American Elephants


Independent, Free, and Self-Directed, Or the Democrat’s Gulag? by The Elephant's Child

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At Real Clear Politics (the Real Clear Policy sector) Sherzod Abdukadirov writes about “How Uncle Sam Uses Behavioral Science,” in Mr. Obama’s “executive order urging federal agencies to use behavioral science insights in designing government policies and regulations. The order argues that such insights have the potential to improve consumer welfare through better policy design.”

I wrote about this week or so ago, but I find I’m not ready to leave the subject. It’s straight out of the Marxist playbook, and you can talk about ‘nudges’ or ‘behavioral experiments’, but it’s just plain propaganda designed to make you do what the government wants you to do. No “consumer welfare” about it. If at first they don’t succeed, they will try a little harder.

The example used in Sherzod’s piece is from the Energy Department, with their “Energy Star” appliances. They boast about consumer savings which are supposed to justify the higher price of the appliances.

Unfortunately, the evidence marshaled by the agency for consumer myopia is highly dubious. For example, the latest standard for residential dishwashers promises consumers a savings of $3 over 15 years — it takes twelve years just to cover the higher up-front price — while the standard for clothes dryers delivers $14 in savings over 16 years, with the higher price covered after five years.

That DOE would declare consumers irrational for not chasing trivial, long-term savings defies common sense. And when one considers the fact that another objective for energy-efficiency regulations is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, it becomes clear that the agency’s motivation may have less to do with improving consumer welfare and more to do with hitting its environmental goals. The use of behavioral insights in policy opens the door for agencies to impose more stringent regulations that aim to advance the administration’s agenda rather than consumer welfare.

This is why everything that the EPA does to take further control of your life and options is cloaked in preventing childhood asthma. Or the noxious twisty lightbulbs or their expensive counterparts. Consider a federal department and you can probably come up with something intended to shut down your options and force you to do something you don’t want to do. Consider ObamaCare.

The Left wants control. They don’t want you to have the option of free speech if it disagrees with them. Obama just said that you couldn’t have freedom of religion if it opposes gay marriage. The federal government will put restrictors in your shower head so you don’t use too much water. Just think of what the feds have done to make driving a car more expensive.

Conservatives talk about freedom, but perhaps that is too broad a term. What we are really talking about is autonomy: the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing.  It’s the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision. Take away our autonomy and welcome to the Gulag.

The Department of Energy believes that paying more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a public good. We would suggest that the Department of Energy has not studied the science of carbon dioxide. The Department of Agriculture has ordered that we enrich factory farms by putting the corn crop in our gas tanks. Mrs. Obama has ordered that small school children eat what she tells them to, but because even little children prize their autonomy, they throw the food in the garbage.

Both Barack and Michelle Obama became lawyers. How can you study law in the United States of America and fail to understand the importance of freedom and autonomy? Did they never read the whole Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and not understand what it was about? Obama announced early on that the law was about empathy. And he has repeated that many times, emphasizing how important empathy is to him. Take another look at Dierdre McCloskey’s graph, and what personal autonomy has meant to America.


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