Think Before You Take Action

Kurt Bouwhuis, Mackinac Center Intern

Here’s a letter I sent to the Midland Daily News today.

Dan Foster recently stated that decreasing our consumption of foreign oil by increasing fuel efficiency and utilizing alternative energies “…will improve our national security, revive our economy and clean the air” (Take Action, Aug 3).  Although I wish this assertion were entirely true, I find it hard to believe that such a beneficial venture would pass by entrepreneurs unnoticed.

First off, artificially decreasing the importation of oil from abroad would likely worsen our national security, not improve it.  If a foreign nation is generating wealth by trading with the United States, that same foreign nation would have no incentive to attack the source of its prosperity.  If, on the other hand, trade was cut off for political reasons – there would likely be conflict proving Frédéric Bastiat’s point – “If goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”

Second, if reducing the consumption of oil truly helps “revive the economy” – Why not pass a law banning the use of oil in all automobiles?  This would really stimulate the economy!  It would divert resources from the productive sectors of the economy and place them in the automotive sector.

Lastly, I do agree with Dan that a decrease in the consumption of oil leaves the air cleaner.  Unfortunately, since air is owned by no one, it is impossible for any individual to place a value on slightly cleaner air for society.  In fact, any commodity not owned privately will become victim to what Garrett Hardin called tragedy of the commons.  Pollution of the air is a perfect example.

In short, the reason we use oil to fuel our automobiles is to give individuals what they want – Cheap transportation.  If an individual truly shared Dan’s desire for fuel efficiency, they would pony up the extra dough to purchase the same hybrid he just purchased.  A well functioning economy should fulfill the desires of each unique individual consumer, not the desires of one individual.

Kurt Bouwhuis


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