When it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions, Energy Secretary Steven Chu sees Americans as unruly teenagers and the Administration as the parent that will have to teach them a few lessons.
Speaking on the sidelines of a smart grid conference in Washington, Dr. Chu said he didn’t think average folks had the know-how or will to change their behavior enough to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
“The American public…just like your teenage kids, aren’t acting in a way that they should act,” Dr. Chu said. “The American public has to really understand in their core how important this issue is.”
I’ll resist engaging the paternalism that oozes from Chu’s choice of metaphors, and instead suggest to Dr. Chu the particular value of markets and prices in coordinating the actions of “average folks [lacking] the know-how or will to change their behavior.” In fact, I’ll more than agree with Chu, I’ll go beyond him. It isn’t just average folks – no one knows everything that is needed to stabilize the climate in the recent historical range for the same reason that no one knows everything that is needed to make a pencil (as per Leonard Read) – not Presidents, nor Congress, nor Nobel prize winners, nor anyone else.
Markets can coordinate actions even in cases in which no one person has the “know-how or will to change”, though admittedly when dealing with climate stabilization issues creating a useful market will be complicated.