On a cold winter’s day I visited a fashion conscious teacher. It was hot in her apartment. Yet she refused to lower the heat of the radiators because the tile floor in the hall still felt cold. She was in the habit of walking through the apartment barefoot in a bathrobe after her evening shower. Shortly before she had expressed to me her worries about the increase of CO2-emissions and about evil George Bush junior for not ratifying the Kyoto-protocol..
Hard working Yuppies have no time to think. Whenever they get a few days off, their suitcases are packed to go on a trip, preferably by air. Their vacations are as hectic as their jobs. So even then there is no opportunity to reflect on their lifestyle. This is a vicious circle: pressed by the mass media and the advertisement industry the young professionals do not get the chance to question their cultural image of normality. They just mimic the Hollywood lifestyle.
They forget that in the Mediterranean climate of Hollywood the airy villas with two-storey living rooms are well integrated in the environment. In cold, wet countries such as Flanders in Northern Europe this is much less the case. It is a natural law that hot air rises. In the hip duplex lofts the sleeping corner gets unpleasantly hot before the sitting room gets warm. The energy consumption of Belgian families to heat and to cool their homes has never been higher. Despite rising ecological ‘awareness’ the energy consumption of families has never been higher. The ‘modern’ family wants its home to be tropically hot during winter and super cool – thanks to energy guzzling air-conditioning – during summer.
Never before did families torch so much non-renewable combustibles. Not only the frantic heating and cooling of houses, but also the travelling frenzy and the blockbuster sales of ‘Sports Utility Vehicles’ (read: Silly Ugly Vehicles) has caused family spending on energy to explode.
The green parties are opposed to raising taxes on fuel consumption
Politicians do not have the courage to tackle the squanderers. Rather than simply taxing energy consumption they create a new bureaucracy with thousands of inspectors and specialists to promote ‘ecological’ technology. The former presidential candidate Al Gore is so popular, not because he has a true ecological message, but because he so eloquently defends more bureaucracy. Countless incompetent rich kids with masters degrees revel in the prospect of getting cool jobs in organisation and planning. They pretend that the average family or company will lower its energy consumption because the government wants them to do so. The households will pretend to be energy efficient by installing loads of insulating materials while carrying on heating the staircase and walking around the fashionable ‘open’ layout of their house in short sleeves during winter.
The most obvious and simple ecological taxes are the already existing taxes on fossil fuels. The administrative cost of a drastic augmentation of these taxes is nil. In Belgium the price of heating fuel can easily be doubled. This would even be an administrative rationalisation since it would abolish the fiscal discrimination between heating oil and diesel oil (the difference between both fuels is purely a fiscal colour pigment). There would be no need anymore for fiscal agents to inspect the politically correct colour of the fuel in the fuel tank of your car.
The ‘green’ parties were the first political advocates of ecotaxes. Today they are against them. Apparently they are afraid state power will suffer from simple and efficient ecotaxes. Their official reasons are the oldest knockdown arguments against any kind of market mechanism. ‘Ecotaxes can be very antisocial. Some people will not be able to pay for more expensive fuels…’ This is what the Belgian politician Els Keytsman from the Green Party told the weekly magazine Knack shortly before the publication last month of her book on the energy policy project of her party. In this book she concedes that her Kyoto plan would cost Belgian taxpayers 3 billion euros (4 billion dollars) annually.
A politically correct intellectual will not dare to suggest that perhaps poor people too should economize on energy. The self-proclaimed ecologists prefer an interminable bureaucracy of emission quota and subsidies for ‘green’ technologies rather than to speak about the causes of rising poverty. Indeed many pensioners cannot pay the rising fuel bill. In Belgium both the legal pensions and the privately organised pension plans have progressively been eroded by the very inflation which must finance the spendthrift public sector. The Green Party wants still more government.
Keytsman: ‘The market does not work because people are not economical creatures’. Of course not. The people do not act on economic logic because they are continuously patronised by the state. In the same interview: ‘The free market is bad because the consumer is badly informed and irrational.’ Oh yeah, that is why the free market should be replaced by the super informed, super rational public authorities. The well-fed, perfectly healthy young intellectuals from the Green Party will patronize and tax the exhausted productive slaves some more.
Contrary to what Keytsman says, the homo oeconomicus is not a caricature invented by economists, but an existentialist explanation of the human condition. Man is the unhappy animal that worries all the time and therefore always tries to improve his conditions and save his children. Only an economy of growth – a horreur for the Greens – is capable of releasing the resources needed to cope with new kinds of problems, such as some environmental problems. Human beings do want to return to the animal state of carelessness from time to time, which is why narcotics and brainless entertainment are so successful, but it is the free market that awakens us from our doze and that rewards economically rational acts. The free market stimulates the homo oeconomicus in each of us; the Green Party presupposes the civil servant, and only he, somehow to be nothing but the perfect homo oeconomicus.
Belgium has to cope with high unemployment rates and rising stress in the working place. This structural mismatch on the labour market could be taken away when higher ecotaxes replace income tax. Belgium has one of the largest number of tax collectors per capita in the world. Still the tax collecting system faces collapse because of the myriad of taxes and tax-breaks.
Abolishing income tax causes the unemployment trap to disappear and slashes the fiscal bureaucracy. The remaining net loss for public finance can be compensated by raising the already existing taxes on fossil fuels and introducing a proportionally equal ecotax on kerosene. If some youngsters complain that they can no longer pay the aeroplane for a party weekend on Ibiza, ignore them. If some pensioners complain that they can no longer pay their heating bill, raise their allowance, and let them choose either to burn their money or economize on energy and do more interesting things with their money.
The Energy Performance of Buildings regulation and the Kyoto treaty are the most grotesque caricatures of what Karl Marx 165 years ago called ‘bourgeois idealism’. Look for the causes of problems not in the economic reality, but in the bad ideas of evil or dumb people. According to Marx, it was their idealism that made the utopian socialists the most dangerous traitors of the exploited class.
Today more than ever the idealists are call for
more bureaucracy and conceal that this will inevitably be financed by
the already hard pressed and shrinking productive part of the
population. Excessive energy consumption is caused by the low price of
energy, not by the lack of expertise about the energy efficiency of
buildings. We do not need EPB measurements to curb our energy
consumption, we already get our bills from our energy suppliers. In an
enormous arch the fashionable intellectuals and ex-presidential
candidates dance around the problem in order to get more bureaucracy
rather than lower energy consumption.
This essay was first published in The Brussels Journal
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