Sunday, September 26, 2010

The New Green

A fashion designer once proclaimed that: "gray is the new black." He meant that gray was replacing black as the most popular color for women's dresses.

Of course, black is not really a color; it's the absence of color. But why quibble.

Green is a color, but it has also become the symbol of the environmental movement. If you want to show how much you love the earth, and how passionately you want to save the planet, you should: Go Green.

Green used to mean unripe, immature, and unseasoned. Now it refers to a bizarre mix of intellectual sophistication and agonizing guilt about the damage we are doing to nature.

Across America people are discarding their plastic shopping bags in favor of reusable hemp alternatives because they want to be green. They have reached a state of advanced awareness where they tremble in horror each time they imagine a plastic bag whiling away the eons in a landfill, refusing to decompose, seeping into the water table, polluting the planet and poisoning their grandchildren's grandchildren.

Strangely enough, green has been going out of fashion these days. With the exception of diehards like Tom Friedman, proud owner of a Green franchise, the upcoming election is not going to be referendum on how much you are willing to sacrifice to save the planet, or how much of America's industrial infrastructure you are willing to shut down to save Mother Earth.

When I say that Friedman owns a Green franchise, I am referring first to his most recent book: Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America. His call to environmentalist arms has, naturally, led to his being hired to give lectures about how green our valleys used to be and about how they become so again if only we build more electric cars.

Today, tenacious Tom is at it again. Link here. He wants us all to turn green with envy at the investments the Chinese are making in electric cars. They are investing, get this: $15,000,000,000. Which would, come to think of it, be a mere drop in the stimulus bucket.

But, then again, if the Chinese build a better battery, nothing would really prevent us from buying it from them.

Anyway, the new Chinese-American electric cars will be on sale soon enough, priced at a mere $37,000.

Do you really think that there is a market for a $37,000 supercharged golf cart? Are you salivating at the prospect of trading in your BMW for an electric buggy?

Isn't Spain going bankrupt because it squandered so much of its fiscal resources building an environmentally friendly power grid that is not really viable?

And what about the cost of building all of those new filling stations that are going to replace their gas pumps with juice dispensers?

Anyway, Friedman does not let himself be discouraged by practicalities. Nor is he worried about the verdict of the marketplace. If people don't want to buy these new buggies, then Friedman will nudge them, or better, force them to do so.

Keep in mind that Friedman counts among our nation's philosopher kings. He belongs to what Plato calls the guardian class, an intellectual elite that knows better than you what is good for you.

He is going to wean you off of gasoline by imposing a new gas tax.

Every economist worth his Ph.D. is screaming about how we should not raise taxes in the midst of a recession. Yet, Tom Friedman, making yet another effort to save his Green franchise, proposes that we cripple the American consumer with a new gas tax.

While we are bowing down to the ingenuity of the Chinese, let's recall that their investment in a new generation of car batteries pales in comparison to what they are spending on new airports and high speed train lines.

And let's not forget that they are putting new coal-powered electric power plants on line every week of the year. And that they are also building dozens of nuclear power plants.

Theirs is a comprehensive approach to energy. In a way Friedman is right to envy the Chinese their policies, but he fails to notice that one of the main reasons why we cannot do many of these things is that any time anyone proposes to build a new nuclear facility, armies of green attorneys will kill it with lawsuits while legions of green bureaucrats will tie it up in red tape.

Of course, there is much to be said for a cleaner environment. Just as the Chinese, who are leading the world in pollution.

Unfortunately, the Green movement has become a religion, even a cult, to a mythic pristine nature that can only restored if we accept that carbon dioxide is the ultimate pollutant.

From its original charge to clean up the environment, the Green movement has redefined itself as the enemy of human industry and manufacturing.

And, lest we forget, China can build new infrastructure because it has a lot of money, and not a lot of debt. We do not have a lot of money, but we do have lots and lots of debt, that we owe to people like the Chinese.

I do recall that the Obama administration touted its stimulus plan as a way to rebuild America's aging infrastructure. After all, Japan has been trying to solve its own economic crisis by doing so, and, if it hasn't worked for Japan, then that surely must mean that it will work here.

In truth, the stimulus was a payoff to the public employee unions; precious little of it was spent on infrastructure.

In fact, the Obama administration, cheered on by the likes of Tom Friedman, has aggravated our economic calamity by trying to solve a problem caused by excessive debt by taking on trillions more in debt. So says, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Link here.

Now we have so much debt that the Federal Reserve has been hard at work inflating the once proud American greenback. When countries cannot pay off their debt, they have a tendency to inflate the currency-- to pay it all back in cheaper money.

So, while the stock market seems to be on a bullish tear, the dollar has been falling.

We now have a lighter Greenback, which is fast moving toward colorlessness... that is, valuelessness.

As everyone knows, if our Chinese creditors decide that they no longer trust our fading green currency, and that they no longer want to hold debt denominated in dollars, we are going to be in very deep trouble.


David Foster said...

I was recently reading remarks by a Chinese railway expert who believes *too much* money is being earmarked for dedicated H/S rail lines, and that the country would do better to devote more resources to interoperable passenger equipment running on freight-capable lines. Certainly, it would seem that freight rail needs some serious attention in China, especially when you see things like the 70-mile-long traffic jam that was caused largely by coal being shipped long distance by *road*. (One of the reasons railroads were developed in the first place--and before them, canals--is that transporting bulk cargoes like coal by road is a terrible idea)

Government-directed programs to focus on deployment of a "technology of the future" have a pretty terrible track record. See my post leaving a trillion on the table.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The Chinese economy is strangely mixed. Clearly, they have a robust private sector coexisting with a bloated public sector... mostly filled with party figures.

We cannot say that the leaders of China always mismanage their economy. In many ways they have a good record. And they have managed the transition from Communism better than others, like the Russian.

And yet, your point is surely correct. They tend to get infatuated with their own minds-- a bit like Tom Friedman-- and their own decisions.

As we all recall, Friedman has expressed great admiration for the command aspect of the Chinese economy, while failing completely to recognize that one of the reasons the American economy is not more efficient at addressing problems like energy is that lawyers and environmentalists, encouraged by people like Tom Friedman, are gumming up the works.

Anonymous said...

A fashion designer once proclaimed that: "gray is the new black."

You misspelled "gay". There is no "r" in it.


wv: "bilrkin". A two piece burkha that reveals the midriff.

Andrea said...

Green is my favorite color. I refuse to let these pathetic, status-seeking enviro-fangirls to ruin it for me.

Andrea said...

Oops -- ignore that extra "to" in front of "ruin." Clearly I need to drink another pot of coffee.

Proud Hindu said...

Start an at home business, grow a garden, recycle your clothes at clothes swaps. That's the way we "greenies" are going now.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I think it's great for people to start home businesses. Like all of us, I favor the entrepreneurial spirit.

And yet, there is something radically inefficient about having everyone cultivate his own garden, or, as Mao once said, for everyone to build his own smelter in his back yard.

I guess I missed out on the primitivism gene!

Proud Hindu said...

"And yet, there is something radically inefficient about having everyone cultivate his own garden"

What's inefficient about growing one's own food?!?!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

If I had to guess, I would say that the economies and efficiencies introduced by agriculture allow a lot of people to be better nourished and to have more time to do other things, beyond growing their own food.

Being a hunter/gatherer is probably not the most efficient way to distribute human labor. I assume that that is why it has been overcome.

Proud Hindu said...

Hunter/gatherers did not cultivate and grow their own food.

You are comparing apples to oranges here.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I was using a somewhat exaggerated example to make the point that the old pre-agricultural ways of feeding people-- whether backyard gardens, a few chickens and some cows, or hunting-gathering-- are not very economical.