It should be abundantly clear by now that the indisputable facts of economics and history are not sufficient to prevent our government from embarking on another expensive, disastrous program. While the debate on government destruction of the health care industry continues in the Senate, President Obama prepares to make a trip to Copenhagen. There, he and other elite “experts” will cook up a new assault on free enterprise – under the tired pretense of “saving the environment.” Since intellectual, scholarly attempts to convince our rulers of the error of their ways have failed, I humbly suggest a simpler solution: make President Obama and the U.S. Senate watch the 80’s classic, Ghostbusters. Everything they need to know about government’s role in the environment is there. It is presented simply enough that even a career politician can understand it.
The Ghostbusters story begins with three university professors who decide to try their hand in the private sector. They start a going concern with their own money to investigate paranormal activity. They face hard times early on, spending “the last of the petty cash” on Chinese food. They have a dearth of customers and face the same fate as the majority of new businesses in their first year: bankruptcy. There is no suggestion that the government will bail them out. The market has seemingly determined that there was not sufficient need for their services and they will have to figure out some other product to offer in order to make a living.
At that moment, a disturbance occurs in a local hotel and their first paying customer places an order. The Ghostbusters successfully capture the offending spirit and collect their fee. The incident results in some publicity for the young firm and business booms. Soon, the Ghostbusters are running their own commercials and have more business than they can handle. They bring on a fourth Ghostbuster to keep up with the demand.
So far, the story has been a happy one for all parties concerned. The Ghostbusters have achieved success and have become enriched. Why? They have earned their money by making New York City safer (more “ghost-free”) and have created jobs in the process. Most importantly, all of this has occurred through private, voluntary exchange. Customers pay their fees happily because the Ghostbusters offer them a service they deem worthy of the price.
But a story without a major conflict is no story at all. Ghostbusters is a superior story in that it correctly recognizes the source of all human conflict: government. Instead of the rather mundane epilogue the story would have had at this point, where competing firms enter the ghostbusting market, prices fall, and soon all of society can afford to have a paranormal housecleaning, the government rears its ugly head. A representative of the EPA knocks on the Ghostbusters’ door. What happens next couldn’t be more analogous to the real world.
The EPA agent Walter Peck is played to perfection by vastly underrated William Atherton. What is abundantly clear from his limited time onscreen is that, as a low-level federal agent, his primary motivation is not protecting the environment, but rather lording it over any individual or business that fails to immediately submit to his absolute authority. Under the pretense of protecting the environment, he attacks a private enterprise that has harmed no one, has helped the community, and has created jobs.
Having obtained legal authority to invade the Ghostbusters’ facility, despite the lack of evidence of any crime, Peck discovers what he deems to be a threat to the environment in the Ghostbusters’ ghost storage equipment. Of course, sophisticated equipment that could pose a threat to the environment is ubiquitous in a developed, industrial nation. But thus far in the story, the Ghostbusters have managed their equipment safely and responsibly. They have done so both out of respect for their own safety and the safety of others and because their livelihood would be jeopardized if the ghosts they had captured were to escape and return to re-haunt the premises of their customers.
Despite pleas from the Ghostbusters, the EPA agent shuts off their ghost storage machine and chaos ensues. Remember that up until this point, no environmental disaster had occurred. But by violating the liberty and property rights of the Ghostbusters under the pretense of a false threat to the environment, the government has created a real environmental disaster that now threatens everyone’s lives. In fact, the entire world is now threatened because of this government intervention.
Consider how closely this story recreates the real world, ghosts and goblins notwithstanding. The government’s record on protecting the environment has followed this pattern since the moment activists got the idea the government could save the world. Among the sparkling achievements of government environmentalism has been the banning of DDT, a safe and effective insecticide that was vilified and ultimately banned because of its supposed threat to the environment. Subsequently, farmers were forced to employ less effective insecticides that really do harm the environment, while a later study showed that DDT could actually be eaten by humans over an extended period of time with no adverse health effects.
In another historic blunder, the government decided to employ its ability to coercively override private decisions in order to encourage the production and distribution of ethanol, the fuel additive made from corn. This had the unintended consequence of causing food shortages and skyrocketing prices while failing to significantly affect America’s dependence on fossil fuels. The crowning achievement of this boondoggle was the revelation that the production of ethanol actually consumes more fossil fuel than it produces and is a net positive in carbon emissions. Had property rights been protected, instead of destroyed by the government, none of this would have happened.
Most recently, the government decided it would address two problems at once by “stimulating the economy” with its Cash for Clunkers program. Not only would this supposedly help the economy, but because those trading in their clunkers would have to buy “greener” cars (with other people’s money), it would also help the environment. Of course, the result was that perfectly good used cars were destroyed while their owners took out loans for new ones, resulting in a decrease in wealth and an increase in debt for society as whole. In addition, it turned out that the owners of the clunkers had previously been limiting their driving due to either concerns about breakdowns or the general lack of pleasure inherent in driving their clunkers. Once provided with new cars by the government, they began driving far more than they previously had, producing more exhaust and consuming more fossil fuels. Another government disaster funded by legal plunder.
As in the movie, every attempt by government to use its coercive power to protect the environment not only fails, but actually creates the very problems it purports to try to solve. In most cases, the problem does not even exist until the government undertakes to solve it. What is the government’s solution? Always it is to attack private property and free enterprise.
It never ceases to amaze me that the American public at large exhibits absolutely no skepticism towards the politically connected segment of the environmental movement. For 100 years, members of a certain political movement claimed private property and free enterprise would destroy society. The 20th century proved them absolutely wrong. Those societies which did away with private property and free enterprise were destroyed themselves, while those which (for the most part) retained property rights flourished. Subsequently, the members of this same political movement suddenly became activists for the environment, studied the problem, and concluded there was only one way to save the earth from environmental disaster: by abolishing private property and free enterprise. Does no one find this conclusion – by these people – an odd coincidence? Does no one even suspect their motives? Are we a nation of fools?
President Obama, please watch the movie. Appoint a “Ghostbusters Czar” to ensure that every legislator in the federal government watches it as well. When you have had time to reflect upon its profound message, please declare the environmental war on private property over. If you are looking for wise stewards of the land, you will not find them within the ten square miles you presently inhabit. However, there are some 300 million people who can do a better job just outside of town.
*This article originally appeared on the Campaign for Liberty website.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.