A great and generally respected economist, the late Herb Stein, once launched a law that even though it’s logically unassailable, is usually denied and resisted hard and long. It runs very simply: “If something can’t go on, then it won’t go on.” Many governments have driven their policies into the buffers in a doomed attempt to prove Stein wrong. One frequent attempt to do so is trying to combine an over-valued exchange rate with an inflationary domestic budget. You can have the former provided it’s accompanied by a tight fiscal and monetary stance, or the latter with an ever-declining exchange rate, but not both at the same time.
Ask any Argentinean. My memory suggests that Argentina has tried this experiment more frequently than any other country. (I would be happy, in the interests of science, to be corrected and given the names of more persistent offenders, but I’m fairly confident.) Being dimly aware of this record, governments which make comparable efforts to (finally) defeat Stein’s dictum search desperately for ways in which they can tie hands so that they will be unable to turn back from the path of folly. There are two methods they generally employ in this quest:
Singing the Paris Climate Accords: do it for the children, John.
The first is that a government, instead of simply adopting a policy to combine incompatible aims eternally — which it might lightheartedly abandon the following day — instead enshrines that policy in “legally binding” semi-constitutional legislation which forbids it from deviating into sense when disaster threatens.
The second is that several governments band together in a treaty to keep each other dishonest. If one loses courage, they reason, the rest will call the miscreant to order, talk nonsense into him, and in especially recidivist cases, impose taxes, tariffs, and other economic disincentives on him to ensure that he maintains his pact with illogic and unreason.
All of which sounds extraordinarily unlikely. Has it ever happened?
Well, have you ever heard of net-zero? That’s the policy designed to cut the West’s worldwide usage of fossil fuels to net-zero by 2050 (and thus, it is claimed, hold carbon emissions down to a 1.5 percent increase above pre-industrial levels) while sustaining their citizens’ freedom and prosperity on a miraculously rising tide of Green Growth.
It can’t happen, of course, because fossil fuels still provide about 80 percent of energy usage in almost every Western country and the future technologies that would enable a painless transition to a net-zero future still have to be invented, let alone introduced or tested. Which is why governments of all these countries have built both methods of compelling themselves to stay on the net-zero path as it hurtles downwards towards stagnation, poverty, and metastasizing state control.
What can't go on, won't.
Take Britain as an example. It passed the Climate Change Act that not only made net-zero policies legally binding but even established a Climate Change Committee, packed with zealots for a Puritan Green future, that would report to Parliament on whether the government was fulfilling its obligations to the Apocalypse. At the same time, to safeguard itself from any second thoughts about the direction of policy, HMG also joined other countries in the Paris Accords and similar anterooms to the Suicide Club on the assumption that they would then be bullied back into the International Stupidity Consensus.
And why was the U.K. government leaving this "Consensus"? Exactly what temptation was it protecting Britain from? The unfashionable answer is that until now it has been vainly trying to avoid the reality of democracy. Now, however, when an election is looming distantly into view, the unavoidable political reality that the voters don’t like the costs of net-zero which are becoming more obvious and more painful with every passing day.
Thus, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is letting it be known that he intends to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol-driven cars from 2030 to 2035, water down the ban on gas heaters from 2030, and in general adopt a general attitude that the U.K. economy cannot be sacrificed to unrealistic Green targets of energy reduction. But won’t the U.K. face an international blowback from other countries under the treaties all agreed? My advice is: rule nothing out. Addiction to economic self-contradiction is a powerful force in the United Nations and the world’s establishments.
Keep telling yourself that, Rishi.
For the moment, however, the French under centrist President Emmanuel Macron, Germany under a coalition of Greens, Socialists, and Liberals, and Holland facing an election and a rebellious electorate, are all talking about exemptions, delays, and second thoughts on net-zero. Their industries are hobbled by it; their companies are squealing about it; and their voters are frightened by it.
It’s quite hard to mount a posse against “carbon backsliding” when almost all its potential members are looking at the rising costs of hay for the horses and hemp for the rope. Not only are they unlikely to hold Sunak to account, but they might even follow him.
He may face a more difficult situation at home. Tory and Labour governments alike have cooperated in creating a legal and political atmosphere that blends climate hysteria with legal penalties for government failure. Even if he gets the support of most voters for a more achievable and less onerous climate policy, he will still face passionate opposition from radical environmentalists with no respect for democracy and judges armed with powers to overturn government actions that violate the “legally binding” Climate Change Act. In order to win, he will need to challenge the entire orthodoxy of climate extremism in the U.K. establishment, his own party, and the electorate.
It's a big battle that he may lose either in Parliament or, later, in the election. But he will certainly lose that battle if he doesn't fight it wholeheartedly on principles rather than halfheartedly on details. Then, whatever happens, he can cherish one comforting thought: the left progressives, the Labour, Liberal, and Green Parties, the radical Green demonstrators, and the imperialist judges will then inherit the incompatibility of net-zero with national democracy and prosperity.
Or as P.G. Wodehouse might put it: "Unseen in the background Stein’s Law is quietly putting lead into the boxing glove."