricting GHG be transformed into a debate between supporters of government intervention and supporters of free market principles. Unfortunately this has been a typical pattern among progressives in almost every policy debate. They invariably allow the right to frame the issue as a battle between those who support the market (the right) and those who want government bureaucrats to determine outcomes.

This is true of debates over financial reform, trade, health care, and just about every other aspect of economic policy. The left instinctively grabs the loser liberal position, even though it is bad policy and horrible politics.

Starting with financial reform, this is hardly a battle between free market fundamentalist and supporters of government intervention. Does Jamie Dimon want the government to eliminate deposit insurance? Does he want to run J.P. Morgan without the explicit support of the Federal Reserve Board and the implicit guarantee of “too big to fail” insurance?

Hardly, he just wants the benefit of government intervention without having to pay anything for it and without agreeing to restrictions that might limit the cost to government.  Dimon is just arguing for government handouts with no strings attached. This has nothing to with market fundamentalism.

Similarly, the trade agreements signed over the last two decades have been about putting manufacturing workers and other non-college educated workers in direct competition with their lower-paid counterparts in the developing world. The predicted and actual result of this policy is to reduce the wages of workers without college degrees relative to the mostly educated workers.

This has nothing to do with “free trade.” We could have trade agreements that focused on putting our doctors, lawyers, and other highly paid professionals in direct competition with lower-paid counterparts in the developing world. Such agreements would have the same sort of efficiency gains as the trade deals we actually signed, except they would redistribute income downward rather than upward. The battle over trade is not between free traders and protectionists, it is a battle between those who want to redistribute income upward and everyone else.

A similar story can be told about the health care industry. The profits and high incomes in this sector are dependent on the government in a thousand different ways. This includes the protectionist barriers that allow doctors to earn twice as much as their counterparts in other wealthy countries. Similarly, government-granted patent monopolies cause us to pay about 10 times as much for prescription drugs each year as we’d pay in a competitive market. The difference, about $250 billion a year, is about five times as large as the money at stake in extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

In virtually every area of economic policy it is easy to show that the right-wing position has nothing to do with a commitment to free market principles. The right wants the government to intervene every bit as much as do progressives. The difference is that the right wants the intervention to structure the market so as to redistribute income upwards.

And, the right is smart enough to conceal its desire for government intervention. And, the left is foolish enough to help them by calling them “market fundamentalists.” If we are not prepared to think through issues and abandon this loser liberalism, look forward to President Perry and some really big-time devastation of the East Coast and the rest of the country.