Concepts like “efficiency” often get a bad rap as Scrooge-like obsessions when people’s lives and happiness are at stake. But in fact efficiency just means getting the most good stuff we can from the available resources, from necessities like food and shelter to entertainment and hobbies without which life is sadly incomplete. So it’s a good, important and above all humane thing. For proof of which look no further than a recent Reuters story that “Britain faces ‘humanitarian crisis’ as energy costs soar, says health lobby”. And do not tell us the one again about how it doesn’t matter that alternative energy isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels, because we’re talking about human well-being here.
The Reuters story is both instructive and heart-rending. Or to be coldly precise, it is instructive because it is heart-rending. “Britain faces a “humanitarian crisis” this winter when the difficult choices forced upon low-income households by soaring energy bills could cause serious physical and mental illness, a healthcare lobby group said on Friday.” It also manages to be partisan, snide and economically illiterate, saying “Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted calls to provide more support to households struggling with higher bills, insisting his government will leave major fiscal decisions to the next prime minister who takes office in early September.”
We do not think Johnson has the moral authority to choose what cabinet should have for lunch at this point, let alone undertake a major policy initiative. But more to the point, a government that fouled up energy markets by ignoring efficiency cannot make things better by handing out ever-more-extensive claims to wealth that is being produced in ever-smaller amounts.
In any case the government is in fact, and predictably, distributing money hand-over-wallet in this area already. “A spokesperson at Britain’s health department said the government was already helping households through a 37-billion-pound ($44 billion) cost-of-living support package announced in May and was also working to increase NHS capacity” so free money without limit… but nothing for it to buy. As Reuters noted:
“Britain’s average annual household energy bills – covering both gas and electricity – look set to double again to more than 4,000 pounds ($4,766) by January, exacerbating inflation which already topped 10% in July.”
Going out on a limb here, what is needed is to deregulate energy markets, stop subsidizing things that don’t work and repeal Britain’s fracking ban.
The Reuters story gets back on track to some degree by quoting Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the healthcare organization umbrella outfit NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, that “Many people could face the awful choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in cold, damp and very unpleasant conditions”. See, without affordable reliable energy one of the world’s most advanced economies, in the 21st century, a period of prosperity that dwarfs anything in human history, will be unable to afford food, shelter and proper clothing. Or other essentials: As Reuters added, paraphrasing Taylor, “The situation could cause outbreaks of respiratory conditions, mental illness, worsen children’s life chances and add to pressure on the already stretched state-run National Health Service (NHS)”.
Still, it is very hard to get people to change their minds. Even when they believe things that are not just inherently implausible but currently going very badly wrong in obvious ways. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s human nature.