The Ferengi – the ultimate strawmen of capitalism

You don’t have to have seen Star Trek or even like sci-fi to find this relevant. This isn’t just about bad writing, which is an artistic crime by itself – and when the very thing you’re trying to denounce is so obviously a ludicrous strawman not only do you fail to make the point, you end up undermining your own position. It’s also about propaganda.

I am a geek, I admit, so I can unapologetically say that if you’re not, I’ll do some quick back-story for you: the Ferengi are an alien race in the Star Trek universe, introduced way back in The Next Generation’s first season. Since the Federation (sort of like all the best parts of the United States in space; in Kirk’s words a place where people had “the full exercise of individual Rights” source) finally made friends with the classic bad guys the Klingons, the show needed a new nemesis for our heroes. Now, when you consider that even someone who hasn’t watched Star Trek probably knows who The Borg are, this should give you an idea of the impact a truly terrifying enemy can have…and how far off the mark the writers were with the Ferengi. They are ugly apish buffoons (the Ferengi, not the writers – though I don’t deny the similarity). After only a couple of episodes it was clear they couldn’t be taken seriously, so much so that almost every “Ferengi” episode of DS9 and Voyager to come was written as a “comedy episode”, with one exception.

The Ferengi were shown to be a technologically-advanced intelligent species (appearances to the contrary) who could rival the Federation in space exploration and/or conquest. As I said, this didn’t last long and they instead devolved into the ultra “capitalist” exploitative bigoted idiots that would crop up every now and then to beat us over the head with the “too much capitalism is bad!” mallet. I could attribute this to just bad writing, but the problem is that the Ferengi are a caricature of everything the Left believes about capitalism, beginning with a most profound and basic misunderstanding. Of course, it’s not the Left I’m addressing this to, but the everyday person who doesn’t know any better and whose only understanding of capitalism comes from false generalisations and clichéd movie villains.

Capitalism in one sentence

“Do not initiate force against an innocent rational being.” Got that? Good, because this is the basic premise of capitalism. Of course, people will disagree and they’re welcome to. You are welcome to define capitalism as you like, but you have to justify your definition and show how it’s logically derived. This is the job of philosophy, but I don’t intend to go into that much detail here. The best philosophical defender of capitalism was Ayn Rand and it’s her understanding of the term I’ll use. Even if you totally disagree with Ayn Rand, I don’t see how someone can object to me invoking her here. After all, when I attack communism and socialism, I don’t attack what I think they are, I attack what they actually claim to be! I am happy to take a socialist’s definition of their own system and roll with it, so no one should object to me using Rand’s definition of capitalism here.

Why does it matter? Well, the “profound and basic” misconception of capitalism that I alluded to is of capitalism saying “make money!” But it doesn’t. Don’t confuse an economic consequence with a political principle. I attack socialism, not because it says “surrender all your values to the State!” (although that is a logical consequence of socialism) but because it says “the Rights of the individual are secondary to the needs of the State.” I think capitalism has proven that wealth and profit are its corollaries (hard to argue with, even if you don’t like capitalism), but the political principle on which it stands is: “leave people alone”, or “don’t initiate force against others.”

We’ll see that every distasteful aspect of the Ferengi, who are supposedly the unavoidable consequences of rampant unchecked laissez-faire capitalism, are false and even precluded by capitalism.

Sexism

In Ferengi society females are treated like second class citizens. The men run everything and exclude Ferengi women on the grounds that they are useless in business, and all the Ferengi care about is profit. This is probably the biggest non-sequitor of them all. I don’t know how someone gets from “leave people alone” to “treat women like useless house-bound tools”. Capitalism’s principle of leaving every person free to pursue their own life, liberty and happiness surely encourages respect for our fellow creatures, recognising that they are just like us and have the same potential as we do. Also, with the use of force banned, how could women be forcibly restrained from having jobs and earning money? The Western world has proven (most memorably during WW2) that having half your entire population not sitting around doing nothing, increases production and profits. Imagine if today women were suddenly forbidden from working – almost every business where gender is irrelevant would collapse! Yet we’re supposed to believe that a society so obsessed with profit as the Ferengi wouldn’t take advantage of a worker base which could in theory double its workforce? Isn’t a common criticism of laissez-faire capitalism that would it end up employing too many people that it shouldn’t, not excluding them?

Of course, as any real life rational businessman knows, there is no profit in unnecessary discrimination.

You might say that this is just an example of an alien race which is ultra-capitalistic and also happens to be ultra-sexist. But every single aspect of the Ferengi revolves around profit, so the implication is clear that their horrifically-sexist society is connected to their capitalism. But even if it wasn’t, it’s guilt by association. For example, imagine if Trek gave us an alien race who are all black, oh and it just so happens they’re thieves and rape isn’t a crime on their world. Who would dismiss this as innocently exploring ethical issues in a science-fiction format and not racist?

Exploitation

The Ferengi are open to and encourage bribery, and forever force money from their customers by upping prices, lowering wages, and denying basic commodities to their employees, since without a regulation from some Progressive bureaucrat of course, this is what would obviously happen in all companies. Naturally, all unions are banned.

Leaving aside the government support that unions have had in the Western world (which only gives one side an unfair advantage in negotiations, but since that side isn’t the evil businessmen it’s ok), with the use of force banned, how could unions be prevented? They are an obvious and natural means for employees to pool their (economic) power and lobby their employer for change. If we drop the premise that businessmen are James Bond villains or irrational scrooges, it’s clear that no reasonable employer is going to lose his staff when by making acceptable changes (or losses) he can keep them here and happy. On the other hand, he isn’t going to needlessly cut into his profits if he doesn’t have to. And implying that this is necessarily a bad thing isn’t an attack on capitalism, it’s an attack on the very inescapable nature of human trade itself!

Also, it’s simply daft to assert that a businessman can keep upping his prices to extremes. Of course, in the heads of anti-capitalists, prices are set in a vacuum and buyers are at the whims of sellers. But prices reflect costs, overheads, the affluence of the customer base and competition. Yes, if there is little competition you can get away with upping your prices, but it doesn’t mean that, for example, if I’m the only pub within a 50 mile radius I can charge $20 for a pint of ale. No matter how rich my customer base is, no is going to pay that much for a pint. And even if a tiny minority could, would that handful keep my business running? If only 1 person a day buys a $20 pint, it does not follow that if I cut my prices to $2, I will now get 10 customers a day instead of 1; in reality I’d probably get many times that, because not only will more customers be attracted to my pub, they will each spend more because the prices are good. ‘Good’ here being within the context of my customers’ affluence; in some regions I could up my price to $3 and not lose customers. In other regions I’d have to drop it to $1.50 to (counter-intuitively) make profit. But to say that the customer is irrelevant and an unchecked businessman would just irrationally up his prices is pure fantasy. Which would be fine if this was just another alien race and not an unashamed caricature of a genuinely pro-human political system.

(Incidentally, in my experience pub managers and owners resent raising prices because it simply drives customers away, which means they lose the atmosphere in their premises and lose business. Ironically, the ever-increasing costs on alcohol are imposed by government taxes, something that wouldn’t exist in a truly capitalist society.)

Corruption

The Ferengi give and take bribes like we shake hands. This is bad, naturally, because the affairs of two private consensual individuals are of course the concern of the rest of society. Oh wait…

A bribe is a bribe if it’s a way to circumvent honest trade. For example, if you’re a buyer you could be bribed to accept some poor quality stock that you normally wouldn’t, and which your company wouldn’t normally want – but you get a brown paper envelope and press the Confirm button anyway. This is a bribe. Similarly, you could be a politician with the power to use force against your own civilians, and be bribed by a business to grant them special privileges. This is a bribe. (By the way, whilst the former could of course still happen under capitalism, the latter could not. Remind me again why the Left doesn’t like it?)

But saying that any private settlement reached between two free individuals is a bribe is just ridiculous. By this reasoning, any bargaining or negotiation at all should be viewed as a bribe. Offering to give someone a bit more for something you want isn’t a bribe, it’s called trade! But presumably this is frowned upon by the Soviet Federation of Planets because all transactions are the concern of the State.

It’s either fraud, in which case it’s illegal (even and especially under capitalism) or it’s not fraud in which case it’s no one else’s business.

Obsession with profit

Everything the Ferengi say and do revolves around profit. Their version of the bible is “The Rules of Acquisition” and even their afterlife myths involve a latinum-plated vault where treasures await them. How many businessmen do you know whose every topic of conversation concerns money? How many of them actually dream about it? How many of them see it as an end in itself?

Like everything else with the propaganda of the Left, it makes no sense. Anti-capitalists think that just because capitalists want to be left free to pursue their own selfish values, which includes making money, that “making money” is therefore all they care about. I’ve seen scarecrows with less straw than this argument. It’s like saying that just because someone thinks drugs should be legalised, his ulterior motive is getting high on anything he can get his hands on. I happen to think all drugs should be legalised, but if they were I wouldn’t take them. So why assume that someone who wants property rights fully respected automatically wants to stand on the necks of the poor to make some extra cash? It’s because the Left frames every anti-capitalist argument as a matter of money, and not the principles that political systems should be based on. It is here that anti-capitalists reveal that they are the ones obsessed with profit. But whereas the Ferengi are obsessed with having more money, the Left is obsessed with making sure no one has too much of it!

Greed

This ties in with the above: that just because capitalists want to be left free, which includes having no limit or checks on the profit they can acquire, they are “greedy”, an adjective related to excessive consumption. The difference is: rational people eat until they are full, because there is a logical and practical reason to eat and cease eating when that biological urge has been satisfied. The difference with money is, there is no logical or practical point in life at which it becomes pointless to acquire more money (especially since wealth isn’t finite, it’s created). Ok, in theory you might have so much money that literally nothing is an obstacle for you – but if your productive effort reaps money then the only way to stop making it, short of refusing to get paid, is to sit on your hands and watch TV for the rest of your life, a position itself that is contrary to human flourishing. Also, the incredibly rich do seem to be quite generous with their money in real life, a fact borne out by billionaire philanthropists and mega-corporations who are the largest contributors to charity in the world.

In fact, if greed is the irrational pursuit of objectives, then why would we assume that a person who continues working with no end in sight to what he can achieve or acquire is being irrational? We don’t see the best sports stars earn enough to live comfortably and then retire, do we? And we don’t criticise the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Stephen Hendry and Lionel Messi for continuing to blow the opposition away even after achieving everything “reasonably” necessary in a career, do we? So why are businessmen with the same ruthless determination to win viewed as greedy? The best sports stars make  fortunes for themselves in exchange for a relatively limited return to their “customers”, the spectators. They smash the hopes and dreams of their rivals and seek to conquer everything and hope the other guy loses. Even assuming a businessman of equal ruthlessness, he at least brings a product to the world, not just a group of fans, and gives how many others a career and purpose along the way? And unlike a sportsman’s titles and records, the businessman’s practical achievements will live with humanity forever.

And yet, it is the charity worker which is held alongside the sportsman and businessman as the model of humanity.

Public welfare

Towards the end of the Ferengi story arc, which we see in the last season of Deep Space Nine, the leader of the Ferengi Alliance (though what he leads and how, in a system where government force is supposedly banned, is a mystery) has introduced taxation (pretty much a swear word to the Ferengi) and instituted various social reforms such as “free” healthcare and pensions. Ironically, a society where energy is free and unlimited and all matter can be “replicated” from thin air is probably the only one where socialism would actually work. But even then it wouldn’t, unless doctors and scientists could also be replicated…

Yes, the immoral Ferengi slowly begin to learn the true meaning of Christmas; that profit is a vice and the true calling of all sophisticated beings is of charity work to any potential number of other individuals they may never meet and might care nothing about.

But the funny thing is that despite the Ferengi being deliberately stacked as caricatures, they still manage to get things done! Throughout Trek, the Ferengi are never involved in any wars and their business interests are allowed to continue without interference from any aggressive power. They have an impressive military and aren’t slackers when it comes to exploration and invention. We are never shown the Ferengi homeworld in ruins, resource-deprived, impoverished or with people enslaved. In fact, in the words of Trek’s most famous Ferengi: “You’re overlooking something, Commander. Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war; we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.” And despite the Trek writers giving us the kind of alien history that we can only dream about, we’re still told “but if you want all this, you going to have to take corporatism and sexism too.” One can’t help but think that if ultra-capitalism produced a world without war, slavery and genocide, maybe it’s worth a few greedy businessmen.

I’m reminded of the Caldari society in Eve Online, which is supposedly a capitalist state taken to extremes; from Wikipedia: “the Caldari State is organised as a form of statist corporatocracy, where the State itself is owned by and operated on behalf of a few trust-like megaconglomerates.” Whilst I don’t deny that such a State could exist in theory, it isn’t capitalistic. Capitalism is the separation of corporation from State. The Caldari are contrasted with the Gallente, who “favour liberal economic policies, encourage individual entrepreneurship and social democracy, and maintain a progressive approach to social welfare”. The Gallente are very much like Trek’s Federation politically, but the problem is that these “virtues” are reeled off in one sentence as if they are mutually compatible or inevitable. They aren’t. Progressive social reforms are a hallmark of Leftist politics and are undeniably fascist in origin and nature. Individual entrepreneurship is antithetical to social welfare and liberal economics, since Liberalism in the modern sense means socialism, not capitalism. Again, we see strawmen in action: the best of all worlds is a semi-socialist “liberal” democracy and anything else must necessarily be an undesirable radical society which is either fully-despotic and totalitarian or ultra-capitalistic where the mega-corporations are in charge. How convenient. But I say again: this is all based on a simple misconception of capitalism. If capitalism is the society where nothing trumps individual Rights, then please tell me, how exactly could business own the State? How could despotism come about? How could anyone be forcibly included or excluded from any activity against their wish?

Why?

Because I’m so opinionated I can’t just leave it there and point out the flaws of anti-capitalism in just two popular works of fiction. The question is: why is capitalism painted this way? Leaving aside conspiracy theories of the Left (not because the Left is innocent but because not everyone who is sceptical of capitalism is always a Leftist), I’ll suggest this: it’s easy. If capitalism was understood properly it necessarily would exclude most of the nasty stuff that people don’t want to see in politics. The problem though is that it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions that people don’t want to answer, or simply can’t, like: what about education, roads, healthcare, tax? It’s easier to imagine that somehow our society just works with the balance of individual freedom and Statism, and pretend that the two are compatible or can even co-exist for a while, and anyone else must just have it wrong. And how much better does such a Liberal Progressive society look when contrasted to the strawmen alternatives?

The irony is that despite Roddenberry’s Marxist utopia, the United Federation of Planets was supposed to be the United States of America in space, a place where individual freedom was treasured and people of all races would work together, not because they are forced to, not because they are guilt-tripped into it, not because of positive discrimination or ethic-minority quotas, not because of political correctness, but simply because there is no rational reason for us to not cooperate if everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and because there is no profit in discrimination. It was the capitalism of early America that smashed slavery and feudalism and allowed men to flourish (and get rich), and those countries that followed the example (like Britain in Europe) also succeeded compared to other nations. It was the Progressives of the late 19th and 20th centuries that would re-introduce the anti-individualist God-state as the political ideal, whether as expressed fascists, communists and socialists, whether as brazen as Hitler’s Nazi party or as nicey-nice as Barak Obama’s neo-socialism. Rather than being cutting edge thought-provoking television, Star Trek is just another example of anti-capitalist nonsensical clichés. We can blame it on bad writing, but the reason for such an obvious strawman in the first place is sadly more pervasive.

Portugal next to require bailout, highlights simple truths

I was going to review the BBC’s explanation for the cause of the problem in Portugal and analyse it in technical terms, but I decided instead to point out a few “big picture” general truths that the economic crisis nicely highlights.

So, following Ireland and Greece, Portugal is the next euro-based economy to require a bailout. Despite reassurances from Spain’s finance minister that “’of course’ Portugal would be the last eurozone country that needed a debt bail-out”, I think we could be forgiven for taking anything any politician says these days with a mountain of salt. (I couldn’t help but notice the irony that one of the agencies that will be attempting to rescue Portugal is the International Monetary Fund. This is amusing, if you have an eye for acronyms and 60s TV.)

EU Commissioner Ollie Rehn says that there would have to be an “ambitious privatisation programme” to reduce debt. This raises the question of why, since everyone pretty much concedes that private production is the only source of real wealth, the private sector needs any more encouragement to produce and generate tangible assets? Of course, the answer is that the private sector doesn’t need any incentive to operate, it simply requires freedom. Freedom from regulation, restriction, and extortionate taxation. (I oppose taxation on principle, but I am not naive enough to think it can be repealed overnight or entirely in the current political climate.) It is government, with enough controls and rules and regulations to make an obsessive-compulsive look chilled out on cannabis, which stifles and hampers the real source of wealth: the private sector.

As the current global economic meltdown continues, I can’t help but reiterate one of Ayn Rand’s gems regarding wealth and finance which she phrased in the form of a question. I will paraphrase: ‘if the problem is that there isn’t enough money, why doesn’t the government just print more?’ Understanding why it simply doesn’t work this way is to understand what the problem is in the first place, and how we got to this stage. Money, (coins or paper), in a proper economy, represents produced but unconsumed goods. It can represent any goods, but those goods must exist. When you print paper money, without producing any actual goods to back it up, you devalue the existing currency and you devalue savings. This is the source of inflation.

Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, tax is aimed at private citizens and corporations, with the more productive carrying the heaviest tax-burden of all. (Liberals will recite the party line about “the rich should pay more” but there is no good argument for this, and there never has been. It is simply penalising the more productive and successful because they are productive and successful).  The money to pay tax is taken from the savings of citizens and the investment capital of corporations. In other words, when times get tough we all tighten our belts; we cut down on the eccentricities and make sure we have just enough to get by. Similarly, corporations make staff redundancies, shut down factories, and donate less capital to research, investment and innovation. So, the private market stagnates, or shrinks, which means fewer jobs, less production, and, as a direct corollary, less actual wealth. Actual wealth is the only thing that keeps an inflated economy above water. Notice the sick irony: in an attempt to solve a problem it created, government raises taxes and bleeds dry the very lifeblood needed to keep a country alive.

This is why the economies of the world are falling apart: mixed, planned, or in plain old terms socialist schemes are ruining the market, just as they have done throughout history. And yet, time and time, our intellectuals and politicians, despite paying lip-service to capitalism, even recognising that only the private sector can save us, refuse to give up their bloated powerful positions and public sector schemes. Socialism is so obviously impractical and destructive, but it is also the means by which politicians amass enormous wealth and power. That is why they will cling to the socialist ship even as it sinks around them.

One final thing I wanted to share is this article: when the government is forced to make public sector cuts, it starts with non-essential personal, which raises the question “if they are nonessential personnel, why are the taxpayers funding their employment to begin with?” It’s so wonderfully eloquent, and it’d be hilarious if pointing out the failed historic evils of Soviet Russia from our higher ground. It’s not so funny when the joke’s on us. At the moment, the “joke” is on Portugal. Spain might very well be next. But I really don’t believe the worst is over.

Violent idiots protest public spending cuts

I’ve only just managed to get around to commenting on the “protests” against public spending cuts acted out by vicious mindless thugs last weekend.

Although there were peaceful protestors present, the violent demonstrators’ method was to smash up private and public property, because as we all know, mindless violence has always accomplished political reform in the past. (Needless to say, the shop-owners whose property was destroyed felt very let down by the police, who were probably too busy parked up on a wide clear road in an industrial estate somewhere, clocking drivers doing 32 mph in a 30 zone.) The police should’ve come down on these thugs with the full weight of the law, ruthlessly and mercilessly. They should’ve given the shop owners their full support and sent a message that peaceful protest ends the moment force begins, and no amount of force will be tolerated at all.

But leaving aside the pitiful reaction of the police, and the idiocy of the violence, do these protestors really have a clue what they’re demonstrating about? For a start, smashing up someone’s property because you think they are somehow avoiding tax undercuts the whole point of a lawful country that (according to these protestors) needs tax to operate in the first place. (Of course, this is not true, but they believe it, which makes their actions contradictory). Secondly, protestors should be demanding lower taxes for everyone, not crying that some appear to be getting off lightly. Corporations carry the heaviest tax burden in any country, yet they are the only real source of wealth; they create, they innovate, they provide jobs, they keep a country running, but they are taxed and penalised and regulated the most. To top it off, anarchist thugs (who are just socialists in disguise) come along and destroy their property. Thirdly, cuts to the public sector are probably the best (and only good) thing this government has done so far. The public sector is a fat ugly poisonous tumour on society, and exists only to suck all the nourishment out of healthy productive people. The public sector only consumes wealth, it never creates it. Those public sector workers who have been put out of work by government cuts should go and get a proper job, and if they can’t find one, maybe then they’ll finally understand where real wealth comes from, and how taxing the hell out of corporations only results in them making cutbacks in their investment capital and staff. When capital and staff are cut back, there is less market growth (or stagnation), and fewer jobs (or redundancies), which increases the strain on the welfare state, (paid for by…you guessed it.)

I should state, by public sector, I don’t mean the following institutions that are necessary government services in any society: the courts, the police, the army. Everything else should go.

The really dumb thing about protesting the public sector cuts is: where do you think the money for public sector spending comes from?? Tax – you know, the thing which is bleeding this country dry. We have people demanding tax cuts on the one hand, and protesting spending cuts on the other… do they even stop and think? Of course not, because they assume that money and wealth will always be here, (provided by the capitalists they despise so much.)

Green energy loss and nuclear power gain – was our government right or wrong?

The headline reads “UK Loses out as Government drags feet over clean energy policy”. Here’s the story.  

Essentially, because Britain hasn’t got its Eco-act together, we won’t be selected by foreign investors. That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another: government policies force unnatural restriction and manipulation of the mainstream market, and bribe otherwise marginal and unprofitable markets into being artifically profitable ones.

China, Germany, Italy and India now lead the way in attracting finance because of national policies that support renewable energy and carbon reduction targets.” In other words, some governments “support”, i.e. give special favours and grants to small and impractical energy industries, money that comes from the taxpayer, money that wouldn’t be dished out if the government kept its nose out, money that isn’t provided to mainstream markets but instead is bled from such markets. (In essence, the current successful market leaders are paying to finance their competitors.)

Regarding “green” energy, Dr Doug Parr of Greenpeace reckons “it’s completely possible for more than 80% of Europe’s power to come from clean renewable sources.” This may or may not be true, but I highly doubt it. Where are all the private enterprises looking to take advantage of this fact? They would make an astronomical profit surely, (or perhaps they are handicapped by government policies and State monopolies on the provision of energy)? Does anything more really need to be said about the cost and efficiency of mainstream energy vs alternative? No one denies that “Green” energy is cleaner; what us anti-Green people say is that it isn’t practical, and real human beings and their livelihoods in the here and now shouldn’t pay the price for the Green brigade’s delusion that conventional energy is just a life-style choice.

The Sky story concludes “… the pressing question for the Government now is, how many clean technology jobs have been lost in the UK through its failure to attract investment into the industry?” My answer would be: probably not as many jobs in total as have been lost or are financially impossible now, given the government’s all-time-high tax on VAT, all-time-high tax on fuel, continued military campaigns in other countries that don’t serve our self-interest, ever increasing consumption of private and business capital, excessive fees and costs in business start up, an impractical and unworkable cannibalistic healthcare “service”, a bloated vampiric public sector, the severance of paper money to actually-produced goods resulting in inflation, bribing banks and building societies to issue senseless loans, encouraging a consequence-free credit society, milking profitable people and businesses, rewarding failed ones with the money of the former…etc etc?

An even better question is: except in matters of national security or discernible public risk, why don’t governments just let the market decide which avenues it will pursue, based on terms of pure practicality and profitability? If alternative energy sources are profitable and efficient, the good will out.

Incidentally, the Sky article calls for (yet more) government action in the name of “clean” energy, and bemoans the lost jobs and money as a result of its “failure”. What it didn’t focus too much on is that “the Government has given the go-ahead for eight new [nuclear] plants, which it says are needed to guarantee energy security in the future.” So, the government hasn’t pursued inefficient and impractical “clean” energy, has created thousands of new jobs in Britain, and has helped secure long-term energy requirements. I take it back; maybe our government can do something right after all! (By the way, note how the “lost” potential (and artificial) jobs are mourned in the article, but the actual real practical jobs created are glossed over. But then, for the Greenies, human livelihoods are a small price to pay to please Gaia.)

If we need to “wean ourselves off oil”, government should lead the way

Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary reckons: “getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East.” My response is simple: if it’s so important to stop our dependency on oil, YOU go first. Please show us how it’s done. And you can start by getting rid of the current tax on fuel.

Tax on fuel in the UK is the highest it has ever been. For every litre of petrol (unleaded average at present is 131.38p), 58.95p is tax. And 20% of the final price includes VAT (also a record high of 20%). There are those who vilify the oil companies when they see the exorbitant profits they are enjoying. Let’s think about this for a moment: the oil companies are the ones who scan the earth for oil (drilling locations are heavily restricted due to “green” regulations), construct oil platforms, drill for the oil, refine it, ship it around the world, and deliver it to your local petrol station overnight, and require all the overheads of any business, versus: a government of powerful vote-whoring politicians who are practically answerable to no-one, with a track record of breaking promises, lying to your face, taxing you at every single possible opportunity, more than doubling the price of petrol itself, and invading your privacy. If we are going to point fingers, let’s be honest over who the real villains are.

Another obvious (and pretty silly) myth being perpetuated here is that oil is an addiction we can just get over. No, we can’t. And we shouldn’t. The quality of life we enjoy in the West is dependent on our demand for power. This isn’t something to be guilty about, but proud. It’s what separates us from savages in other parts of this world. There is no viable efficient practical alternative to oil as a power source at this moment in time. If and when the circumstances necessitate a shift, you can be sure that private companies (the ones who meet our demands now) will find the answer. That is how it always works. That is the only way it can work. (Even if somehow it doesn’t work out, the government does not hold the keys to a golden room where all our necessities are stored for emergencies. The power to tax is not the power to create.)

Incidentally, having a job title with the words “energy and climate change” seems like a contradiction to me. It’s like being a pro-Semitic Nazi or an anti-abortion individualist. The cult of climate change is fundamentally opposed to human well-being and industry. All this meddling in the economy simply wastes taxpayers’ money by pushing impractical “green” alternatives that can’t meet our demands. Why don’t these politicians realise that you can’t force a shift in the market, and if you do, the laws of economics will only come back to bite you? You can say we need to get away from oil all you want. For that matter, you can say we need to get away from our reliance on oxygen – but wishes aren’t horses. (Interestingly, other governments in the past like Soviet Russia and North Korean have had a desire to “wean” their citizens off another commodity they were heavily reliant on: food. It sort of worked; they ended up running out of food anyway, but had several million less mouths to feed.)

The current fuel costs are crippling businesses and draining investment capital – the very thing that would be used to fund any change in the energy industry in the future. This is the unconscionable irony for governments and ecologists alike: if you care about the future, leave private companies free to exploit the present.

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