Here is something I bet you havent thought about. We naturally assume that that public policy advocates actually want to achieve the things they advocate. But there are a lot of people both on the right and the leftbut especially on the leftfor whom that probably isnt true.
Suppose you could wave a magic wand and eliminate global warming forever. You might think that all the environmental organizations and all the environmental scientists and would get out the champagne and cerebrate. More likely their offices would look like a wake.
Causes are vehicles to money and power. They generate millions of dollars in donations. They create high paying jobs. They motivate millions in research grants and millions in campaign contributions. If the cause goes away, money and power go away with it.
Without global warming, the donations would dry up. The jobs would go away. The research grants would vanish. The end of global warming would be an economic disaster for tens of thousands of people. Especially for someone like Al Gorewho has made a fortune on the issue.
Ditto for race relations. What would Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton do if there were no more racial discrimination? They couldnt Mau Mau any more corporations. They couldnt shake down any more rich white guys. They would have to .... well .... they would have to go find an honest job.
What brings this to mind is four recent items in the news.
First, labor unions in Los Angelesthe very unions that were in the forefront in pushing for Californias recently passed $15-an-hour minimum wage legislationare petitioning to be exempted from the new law. After telling us for years how good high minimum wages are for everyone else, they are now claiming that the regulation is not good for their own members.
Second, as the New York Democratic primary election was well under way, the rhetoric became increasing shrill. Wall Street is responsible for inequality we were told by both Bernie and Hillary.
Yet as Dan Henninger reminds us in a Wall Street Journal editorial, its the rich Wall Street types who are putting up the money to fund charter schools and other alternatives to the public schools that are failing so miserably. No one who is poor is likely to climb the income ladder without a decent education. Yet New York City liberals, including the new liberal mayor, arent lifting a finger to help. In fact, New Yorks liberals seem quite content to let the teachers unions run the schools as they wish and leave things pretty much as they are.
Third, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins makes a damning case against environmental advocates in Congress, who have been unwilling to propose policies costly enough that they would actually influence the rate of increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Exhibit A was Al Gores about face right after the 2008 election. Jenkins writes:
[T]he closest the U.S. Congress came to passing a serious (if still ineffectual) cap-and-trade program was during the George W. Bush administration in early 2007. Then, within days of Barack Obamas election in 2008, Al Gore announced a revelation: the climate crisis no longer required such unpleasant, de facto energy taxes. The problem could be solved with painless handouts to green entrepreneurs.
Then there is the issue of gun control, which Hillary Clinton has been increasingly using to attack Bernie Sanders. If you think that anything about guns proposed by those on the left is a serious proposal (gun show loopholes? The right to sue gun manufacturers?) consider the following.
Although no one knows for sure, there are apparently 310 million guns in private hands in the United Statesabout one for every person in the country. Further, by one estimate, private gun ownership increased by about 100 million since Barack Obama became president.
Here is the irony. It appears that every time the president talks about the need for gun control, people go out and buy more guns. Of course, the kind of measures he and Hillary are talking about are trivial. But in the attempt to fire up the Democratic base and convince them they intend to do something serious about guns, the presidents rhetoric apparently succeeds in convincing the opposition instead.
The best thing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could do to stop the proliferation of guns is to shut up and quit talking about firearms.
What would a serious gun control measure look like? In 1996, the government of Australia imposed a virtual ban on automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and instituted a temporary gun buyback program that took some 650,000 weapons out of public circulation. The effort seems to have had no effect on suicides or homicides, but at least one would have to agree that the effort was serious.
Is that the type of proposal we might see from those on the left in the near future? Dont hold your breath.