Thursday, March 22, 2007

In ideology, size matters

Russell Roberts notes a curious similarity between Sen. Gore and Mao. Quoting from James Taranto's summary:

Mao More Than Ever
Blogger Russell Roberts has a fascinating juxtaposition, starting with the following, from an Associated Press report on Al Gore's congressional testimony:

Gore advised lawmakers to cut carbon dioxide and other warming gases 90 percent by 2050 to avoid a crisis. Doing that, he said, will require a ban on any new coal-burning power plants--a major source of industrial carbon dioxide--that lack state-of-the-art controls to capture the gases.

He said he foresees a revolution in small-scale electricity producers for replacing coal, likening the development to what the Internet has done for the exchange of information.

Sound familiar? Probably not, but check out this Wikipedia description of Red China's "Great Leap Forward":

In the August 1958 Politburo meetings, it was decided that steel production would be set to double within the year, most of the increase coming through backyard steel furnaces. Mao was shown an example of a backyard furnace in Hefei, Anhui in September 1958 by provincial first secretary Zeng Xisheng. The unit was claimed to be manufacturing high quality steel (though in fact the finished steel had probably been manufactured elsewhere). Mao encouraged the establishment of small backyard steel furnaces in every commune and in each urban neighbourhood. . . .

Huge efforts on the part of peasants and other workers were made to produce steel out of scrap metal. To fuel the furnaces the local environment was denuded of trees and wood taken from the doors and furniture of peasants' houses. Pots, pans, and other metal artifacts were requisitioned to supply the "scrap" for the furnaces so that the wildly optimistic production targets could be met. Many of the male agricultural workers were diverted from the harvest to help the iron production as were the workers at many factories, schools and even hospitals. As could have been predicted by anyone with any experience of steel production or basic knowledge of metallurgy, the output consisted of low quality lumps of pig iron which was of negligible economic worth.

As Roberts notes, "Giving up the economies of scale we currently use for energy production is going to be very expensive."

In a free enterprise solution, small-scale power producers would be allowed to compete with large-scale producers, with both subject to similar environmental rules, and the consumer decides who wins. In liberalism, either the Gore or Mao variety, the winner is to be decided instead by ideology.

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