Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared through the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
As spring bloomed, the president addressed the nation on energy. The president told us, “Without our planning for the future, it will get worse … The oil and natural gas that we rely on for 75 percent of our energy is simply running out.”
Unless profound changes are made in the next decade, the president warned, the world will demand more oil than it can produce. He called for “strict conservation” and switching to “permanent renewable energy sources like solar power.” Because such sources promise future energy independence—or at least according to the president—his administration would spend billions of taxpayer dollars on wind, solar, and biodiesel, plus offer massive “clean energy” subsidies.
No, the president is not Barack Obama, and the speech was not delivered in 2012. It was President Jimmy Carter, speaking on April 18, 1977.
Since that time, American oil and natural gas production has skyrocketed. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that natural gas consumption has doubled since 1980, production is at an all-time high, imports are at a 20-year low and heating expenses are the lowest in a decade>. Meanwhile, the latest recession barely affected North Dakota, a state rich in oil and natural gas.
President Carter’s speech sounds familiar because it is based on the same flawed assumptions that underlie many current politicians’ belief that wise and enlightened central planners in Washington can manage the countless and infinitely complex transactions and calculations that comprise a $14-trillion-dollar national economy.
These politicians hold on to these flawed beliefs despite being regularly embarrassed by them. For example, a recent Capitol Confidential article and video showed President Obama and two senators from Michigan praising a heavily subsidized “green energy” battery manufacturer that is now under severe financial stress and has had its federal money pulled. Another Capitol Confidential piece reported a litany of similar embarrassments on a YouTube channel created by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Economist F.A. Harper once wrote, “If the planner could plan discovery for others, he probably would have made that discovery himself in the first place. If he is more able in this respect than the others, he is wasting his time not to do it himself; if he is less able, he can hardly plan it for others who are more able than he is.”
It’s much easier for politicians to make plans with other peoples’ money. It would show real leadership for government to actually do less.