It’s remarkable how many people involved in public policy discussions generally, and definitely including climate, seem unsure of the answer to Thomas Sowell’s book title question “Is Reality Optional?” For instance Canary Media, who we were just nice to the other week, now publishes a guest essay saying “A new bill could speed up American electrification by 20 years”. Whaaaaa? It’s not even obvious what “speed up electrification by 20 years” is meant to mean. Perhaps that the entire economy could be electrified two decades earlier than would otherwise happen, if you knew what would otherwise happen and it could be entirely electrified which it can’t. But given the hash the authors make of economics, we shouldn’t get sidetracked too far into the fact that the headline they may not have written appears, albeit suitably, to be gibberish.
The piece in question starts with the usual assumption by pundits trying to make real economics go away that ordinary people are dolts in need of guidance from their wise, if oddly unworldly, betters.
“Each day, Americans install more than 18,000 new central air-conditioner units outside their homes. Every time this happens, families are missing an opportunity to lower their bills, increase their comfort and even help save lives.”
The chumps. And what are they overlooking?
“A key provision in the recently introduced HEATR Act encourages manufacturers to convert their whole supply of traditional central ACs — which can only cool — into devices that both heat homes and cool them: heat pumps…. Two-way heat pumps have a few important advantages over both one-way air conditioners and traditional heat sources. They tend to be two to four times more efficient than competing devices, which means they result in comparable or lower energy bills for most families.”
Oh really? And yet home owners, home builders, home renovators and other people with sweaty skin in the game failed to notice what a bunch of liberal senators (Democrats Klobuchar, Smith, Hickenlooper, Whitehouse, Leahy, Merkley and Booker) can see from their air-conditioned offices on Capitol Hill?
Yup. “Nearly 4 million heat pumps were sold in the U.S. last year. However, 6 million central AC units were sold in the same period. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that based on current trends, sales of central ACs will still outnumber heat pumps in 2050. This market inertia comes with real costs.” Inertia. And we all know the U.S. economy is distinguished by inertia. Which is why we still use rotary phones, the Sears mail-order catalogue and 8 track players.
Not to worry. Projectors and politicians to the rescue: “it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of it taking decades, we could replace every one-way central AC for sale in the U.S. with a two-way heat pump in only a couple of years. And we can do it at minimal cost to taxpayers and companies – with big benefits for both consumers and the environment.”
Riiiiiight. At the risk of spoiling the mood, we want to throw some light on this kind of reasoning with a new study suggesting that the U.S. government’s blundering into the light bulb market actually delayed the adoption of LEDs by forcing people to rush into less efficient substitutes, especially those ghastly poisonous compact fluorescents which were of course heavily subsidized even though the instructions said if you broke one to get your kids and pets out of the home pronto. Just one example of the ways in which governments, by trying to dictate methods to their dumbo citizens instead of setting policy parameters and letting citizens and markets find the best way, have not just harmed prosperity but undermined their own goals over the years.