Though the title of this article is utterly true, and I will prove it, this is not about windmills or carbon or even environmentalism, it is about the absolute refusal of politicians, pundits and even some scientists, to see beyond their good intentions and balance them against the certain, if unintended, adverse consequences of their policies.
We Libertarians bill ourselves as the “Party of Principle” and that is often seen as some sort of holier-than-thou arrogance, but in reality it is that we have learned that when we stray from the sound principles of Liberty and free markets, even when it looks like it is a good thing to make an exception ‘just this once,’ we invariably do more harm than good. So, we insist on adhering to those principles even when it would be easier to compromise.Over 150 years ago, Frederick Bastiat wrote an essay, ‘The Seen and the Unseen’ in which he laid out the Broken Window Fallacy which directly relates to forcing, through incentives and mandates, the building of windmills to generate electricity.
The benefits are apparent. If you still believe excess CO2 from burning fossil fuels is causing Global Warming (I don’t, but that debate belongs at another location) then generating at least part of our electricity from wind would be an advantage. Further, wind power could lessen our dependence on foreign oil by freeing up domestic natural gas supplies for transportation use (The Pickens Plan) and of course, there are all those “Green Jobs” building windmills and the immense power grid needed to make practical use of them. Sounds great, but…
There are the less apparent consequences. Electricity from windmills is hideously expensive compared to coal, natural gas, or even nuclear power. The capital investment required per watt is much higher than fossil fuels, by a factor of at least ten when grid costs and backup generation capacity(we can’t turn off the TV when the wind doesn’t blow) are added in. These higher costs must be offset either by subsidy or mandated purchase of wind power to make it viable.
So, how does that kill babies? Well, the greatest cause of unnecessary death of children worldwide is poverty. Anything that diminishes the overall prosperity of the world economy will increase that death toll. Prosperity is, after all, the sum of the efficiency with which goods and services are brought to market. ANYTHING we do through government to force uneconomic choices on ANYONE diminishes the overall efficiency of the economy, and those poor children clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder will pay the price. It may be difficult to impossible to trace the incentive government provides for wind power to the death of a specific child, but the link is there none the less.
It may be that higher electric bills in the US will cause fewer people to see Angelina Jolie’s next movie and she will have less to donate to her charities. Or too few big screen TV’s will be purchased by people seeking to lower electric bills, resulting in unemployment for Botswanian miners of the Rare Earth Elements needed to produce them. And it may just be that the capital, which is every bit as much a scarce resource as oil, soaked up by building windmills just could have been used more effectively in some other endeavor. Spanish economists have shown us that every “Green Job” created by mandates and incentives costs two or more other jobs. But one way or another, diverting resources, by subsidy or mandate, to less efficient uses results in dead babies.Every time.
Does that mean we can never compel an uneconomic choice for any reason? No, but it does mean that even if the harm done is hard to define, it is always there, and before using the force of government to meddle in the free market, whether to build windmills, redistribute wealth, or subsidize mass transit, we should be damned sure the benefits are worth the hidden price in dead babies.