7.31.2008

GREEN GOVERNMENT

I've been thinking a lot lately about our nation's need to transition to a more environmentally sustainable way of doing commerce. As generally free market as I am, I understand the role of government to facilitate that free market at times. This is particularly true for fundamental shifts in the economy, to the extent that government represents the people, and the people simultaneously value economic competitiveness and economic equity. In other words, if done right, government, representing the interests of the people, can facilitate a new economic structure that is more globally advanced and that is sensitive to those that may otherwise have trouble making that transition.

Take, for example, the other two economic shifts in our nation's history. When we went from agricultural to industrial, one of government's roles was to make sure workers got their fair share; hence, child labor laws and safety regulations. When we went from industrial to technological, there was a big push to "bridge the digital divide," so that those with less resources had more access than they otherwise would've had absent public intervention. And in both transitions, government's interest was not only to help "the least among us," but also to help prepare the nation to best compete in the new economic way.

And so as we are faced with the need to adjust our economy to higher-priced and scarcer natural resources, government should seek to intervene as appropriate to ensure national competitiveness and to provide additional support to those who would otherwise have trouble making the transition. A carbon tax, phased in over time, would help us allocate resources more economically and environmentally efficient. Government is still the major funder of basic research, which can provide the foundation for a promising generation of environmentally-based innovations. And workforce development initiatives can help move fleets of workers out of older economy jobs and into newer economy jobs.

Ultimately, our transition to an economy that doesn't have cheap oil baked into everything we do will be driven by our number one resource: human ingenuity. The coming decades will see explosive innovation in energy conservation, food production, and other fields that enable us to enjoy higher and higher standards of living. Let's hope government knows how to push without being too pushy, and that we the people help inform our elected officials as to how much and where to push.
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