One of the latest attacks on reasonable energy policy and conservation is a popular YouTube video titled “If I wanted America to fail,” produced by Free Market America. I was going to ignore this one, but one person asked for an evaluation, and another accused me of being a “lib” who can’t offer a “meaningful reply” because I called it agitprop. So I’ll offer a public rebuttal. As always, debunking something like this video requires a stronger background than creating the original video did. This is because truth is usually more complicated than fantasy.

Since the folks behind this video sent out the transcript as a press release, I’ll use it in my debunking. As you’ll see, this propaganda video mostly consists of straw men, zombies, and zombie straw men.

If I wanted America to fail

By Ryan Houck, Free Market America

If I wanted America to fail …

The first thing to notice is that the video is set up to persuade people that their opponents actually want America to fail. If they wanted an honest evaluation of ideas, the would set up the video as an argument that their opponents mistakenly think X will help America succeed.

From here on, I’ll refer to Free Market America as FMA.

To follow, not lead; to suffer, not prosper; to despair, not dream.

I would start with energy.

Actually, this is true. But the considered response is not what FMA is advocating. As we’ll see, this video is propaganda, largely promoting the failure of America. We’ll also see Houck stray from energy policy to conservation.

I’d cut off America’s supply of cheap, abundant energy. I couldn’t take it by force. So, I’d make Americans feel guilty for using the energy that heats their homes, fuels their cars, runs their businesses, and powers their economy.

I’d make cheap energy expensive, so that expensive energy would seem cheap.

So after a couple reasonable introductory sentences, Houck exposes his agenda. It isn’t “cheap, abundant energy” but an expansion of oil and coal.

Our most abundant source of energy is solar. Averaged over the entire day, we receive around 250W / m2 of power from the sun. This is so much power that we could provide all power used by the United States by simply covering 7% of structures in the country with solar panels, even if we only use old photovoltaic technology. While coal and oil are finite resources, solar power will be available as long as the sun still shines.

Whether or not one feels guilty for using energy is beside the point. Given the currently available and future supplies of the various energy sources, the current level of technology, the impacts of various energy sources, and economics; the case for conservation of energy (particularly fossil fuels) is clear. As prominent energy executive S David Freeman wrote, “The cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable source of energy is the energy we avoid using.” Freeman knows this from experience: he has a record of saving failing energy companies by using conservation, supplemented with increased generation as necessary. Conservation works, partially because improving energy efficiency is often less expensive than adding additional power. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t also entirely reasonable to feel guilty about sacrificing the nation’s future for instant gratification.

I would empower unelected bureaucrats to all-but-outlaw America’s most abundant sources of energy. And after banning its use in America, I’d make it illegal for American companies to ship it overseas.

I don’t know of anyone who is trying to “all-but-outlaw” America’s abundant energy sources, even if you mistakenly believe that coal and oil are our abundant energy sources. The most I know of that any politician has succeeded in doing is to make an effort speed up adding other energy sources to fossil fuels.

To verify my evaluation of this video as propaganda, it is important to note the term “unelected bureaucrats.” This term is being used to imply that the government is creating an unaccountable system for the purpose of depriving us of energy. In fact, the unelected bureaucrats were hired by the people because they are necessary to enforce the laws passed by the accountable elected officials. Without the hired bureaucrats, the actions of elected officials are meaningless.

If I wanted America to fail …

I’d use our schools to teach one generation of Americans that our factories and our cars will cause a new Ice Age, and I’d muster a straight face so I could teach the next generation that they’re causing Global Warming.

Ah, an excellent example of how this video is agitprop. If the video was meant for education, or merely propaganda in the positive sense, it wouldn’t have included this statement. This is because this is a well known straw man. The predictions of a coming ice age were largely in the popular media, not the scientific journals. But this video implies that the coming ice age was the general view to the extent that it was what was typically taught. But the statement that the prediction in the 1970s was global cooling has been refuted many many times. A more accurate representation of the state of knowledge in the ’70s would be that more research was needed, but the evidence for anthropogenic global warming was mounting. It is amazing that anyone still repeats this oft-debunked misrepresentation of history with a straight face.

The use of a commonly debunked straw man is bad enough, but the indoctrination implied in the statement, “I’d use our schools,” justifies my classification of this video as propaganda.

And when it’s cold out, I’d call it Climate Change instead.

This is another surprisingly popular canard. But as anyone who bothers to check knows, the terms “global warming” and “climate change” have both been used for decades. So even if the choice of which term is used in each instance was correlated with the weather at the moment, the “call it Climate Change” statement would be false. This is because scientists have long used both terms for related-but-distinguishable phenomena; so long, in fact, that the early uses of the terms predate the politicization of climate.

I’d imply that America’s cities and factories could run on wind power and wishes.

This is a particularly perilous bit of sophistry, so I expect to run into this phrase again. This is simply using a clever turn of phrase to imply that sustainable energy is not viable, ignoring the fact that we will inevitably shift to solar being the dominant energy source, with renewable indirect solar sources—such as wind—providing all our remaining supply. This is because petroleum, coal, and natural gas are limited resources that are being rapidly depleted. The eventual shift is not in question, the doubts are only about the timing. As Carl Sagan is reported to have said, “any intelligent civilisation on any planet will eventually have to use the energy of its parent star, exclusively.”

I’d teach children how to ignore the hypocrisy of condemning logging, mining and farming — while having roofs over their heads, heat in their homes and food on their tables. I would never teach children that the free market is the only force in human history to uplift the poor, establish the middle class and create lasting prosperity.

While there is a very small group that argues against any human activity, this isn’t significant in the context of this video. The purpose of the video is clearly to further develop an emotional affinity among prospective voters, who will then be more likely to choose candidates that support free enterprise. This means that we must consider the positions of the candidates, not of small fringe groups. But the video is implying that the views available are their own or their negation. This is an inaccurate representation. Those who hold the negation of FMA’s views are such a small group that they do not have any significant influence in America. The variety of opinions represented by the actual candidates ranges from those who believe in completely wanton exploitation of all resources to those who believe that there are some limits on the exploitation of resources. This is an example of the division between free enterprise and free market. This video is produced by a group that explicitly exists to advocate free enterprise capitalism over free market capitalism. One common tactic among the free enterprise crowd is to redefine free market as a synonym of free enterprise. The failure to distinguish between these terms is what allows Houck to make these claims while using the term “free market.” But even Adam Smith recognized that a free market is not a completely unregulated market.

Instead, I’d demonize prosperity itself, so that they will not miss what they will never have.

I don’t know of anyone in America than is demonizing prosperity itself. There are certainly critiques of particular routes to prosperity, but not “prosperity itself.”

If I wanted America to fail …

I would create countless new regulations and seldom cancel old ones. They would be so complicated that only bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists could understand them. That way small businesses with big ideas wouldn’t stand a chance – and I would never have to worry about another Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or Steve Jobs.

This is, of course, a misrepresentation of the situation in the US. It is worth noting that the lawyers and lobbyists typically work for large corporations, and often ensure that regulations are to help themselves and hinder their competitors. This is far from the “regulations are killing us” picture presented by FMA.

I would ridicule as “Flat Earthers” those who urge us to lower energy costs by increasing supply. And when the evangelists of commonsense try to remind people about the law of supply and demand, I’d enlist a sympathetic media to drown them out.

Actually, the comparison with Flat Earthers a good one. At first glance, both the idea of a Flat Earth and the idea of increasing the rate of oil and coal extraction sound reasonable. This is why these ideas have stuck around for so long. But once one examines the evidence, both are revealed to be ridiculous ideas. If one looks at how long it takes to increase the extraction and processing rate of fossil fuels—which only hastens their exhaustion—and compares it to how long it takes to ramp up solar and wind, the clear winner is renewable energy. The argument that the fossil fuel advocates are the ones who want to increase energy supply is revealed to be a ridiculous misunderstanding of supply and demand. The way to increase supply is through increased solar and wind. Effective supply can also be increased through efficiency. But free enterprise folks usually don’t consider increasing renewable energy supply to be increasing supply.

I’ll leave the debunking of the “sympathetic media” charge to others, but note that the most popular news sources are Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

If I wanted America to fail …

I would empower unaccountable bureaucracies seated in a distant capitol to bully Americans out of their dreams and their property rights. I’d send federal agents to raid guitar factories for using the wrong kind of wood; I’d force homeowners to tear down the homes they built on their own land.

An odd example, since this is referring to the enforcement of a law that was passed under President William McKinley, and most recently updated under President George W Bush. They have had 112 years to oppose this necessary and—one assumes—popular law. Unsurprisingly, some businessmen affected by this law support it, Chris Martin is reported to have said, “I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think illegal logging is appalling. It should stop. And if this is what it takes unfortunately to stop unscrupulous operators, I’m all for it.”

I’d make it almost impossible for farmers to farm, miners to mine, loggers to log, and builders to build.

Once again, this isn’t being done. There are some restrictions on some methods and locations, but in general the various federal departments exist to promote these activities.

And because I don’t believe in free markets, I’d invent false ones. I’d devise fictitious products — like carbon credits — and trade them in imaginary markets. I’d convince people that this would create jobs and be good for the economy.

It is important to remember that both sides believe in the Invisible Hand of the free market, the difference is in what they believe constitutes a free market. Once this distinction is recognized, it becomes clear that there is no attempt to invent false markets. The point of proposed carbon dioxide emissions trading is that the true cost is not currently reflected in the price of fossil fuels. Because having a free market requires that the full cost is reflected in the price, we do not have a free market. “Cap and Trade” is far from perfect, but it is certainly not an “imaginary market”; it is a convenient way of coming closer to a free market as opposed to an unrestrained market. A more accurate understanding of Cap and Trade is to recognize it as eliminating an implicit subsidy in order to create a free market.

It has already been proven that a Cap and Trade system can be an effective free market solution for reducing pollution: sulfur dioxide trading for large power plants was created under President G H W Bush. It proved to be a good way to remove a market distortion. This success was achieved after years of predictions of disaster by the advocates of free enterprise. In fact, the program was so successful that few people even realize it existed.

If I wanted America to fail …

For every concern, I’d invent a crisis; and for every crisis, I’d invent the cause; Like shutting down entire industries and killing tens of thousands of jobs in the name of saving spotted owls. And when everyone learned the stunning irony that the owls were victims of their larger cousins — and not people — it would already be decades too late.

This is another spurious accusation, revealing that energy isn’t FMA’s concern. This wasn’t an invented crisis to shut down an industry; it was a moderate response in order to mitigate a problem that was shown by objective research. Far from “shutting down entire industries,” what happened was simply conserving some public property, while allowing the logging industry to continue on other public and private land. Remember, while trees can be a renewable resource, for all practical purposes old-growth forests are not. This is because they take many human lifetimes to recover. And, as can be seen by walking in nearly any bit of woods in Indiana, what grows back isn’t necessarily the native plants; recovery takes many years, if it happens at all.

The moderate conservation that been achieved is easy to justify without flagship species and indicator species, but these ore the ones that stick in the public’s mind. Focusing on flagship species is a useful simplification as long as we remember there is an entire ecosystem in question. Houck mistakenly reports that scientists thought people were directly killing the spotted owls. This is, of course, not the case. The owls population declining to the point of endangerment through habitat loss. This means people were the cause of the decline, even though it wasn’t due to direct killing. The fact that competition with barred owls as well as habitat loss from logging were causing the decline of spotted owls isn’t an ironic mistake by scientists, it is a misunderstanding by Houck. As was reported by Craig Welch in Smithsonian Magazine, “far from saying that the logging restrictions were a mistake, owl biologists largely insist that more forests must be spared, especially since heavy logging continues on state and private land.”

If I wanted America to fail …

I’d make it easier to stop commerce than start it – easier to kill jobs than create them – more fashionable to resent success than to seek it.

Yet another odd but popular straw man.

When industries seek to create jobs, I’d file lawsuits to stop them. And then I’d make taxpayers pay for my lawyers.

If I wanted America to fail …

I would transform the environmental agenda from a document of conservation to an economic suicide pact. I would concede entire industries to our economic rivals by imposing regulations that cost trillions. I would celebrate those who preach environmental austerity in public while indulging a lavish lifestyle in private.

It is interesting that they are calling continued enforcement of conservation laws that have been on the books for decades a “suicide pact.” The past three Republican presidents fought—and often succeeded—in reversing and weakening the conservation laws that were created by earlier Republicans. As for the cost, this is another example of the math difficulties suffered by many proponents of free enterprise. Some regulations directly save money, while many others cost less than not acting.

I’d convince Americans that Europe has it right, and America has it wrong.

If I wanted America to fail …

I would prey on the goodness and decency of ordinary Americans.

I would only need to convince them … that all of this is for the greater good.

If I wanted America to fail, I suppose I wouldn’t change a thing.

We have seen that Free Market America’s video relies entirely on straw men and ideology to create an emotional appeal for one variety of capitalism. Doing this requires a disconnect between ideology and facts. I’ve shown that FMA’s accusations are baseless by using easily obtainable facts. Education and reason are a better reply than emotional appeals, as seen in my many other posts. I do not think that the free enterprise believers are intentionally trying to destroy the country. I do think that some of their policies are inevitably detrimental. The free market can work, but I am no competitiofideist.