Heritage Scholars’ Take on Today’s Pressing Economic Issues with Jack Spencer and Norbert Michel

Bill WaltonEconomics, Podcast, Policy, Politics

Life is immensely better now than 50 years ago.

It was highly unusual for a car to last more than 60,000 miles in the mid-1960s. Now, they routinely last 300,000 or more. They have paint that rarely fades, navigation systems that ensure we’re never lost and technology from bumper to bumper that requires dramatically fewer repairs.

Medicine is barely recognizable from what it was 50 years ago. Fewer of us smoke or drink heavily. Fewer are born with birth defects. Knees, shoulders and wrists are repaired or even replaced on an outpatient basis. The average life expectancy for the entire world was in the low-50s back then; it creeped above 70 for the first time in 2016.

This is to make no mention of the Internet or smart phones, which place in our pockets knowledge equal to all that contained in your local library and more.

Our friends on the green left won’t like this, but much of the credit for these advances must go to the availability – for the first time in world history – of adequate, affordable and dependable supplies of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels let air conditioning take hold, which made boomtowns out of Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and Las Vegas.

Plentiful and affordable energy made travel inexpensive, which made our world smaller and more integrated. This in turn created more wealth, which generated more interest in preserving quality of life, which begat the wholesale cleaning of America’s streams, rivers, parks and air over the last half-century.

I got to thinking about this after talking with Jack Spencer and Norbert Michel of the Heritage Foundation, where I serve on the board of directors. Jack is vice-president for domestic policy and Norbert is an analyst who focuses on financial markets and tax and monetary policy.

Jack said America’s economic health is threatened by agreements such as the Paris climate accords because it “would drive our economy to move away from affordable energy sources, the very energy sources that allowed math swaths of humanity to lift themselves up out of poverty to those government wants. And those that government wants cost more money and are less efficient and less effective.”

The whole point of the regulatory regime imposed by the agreement, he said, is to make energy less affordable in the United States and thus to reduce its use. China and India, the world’s two biggest polluters, don’t have to comply with the agreement for decades while they pull their economies up to nearer our level. But for us, the compliance and the economic malaise it would bring would have begun much sooner.

Free markets, Spencer said, “promote the things we put a high value on.” It promotes efficiency, he said, as well as clean air and water.

“The United States is a great example of this,” he said. “We have clean water and clean air because we are economically prosperous. Look at countries like China or the Soviet Union or Cuba … or North Korea … where you have the least economic freedom, those are the countries with the least clean environments because these are folks that don’t have the wherewithal to make the investments to have the clean air, clean water and all the things that we hold dear.”

Both Jack and Norbert say the key is for Congress to more clearly spell out what it wants done in the legislation it writes and not leave so much for bureaucrats with their own agenda to figure out. In this environment, bureaucrats formulate punitive regulations, and any attempt to fix or remove them is seen as a ploy to poison the human race. Why a company would seek to kill all its customers is not revealed.

“There’s this attitude of if we don’t have the regulation in place, American companies are going to start polluting rivers and poisoning the water,” Michel said. “It doesn’t really work that way. It’s just not what people want to do.”

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