An Environmentalist’s Acknowledgment: Government Dough Means Optimization Is Optional


Poking around the Internet, I prodded loose this essay by Yale environmental management grad student Eva Jiayu Wang on GreenBiz, about an organization called Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA).  These paragraphs inadvertently confirm a central argument behind conservatives’ basic view on the use of government to accomplish society’s tasks:

If EEFA relied solely on private financing, it would have to look more closely at its return on investment. A study released in 2015, “Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver? Evidence from the Weatherization Assistance Program (PDF),” which led to extensive debate, showed that the upfront investment costs of one low-income energy efficiency program were about twice the actual savings.

This study was based on data from 600 low-income families who participated in the Weatherization Assistance Program. However, as EEFA is planning to combine private and public financing, this issue is not central to the success of the initiative. Optimizing the return on investment is beneficial, but is not a show-stopping consideration.

That is, the use of government force to confiscate money from some people and give it to others alleviates the recipients of the need to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck.  That pretty well summarizes the importance of voluntary transactions to accomplish our goals.

The important question that follows, of course, is where the money for the waste comes from.  Does it come from the undeserving rich?  No.  Those with wealth and advantages are the best positioned people in society to pass their burdens on to others.  So, money not spent efficiently for some progressive cause will inevitably be drawn from some other project that would most benefit the poor and working classes, whether some kind of welfare program or basic activities maintaining the infrastructure that progressives love to neglect as they divvy up the spoils of government.

So begins the cycle.  As government’s inefficient use of resources for fashionable causes drains support for the basics, those with relatively few advantages are less able to move up the ladder and redistribute wealth to themselves through their own productive labor.  They therefore become more dependent and turn to government to offer them even more help, which the government does through fashionable causes, and the powerful become even more insulated (for lack of competition) and able to deflect the government’s half-hearted or phony attempts to make them pay more.