Complete cretinism from the European Union

Banning cars and flights:

The European Commission on Monday unveiled a \”single European transport area\” aimed at enforcing \”a profound shift in transport patterns for passengers\” by 2050.

\”That means no more conventionally fuelled cars in our city centres,\” he said. \”Action will follow, legislation, real action to change behaviour.\”

The plan also envisages an end to cheap holiday flights from Britain to southern Europe with a target that over 50 per cent of all journeys above 186 miles should be by rail.

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commission, insisted that Brussels directives and new taxation of fuel would be used to force people out of their cars and onto \”alternative\” means of transport.

Top of the EU\’s list to cut climate change emissions is a target of \”zero\” for the number of petrol and diesel-driven cars and lorries in the EU\’s future cities.

No, that isn\’t what you do.

Start from the point that climate change is happening, that it\’s a problem and we\’ve got to do something about it.

Those of you who don\’t accept that, well, sorry: but the point is that even if you do banning certain technologies isn\’t the way to take action.

So, we need to limit emissions. Great, super. In fact, we\’re told that we need to reduce emissions by 80%.

*Shrug*, OK.

That means that we will still be allowed, in 2050, to have 20% of the emissions that we currently make.

So which emissions should we still be making and which will we have consigned to the dustbin of history?

Well, if we\’re to be sensible about it, we will still be making those emissions which we value the most and not making those emissions which we value less. Which leads us on to, how do we determine which are the more valuable emissions and which the less valuable?

Which is where we meet one of the great misunderstandings of economics. There are still those who insist that there is some true value, some knowable and absolute measure. Sometimes this is the Labour Theory of Value that all too many get hung up upon. You know, the drooling Marxists and the rest. But there\’s many more who offer up other, similarly wrong, ideas. The various prodnoses who insist that booze or fags have no value. Or that, in various Green circles, travel or mobility has no value. Or even meat at times…..those who calculate how we could all live off granola instead of juicy little lambs for example.

What they are all missing is one of the central points of neo-classical economics (yes, it turned up earlier as well but it was neo-classical economics that really encoded it…..and yes, we do nearly all acept that the neo-classicals were, at root, correct on this and several other matters).

Value is subjective. It is in the eye of the beholder. The consumer.

Value is not what some campaigner thinks we should value, not what some bureaucrat will change the law to make us value: it is what we actually do value.

So, we face having to create a restriction on the emissions that can be made. But we also want those emissions that can be made, that scarce resource, to provide the greatest value, the greatest human utility, that we can. And that value, that utility, is not decided by pallid pencil dicks in Brussels, but by us, the people, individually.

Which means that we do not want to go and ban certain technologies at the say so of said pallid pencil dicks. We want to have a free market in our scarce resource. There will be those who value being able to fly to Southern Europe more than they value the pain and grief of insulating their house so that it is a zero emissions one. There will be those who value a juicy steak more than a flight. Those who would take a Model T for a run more than they would other options.

We can go further. A ban on a particular technology is an admission from those doing the banning that some would indeed choose that technology. No point in banning it if no one would use it, is there? Thus the ban is exactly an admission that they would make us all poorer in order to advance their plans.

At which point, of course, we should tell the banners to fuck off.

Cajoling people is just fine, exhorting them, providing them with options, developing new technologies, all just completely dandy. But bans on cars, or flights, booze, fags, meat, mobility, trade: garn\’ matey, sling yer \’ook.

18 thoughts on “Complete cretinism from the European Union”

  1. Relax Tim

    There are two options
    1) They do it ….. Everyone will want to leave the EU, even Guardian readers
    2) They don’t

  2. It’s a tangential point, but the labour theory of value is not distinctively Marxist. Smith’s Wealth of Nations devotes more space to it than it does to the invisible hand. And all of Marx’s important ideas (whether right or wrong) can be considered independently of the theory.
    That said, I agree: as a rule of thumb, anyone who talks about “value” in economics is a prat.

    Tim adds: ” Smith’s Wealth of Nations devotes more space to it than it does to the invisible hand.”

    Well, yes, given that the phrase appears in the book once (with reference to domestic rather thanforeign investment) this would seem reasonable.

    On the larger point, yes, I know that LVT is not distinctly Marxist, in that others have had very similar ideas. But it does appear to me to be the underpinning of the entire Marxist thing. The rest of it only makes sense (to the extent that it does) if LVT is true.

  3. “Value is not what some campaigner thinks we should value, not what some bureaucrat will change the law to make us value: it is what we actually do value.”

    But this is what infuriates the Authoritarians. They know best and demand that their will be done.


    * Adam Ant, once sectioned, seems to have pushed that term back into use.

  4. You give them too much credit if you think they are making an economic or environmental argument.
    They are:
    a) grabbing more money (taxes)
    b) exercising power for its own sake
    c) punishing nice sunny countries (club Med)
    d) all of the above.

  5. you can be sure that the grand poo bahs would not have to travel by public transport themselves. “Security” you know, dear boy.

  6. So which emissions should we still be making and which will we have consigned to the dustbin of history?

    As a former resident of Russia I am sure you are familiar with the concept of ZIL lanes.

    It is planned that by 2050 the citizens of the great and glorious People’s Republic of Europe will be allowed to stand on the pavements and watch their masters glide past in splendid isolated majesty in their hand crafted Mercedes limosines. The petrol, for which they will pay for with nearly half the national income.

  7. 186 miles? What’s the betting this is a distance agreed upon because it has some significance to Eurocrats. A bit like a company I worked for which allowed business class travel only on flights over 9 and a half hours, that duration being the maximum flight between any two of their offices.

  8. Sorry, this is clueless on two counts.

    “That means that we will still be allowed, in 2050, to have 20% of the emissions that we currently make. So which emissions should we still be making and which will we have consigned to the dustbin of history?” misses the point entirely. The 20% is not allocated per nation; it is 20% globally. In practice, if we manage to get somewhere sane, the 20% will be taken up by emissions from countries which currently emit essentially nothing. The wealthy countries need to go to zero, or below.

    To your core argument, at some point it is necessary to note that road systems are supported by the general public, and so using a car is not a free choice, it is a free ride, so to speak, at the expense of those who choose not to use the road systems. If road traffic is to go down 80% or 95% or 98%, the body politic must decide if the current public expenditures are justified for only 20% or 5% or 2% of the traffic. At some point, the answer becomes no.

    If the expense of a vehicle were not accompanied by the expense of a road, your argument would hold water, but it is, so it doesn’t.

  9. @Michael Tobis,

    The expense of a vehicle is indeed accompanied by the expense of a road, at least in those countries (most in Europe) where the taxation on motoring alone exceeds public expenditure on all forms of transport put together.

    On the wider point, one wonders if this is not the old New labour trick of proposing six unpalatable things before breakfast then U~turning on 5 of them by lunchtime, leaving everyone so relieved they fail to notice the one thing they did slip through.

    The clue to me is in the “city centres”. This could mean anything between the inner core of Europe’s 10 biggest metropoli or any designated built up area. Let’s bet it will be defended on the basis of the former. That won’t affect too many people, and we know that one of the failings of democracy is you can’t get people to turn out and oppose things that don’t affect them directly. The “liberal” bit at the beginning is missing for most people, hence most people are quite indifferent to their fellow citizens being inconvenienced by idiotic law. So you can pass a thousand laws, ten of which inconvenience you, but because none of them inconvenience more than 1% of the population, no one protests.

  10. James, it is quite irrelevant to my argument whether the fixed costs of roads are currently covered by proportional costs imposed on drivers.

    (As for getting cars out of the inner cores of the great cities of Europe, even as a North American who can rarely afford to get over there, I feel that I would benefit directly from the preservation of my heritage and of the roots of civilization. But that’s hardly an environmental economics question, just one of historical preservation and of a balance between individual and collective wealth. It’s not obvious to me where the utilitarian balance lies. Admittedly, as it is, alas, unlikely that much of Austin, Texas will be affected on that basis, I am not among those who would be inconvenienced.)

    The environmental question is not about ancient cores of great cities. It is whether there is sufficient net utility to personal vehicles at all (except in the most rural settings) to justify the collective expenditure. As cumulative environmental issues and resource depletion become increasingly weighty, a threshhold will eventually be crossed.

    That being the case, the questions boil down to when the shift should happen, and how far in advance to start planning for it.

    James’ implied suggestion that it is possible to maintain a modern civilization indefinitely without ever inconveniencing anybody as a matter of principle is remarkable. I wonder how one might defend it. Certainly the automotive infrastructure he wishes to maintain did not come into existence under such constraints!

    Again, it’s not the collective vs the individual at stake here. It’s the comfort of past collective decisions versus the better adaptation of new ones. The idea that roads and vehicular infrastructure exist entirely as a result of an unfettered marketplace, one which never used collective decisions to inconvenience any individual private interest, is an obvious fiction.

  11. As several people have pointed out in the comments on the original Telegraph article, out of the congeries of fatuity that makes up this proposal, quite the most hallucinatory piece of stupidity is that some dingbat in Brussels thinks he can dictate economic conditions and technology 40 years hence.

  12. @Michael Tobis,

    Sorry, I didn’t see an argument. But having had a look at your link, I don’t see the point in arguing with you. But using a car is not a free ride if the money taken off the driver is used to provide not only the road but pavements, lighting, litter bins, road signs and so on. A road network is consequent on the existence of settlements, indeed to the extent that when housebuilders build new estates they tend to build the roads to the houses too. It helps them sell them, even if they then donate said roads to the public.

    I think a lot of this cretinism has to do with the fact we now have to have 27 commissioners as opposed to 12, because every country needs a say on the commission. So we have portfolios of at best tangential relevance to the things the EU was set up to do. Perhaps some of those things should be posted on the office wall of each commisioner, so someone thinking about imposing regional distinctions on what vehicle can go where and when has to ask himself if such restrictions are compatible with ensuring the freer movement of goods and people, two of the things we bother with an EU for.

    In this sense Michael’s heritage point might be relevant, but it is surely a decision for the residents of each city to make, whether their environment could be improved by making parts of their centres car-free. There would be an almost overwhelming case for closing certain roads I can think of in Milan, for example. But there is no way this kind of decision can be sensibly made on an EU level.

  13. If car traffic decreases by an order of magnitude, the cost per mile traveled will increase by an order of magnitude. If only very few people are willing to pay that, traffic will decrease still further. It’s an unstable cascade. And the land already used in the public interest will at some point accrue higher uses, including alternative transportation and shipping technologies among them.

    As for “predicting” the economy forty years hence, that is another example of the learned helplessness of the libertarian ideologies. We do not predict such things very well but we can control them.

    In 1850, many would have predicted a large number of slaves in the United States in 1870. But in 1865 an ethical decision was made that the correct number of slaves would be zero. Economic arguments became moot. The population made an ethical decision and it trumped all the “predictions” that might be made.

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