European Seeds of Tyranny
When discussing the European Union it is always important to remember that Europe was home to numerous brutal authoritarian regimes such as Hitler’s Germany, the USSR, the GDR, and fascist Italy. Rooted in feudal kingdoms, the authoritarian seeds have merely grown into a more mature form over the centuries. On the contrary, America’s libertarian principles are well-established and her authoritarian roots were long ago severed.
Concordantly, the European environmentalists have taken their agenda much further than Algore, Inc. has in America. The E.U.’s plan to eliminate gas and diesel vehicles from cities by 2050 is a case in point. The plan would ramrod Europe into a “Single European Transport Area (SETA)”. Where some people might see it as the equivalent to a modern Interstate Highway infrastructure investment, it may turn out to be more of a gigantic prison sentence for Europeans.
Proponents cite energy independence as the main benefit of their radical plan. The coming shortage of oil, they say, needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. By introducing draconian restrictions on travel and emissions they expect to greatly reduce the demand for oil. Freedom from oil-supply-related foreign entanglements and reduction of greenhouse emissions are additional benefits to such measures.
Proponents, Opposition Starkly Divided
E.U. Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas knows his plan is costly but is optimistic and confident about its overall benefit, "We are talking about the necessity of investment of 1.5 trillion euros ($2.1 trillion)… Curbing mobility is not an option; neither is business as usual. We can break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility. It can be win-win."
The head of the Association of British Drivers summed up the opposition’s perspective, "If he wants to bring everywhere to a grinding halt and to plunge us into a new dark age, he is on the right track. The man is off his rocker."
The opposition bases its position on a few fundamental beliefs. First, since the $2.1 trillion figure comes from a government source it should be assumed to be underestimated. Second, the one-size-fits-all approach to energy management may cause numerous economic inefficiencies at the micro-economic level, resulting in hardships on the poor (think Cash for Clunkers) and in difficulty keeping small businesses afloat. Third, since SETA would require a vast amount of borrowing, it puts Europe in the dangerous position of taking on even more debt. Fourth, the law of unintended consequences will certainly strike, as it has with ethanol subsidies, for example. Finally, any restriction of individuals’ ability to travel would be unacceptable.
Fear is Big Business
The need to reduce reliance on energy imported from volatile regimes is hard to argue with. America’s $4-6 trillion, decade-long war likely has more to do with oil than terrorism. Reliance on oil imports from the Middle East years ago led to military interventions and bases. The presence of American “boots on the ground” in Saudi Arabia was one of the top reasons for the attacks of 9-11 (“blowback” according to the CIA). Further expansion of the war into petro-state Libya (while oil-free countries are allowed to burn) confirms oil as the basis for war in the Middle East. In that light, Europe is wise to try to replace oil imports.
The other two deciding factors for the radical environmentalist policy are not as solid, though. First, the premise of climate change has been thoroughly challenged and largely dismissed. Second, doomsday predictions of the “drying up” of world oil supplies are questionable, especially considering a) improvements in efficiency, b) new drilling techniques, c) synthetic replacements for oil, and d) development of free market alternatives to oil.
Seizing the Opportunity
The $4-6 trillion running price tag of America’s War on Terror (to secure oil supplies) makes the $2.1 trillion Transport Area seem like a wise investment. SETA would be the mother of all bureaucratic pet projects at that price, yet even if all its scientific rationale were disproven it may be forced through (like Obamacare).
Why? Rahm Emanuel tipped us off to the (universal) big government mindset when he said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s (sic) an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Considering the big government Machiavellian mantra, “the end justifies the means”, SETA’s questionable outcome would outweigh its price and the loss of individual choice.
Not All Bad
Some parts of the SETA proposal are good, like goal #10: “Move towards full application of “user pays” and “polluter pays” principles and private sector engagement to eliminate distortions, including harmful subsidies, generate revenues and ensure financing for future transport investments.”
SETA includes standardization of transportation and commerce laws throughout the E.U., generally a net gain for the macro-economy and for individuals. However, by implementing changes at the highest level of government instead of local/state governments, Europe invites the risk of runaway big government (death by regulation).
Questions Left Unanswered and Unasked
But what if the E.U. were to simply leave the people alone and let individuals (and investors) in the free market determine what is best for them? History shows that individuals will make better financial decisions when allowed to, so what is different about energy and transportation? Wouldn’t individuals foresee volatile gas prices as a threat and diversify their energy needs? Are there no private investors or local/state governments willing to take the lead instead of the E.U. federal government?
This Side of the Pond
The U.S. House passed the American Clean Energy and Security bill in 2009 but it failed in the Senate. Like the Single European Transport Area, it was designed to counteract decreasing oil supplies and dependence on volatile foreign oil sources. It died partially due to its cost, like SETA, but concern about federal over reach also contributed.
Being a non-resident of Europe, I say go ahead and implement SETA. If it works, good for them. If not, that’s too bad, but at least America won’t be tied down by Europe’s change of policy. Hopefully it won’t turn into a disaster like past European social engineering blunders.
It will be interesting to watch Europe’s transformation as it implements this radical policy. Meanwhile, America’s energy economy will be better served by private sector investment and innovation. As for that $4-6 trillion dollar war…