Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

Americans have for so long been living in an asylum that, like the poor souls in actual psychiatric wards, they've come to think of events here as normal and sane. Sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to snap the true picture into focus.

The U.K.'s Times Online does just that when it wonders whether the tyrannical neo-puritanism taking root in "Nannyfornia" (that's Cali-fornia to Americans) offers a sneak peek of what America might become when Democrats control the White House and Congress. Read the entire devastating piece here. It may go down in history as ironic that California, a place that symbolizes a laid-back, hang loose, anything goes, live-and-let-live lifestyle, is on the vanguard of America's neo-puritan (or is it eco-puritan?) revival. But there it is.

One California political consultant quoted in the story astutely describes the state's ban-everything atmosphere as a sort of regulatory arms race. “San Francisco bans plastic bags, then LA bans plastics, then everyone else has to," he says. "It's ironic, because the US was founded as a reaction to the colonists telling them what to do. I mean, hey, when are we gonna start banning alcohol again?”

It's only a matter of time, I'm sure. But the nuttiness won't be confined to California, because the state is as much a regulatory trend-setter as a fashion trend-setter.

It's not just in banning things that California leads the herd, but in pushing Field of Dreams energy ideas: "mandate it and it will happen." The state has set unrealizable goals for automobile fuel economy standards, renewable energy production quotas and "greenhouse gas" reductions -- all of which will have a head-on with reality sooner or later. Without weighing the costs versus benefits; without really knowing if meeting these mandates is possible; and without doing any due diligence at all, they simply throw a number up against the wall and hope it will stick.

Now someone in California is trying to put a measure on the ballot that would set a renewable energy production standard of 50 percent by 2025, or some such date. But why stop at 50 percent, if you're just pulling numbers out of your keister? Why not go for 75 percent? It's completely arbitrary. It's completely insane. But it's acceptable to a surprising number of the asylum's inmates.

California has a faith-based energy policy. Yet all it does is beckon other states, and the country at large, to leap off the same cliff, using the argument that "California's doing it."

Of course, California's really only talking about doing it, since all the self-congratulatory claims of success are made today for goals and benchmarks that have to be met (if they can be met) years in the future, when Ahhnuld will be out of office and filming Terminator 9: Attack of the Cyber-Geriatrics. But because this is the Unites States of Amnesia, and most folks can't connect the dots between regulatory causes and market effects, people won't know who or what to hold responsible when the house of cards comes crashing in.

And the people pushing these stupid and self-defeating ideas have a bullet-proof defense: They were acting with good intentions.

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