Why I support Social Liberalism

A friend on Brave New Climate included the following rant against the perils of free-market fundamentalism, where one basically insists the free-market should do a job that the State can do far more effectively. The debate concerns whether or not energy systems should be free-market, or whether or not they are best centralised. This American blogger “Galloping Camel” obviously saw the word “Communist!” when reading centralised, and reacted accordingly. So the start of the rant is a response to an unthinking knee-jerk rejection of centralised nuclear power plant production to gain the efficiencies of an assembly line! Of all the things Galloping Camel chose to reject, the irony here is reacting to the suggestion that nuclear power could be cheaper if we used the invention of Henry Ford, simply because he couldn’t get past the word Centralised!

Your attempt to map the system for delivering cars to market to what one would say about infrastructure makes your post a fairly common instantiation of vacuous Rand-style fundamentalism. I’m not sure how many road-going vehicles and how many distinct iterations of there are on the planet, but both these are certainly orders of magnitude larger than the numbers of power plants we are discussing. The comparision is thus just as silly as saying that because it is OK to leave corner shops to run their own game, it is OK to have dams and power grids run by small proprietors.

One sees everywhere that the more complex a system is, the larger its scale and the more life-critical its operations, the moere need there is for robust structure and centralised control, whether this is via states or very large corporations. There would have been no aircraft industry in the US absent serious federal government involvement — the early innovation and development points went to the Europeans and it was only war that spurred the US to shed its ideological vision.

Indeed, even in the car market you cite as exemplar, it was only the collusion of the state and large corporations in fuel and manufacturing, and the fact that the US was tooled up post-war that underpinned the mass roll-out of automobiles. Nor could pure individual choice have built roads or other key elements of the infrastructure. The foundation stones for communication infrastructure in communication have everywhere been laid by states, up to and including the internet. That ought to tell you something, but of course, you want to cover your ears to protect your fundamentalism.

The mass of the public is not going to pick power power plants on the basis of minor technical features. Does the plant come in a range of colours and does it have a blue tooth connection don’t arise. Wjhat is wanted in power plants is constant efficient and safe operation, easy compliance, modularity of components, low cost and the ability to deploy rapidly — and for these things you need a minimum number of designs and the benefits of mass manufacturing. This is especially true in a setting such as Australia, where we are considering perhaps as little as 25*1GW plants rather than the 450 such plants that the US might roll out. We would not want to have to separately manage and audit operation of 25 different designs.

To the extent that your particular species of fundamentalism has had its way in America, your country has suffered a persistent pattern of own goals, with the Great Depression and most recently with the GFC. You have poisoned your children with e-coli in meat authored some of the most obese populations on the planet, had the most expensive and least effective and most inequitable health system anywhere in the advanced world, made yourselves dependent on foreign oil and imprisoned large sections of your population in commuter tailbacks everyday — surely the most persistent, predictable and ubiquitous imposition on freedom anywhere — caused, it should be ironic, by the pursuit of a vacuous pursuit of libertarian fundamentalism. And of course it is every American’s right to be murdered by someone honouring the 2nd Amendment. In your vision, there’s no room at all for collective action problems.

You need to descend from the rarified air of Rand and Rothbard and decide whether you want the pragmatic service of human interest or simply to repeat the verities of your brand of secular metaphysics.

Take real action on climate change – Part 2 – the FAQ « BraveNewClimate.

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