I recently finished binge-watching Red Oaks, a very pleasant comedy set in and around a New Jersey country club in the mid-late 1980s. Those of a certain age will remember that was the era of the emergence of Japanese business as a global powerhouse, and of American businesses scrambling to adopt new lessons and practices. And, indeed, this emergence drives part of the plot in Season 3.

This reminder coupled with a meme that recently crossed my feed prompted recollection of one Japanese business aphorism that entered my awareness around that time (or, more likely, shortly thereafter, thanks to Michael Crichton’s novel Rising Sun and the eponymous movie): “Fix the problem, not the blame.

It’s a lesson that remains insufficiently heeded over a quarter century later, based on all the “popular” solutions we see advanced for societal and global concerns. The popular solutions, especially those advanced by people of a social justice mien, always seem to involve an element of… let’s call it “penance.” Blame gets incorporated, often needlessly, and the desire to blame and exact recompense often clouds and undermines the goal itself.

Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old who scolded the world for its purportedly insufficient response to global warming, is a progressive darling. She’s part of the “conventional wisdom” crowd that demands the world shift to renewables, to the total exclusion of carbon (and nuclear) energy (see: Green New Deal). Everyone who pays attention to politics has heard her name.

One problem (of many) is that this all-wind-and-solar solution embraces a delusion regarding compliance. The developing world, and most importantly the BRICS nations, will not inflict the massive economic and quality-of-life harm that abandoning carbon and nuclear power will inflict any time soon. And, if the world does not comply, nothing the West does will produce the results we are told must be produced.

Yet, the West’s narrative-writers march forward. In doing so, they threaten to undo the real progress made in emissions reductions. Many of the Democratic Presidential candidates are signing up for the Green New Deal, which includes, bizarrely, shutting down nuclear plants, and includes reversing the benefits and boon of the fracking revolution. Indeed, Elizabeth Warren promises to ban fracking the first day she is President. That the increased use of natural gas for power generation is the prime driver in America’s reduction in carbon emissions (gas produces a quarter the carbon per unit energy that coal does) is of little concern.

And, as I’ve noted previously in this blog, the prevailing plan to address global warming (setting aside whether we actually need to) also deliberately excludes geo-engineering technologies and options. Why? Because, some fear that success via geo-engineering means there won’t be as much need to decarbonize the nation’s and world’s economies. Their preferred solutions won’t have to be implemented as aggressively – if at all – and someone else’s idea would win out. They’d rather win the fight than get it right, and they prioritize imposing their will on those who see things differently over actually solving the problem.

That’s the problem. The solutions preferred smack of “you enjoyed the fat life, now you must suffer as compensation.” We hear it, as well, in the financial aspects of the global decarbonization plan, which involve massive wealth transfers to developing nations. The logic, and it’s an insult to logic to call it that, is that the West has grown rich by pumping the atmosphere full of carbon dioxide (never mind that the total change blamed on humans is one part in 10,000), and therefore the nations that didn’t get rich should be compensated. What, I ask, about the enormous boon to those nations from the science, technology, research, and advancements in human knowledge born of the West? Have those nations eschewed modern tech, modern medicine, etc., or have they benefited from not having to reinvent millions of wheels?

This notion is born of a too-common and very dangerous (and fallacious) belief: that of the fixed pie, also referred to as the ‘lump fallacy.’ People mistakenly believe that transactions are win-lose, that something of benefit to one necessarily comes at loss or harm to another. It’s the opposite of capitalism, which relies on “win-win” voluntary exchange and interaction, it ignores the creation of wealth (growing pie) that’s the product of that win-win, and it’s at the heart of “now you must suffer” fixation that extends beyond global warming into countless other policy debates.

As the attached meme shows, young Boyan Slat had an idea and developed a technology to clean plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. He’s drawn interest from some rich people, and raised money from several tens of thousands smaller donors via crowdfunding, but he stands in deep obscurity compared to Greta Thunberg, whose contribution to the global warming mitigation effort can be summarized as finger-pointing. Oceanic plastic pollution is not an obscure issue, so the lack of coverage of his idea (he expects that it can halve the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years, at minimal cost) cannot be blamed on unimportance. Instead, America’s elite have developed a sudden fixation on banning plastic straws and single-use plastic shopping bags, despite their being a tiny fraction of America’s plastic garbage, and America’s plastic garbage is a very small fraction of global ocean plastic (most of it originates in Asia – see earlier comments about non-compliance). Rather than embrace a win-win solution that addresses the problem without forcing changes in behavior (along with increases in cost, greater public health risk, and increased inconvenience), they demand that we ‘show our virtue by giving up our bags and straws.’ Penance, in compensation for past “excess.”

Punitive solutions abound.

New York City’s past and current mayors sought to address vehicular congestion not by engineering to make traffic flow better, but by making things worse for cars, so that people would be discouraged from driving into Manhattan.

Democratic Presidential candidates seek to address poverty not by implementing the greatest engine of positive change known to man (the free enterprise system), but by taking even more from the successful than they already do. See: lump fallacy, and see: punish the rich for daring to succeed.

Health care must be reduced to a least-common-denominator. You don’t get to keep your doctor, even if you like him, and you don’t get to keep your health insurance, even if you like it, if some administrator decides it’s not up to (the government’s) snuff, because it may be better than that which others have.

Vaping, while not benign or healthy, is nevertheless far preferable to smoking tobacco. People who don’t want to quit their nicotine habit are far better off vaping, but scolds have succeeded in passing vaping bans. What twisted logic lies in that, other than anger at an alternative they didn’t come up with or condone being made available to (the hate) smokers?

Housing shortages are not to be addressed by simply getting out of the way, letting investors (risking their own money) build more, and allowing market forces to sort out all the inefficiencies caused by government interventions. Instead, more rent control, more housing built with public money, and more impositions of superficially pretty but counterproductive rules on landlords and builders. Why? Because landlords and builders are greedy, and they’ve obviously grown rich off the backs of struggling tenants, and they need to be taken down a peg or two.

Bernie Sanders tells us “there should be no billionaires.” He wants to get rid of them by stealing what they’ve created and earned, to “invest in working people.” Who’s doing to do that investing? The federal government? The federal government that hasn’t passed a budget in 20 years? That spends a trillion more a year than it has? That routinely loses or wastes hundreds of billions? That doesn’t know how to create wealth? Seriously – a government that loses money on gambling and on a monopoly on mail delivery has proven it cannot create wealth. So, why destroy those who’ve proven they can, rather than fix what it’s doing wrong?

Because punitive actions are preferred over real solutions. Because people are driven by jealousy and envy, and prefer being poorer as long as the other guy doesn’t get rich (see also, Boris and Ivan and Boris’s goat).

None of this is logical. None of this makes sense. Most importantly, none of this moves us to the best solutions, those that would actually work, that would improve everyone’s lot in life, and that would make the world a better place.

When you consider which policies to support, when you look at solutions, consider whether they are unnecessarily punitive in nature. There’s nothing to be gained by preferring punitive solutions over those that fix things without imposing pain.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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