I think it is time for us to publish a list of policy ideas that are so counterproductive that we would never support them. To achieve this august status, a policy proposal has to not only be less than the best solution, it has to actually make the situation it is intended to solve, worse. I propose that we call these policies “Galactically Stupid.” The phrase is borrowed from “A Few Good Men,” a movie from 1992.
Not all bad public policies are “Galactically Stupid.” Some policies are just bad because there are better ways of accomplishing the same thing. Regulations on emissions of pollution are worse than taxing pollutants but such regulations are better than doing nothing at all.
That said, some policy ideas are just dumb on an interstellar scale.
Galactically Stupid Ideas on the Left
Candidates for the status of Galactically Stupid on the left include: wage and price controls, “windfall” profits taxes, anti-price gouging laws, and rent controls. If you sense a common theme, you are right. All of these involve the government trying to regulate prices.
Prices serve a vital role in an economy. They signal goods whose production needs to be increased or decreased. They signal places where goods are in short supply and thereby direct supplies to those regions. They signal activities that require more investment, or less. Attempt to governmentally control prices and you create shortages, lines and other inefficient forms of rationing, including black markets.
Generally, price controls raise the real price of goods being regulated by making those goods more scarce. You may not see that price, but you will experience it through the difficulty of finding the regulated good at the official price.
President Biden’s implicit threat to regulate refinery margins qualifies as Galactically Stupid. Elizabeth Warren’s anti-price gouging legislation also falls into this group. To understand how bad these policy positions are, it is helpful to reflect on why refinery margins are high right now. Demand for gasoline and refinery margins cratered during the pandemic and many refineries were shut down. When gasoline demand rebounded, refiners were reluctant to invest in reopening those refineries or building new ones. Who would feel like doing so in a “heads I lose, tails you win” environment? Talk of eliminating fossil fuels doesn’t help either, in terms of incentives for refinery expansion.
So having created a problem by destroying incentives for refinery expansion or new refineries, left wing populists use the inevitably higher refinery margins that follow to justify price controls or windfall profits taxes that make the situation worse.
Non-Global Solutions to Global Warming
Unilateral approaches to climate change that fail to address the global nature of the problem also strike me as Galactically Stupid. Banning the use of fossil fuels in America is counterproductive if it simply shifts the production of energy intensive goods to China or India. Remember, the goods then have to be shipped back here with a net increase in green house gas emissions.
The Centrist Independent Voter does believe that climate change is a serious problem and supports a carbon tax with an associated tariff as the best way for dealing with the problem. We suggest that solution because it recognizes the inherently global nature of the problem.
Galactic Stupidity Ideas on the Right
So far, all of my suggestions for Galactically Stupid public policy solutions have come from the left. There is no shortage of Galactically Stupid ideas coming out of the right.
Intransigence on Gun Control/Gun Safety Laws
One that comes to mind is the position that no gun safety/control legislation can be justified. While the Centrist Independent Voter supports the Heller decision that the Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms, we also agree with the Supreme Court that this right is not unlimited. Refusal to even contemplate any restrictions on gun ownership only results in increased support for total bans on gun ownership with each mass shooting.
Right wing isolationists, like Sen. Rand Paul, also increase the likelihood that the United States will have to expend lives and money defending ourselves against emboldened and strengthened adversaries, made more powerful by America’s failure to confront them earlier. For these and other reasons, Rand Paul appears in the Centrist Independent Voter’s Rogues Gallery of candidates we can never endorse.
Galactically Stupid Populist Ideas
It has now become acceptable for both Republican and Democratic populist politicians to blame international trade for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. The policy suggestion is higher tariffs on imports and re-writing free trade agreements, like NAFTA, to reflect a more protectionist point of view. (This the purpose of Trump’s USMCA agreement.) The truth is that the relative decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs has far more to do with technological change than foreign competition. It is also important to remember that low cost supply chains are crucial for U.S. competitiveness in global markets.
So what happens when we institute protective tariffs? Well, first the world becomes poorer as other countries do the same and global manufacturing becomes more expensive. Second, the temporarily higher wages in the U.S. accelerate automation and those jobs are permanently eliminated.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not an advocate of unilateral adoption of free trade policies. Sensibly negotiated mutual trade pacts, like NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), we’re win-win situations for the participants. The Centrist Independent Voter supports expanding these efforts.
I am also aware that some technologies should not be shared with countries that are antagonistic toward U.S. interests, like Russia and China.
If you can think of other policy proposals that deserve to be labeled Galactically Stupid, please submit them in the comment section below. Remember the key thing that qualifies a policy for this category is that it is counterproductive to solving the problem that the policy addresses.