In Lean Times, Sacred Cows Grow Fat


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by Jack Cashill
Published in ingramsonline.com - June 2009

“In honor of Earth Day,” proclaimed U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, the city was receiving a $350,000 grant from the Economic Development Association (EDA) to plan for a “Climate Sustainability Center.” Although I was not at all sure what a “Climate Sustainability Center” was, I do know a sacred cow when I see one.

By definition, a sacred cow is any corporate mandate that elevates ideology over profit but pretends otherwise. There are not many of them. You can recognize a sacred cow when you hear its acolytes repeat mantra-like, “This [cow] just makes good business sense.”

If said cow actually made good business sense, no one would have to say so over and over again. No one would have to recount strained anecdotes to make the case. Corporations would not have to hire an internal priesthood to enforce the orthodoxy. Governments would not have to hire external Inquisitors to punish unbelievers.

Properly understood, recessions are not the problem. They are solutions to the problem.

This may not be obvious if you are holding a pink slip in your hand, but the logic becomes clearer if you can see your way through the tears.

Once the mandate becomes sacred, no dissent is brooked. Managers who question the orthodoxy don’t get promoted. Companies that don’t promote the orthodoxy get punished, occasionally by the government or by the courts, and dependably by the media.

Sacred cows screw up recessions. Properly understood, recessions are not the problem. They are solutions to the problem. This may not be obvious if you are holding a pink slip in your hand, but the logic becomes clearer if you can see your way through the tears.

The Fed pumps too much money into the system. Your company is making products sellable only in an inflated market. You are performing a function for which there is no real market demand. These are the problems.

The solution for your company is to pare off those divisions and product lines that have outlived their usefulness and to liberate people like yourself who are wasting their energies on unwanted products and services. The very word “recession” absolves the employer of the Scrooge rap and you of the stigma of getting sacked.

Profit has a cool logic of its own that drives decision-making. Sacred cows, however, wander mindlessly in logic’s way. No matter how obstructive, they are spared, and worse, as the Cleaver EDA grant suggests, even fattened.

For the record, the EDA is a justifiably obscure subset of the Commerce Department. Its mission is to empower “distressed communities” to “develop and implement their own economic development and revitalization strategies.”

As a citizen of the distressed community in question, I am confident we could develop our own strategies without the help of  the career bureaucrats at the EDA and their honcho, Sandi — with an “i” — Walters. 

Just to submit a proposal to get an EDA grant could consume half the cost of the award. Consider this one item out of many on 21 pages of instructions: — “If you are unsure of the CFDA or FON, return to Grants.gov’s ‘Find’ feature at http://www07.grants.gov/applicants/find_grant_opportunities.jsp (see slide #4).”

What alarms me, though, is not the Byzantine bureaucracy that strips us of local decision-making and returns us dimes on our dollars. This is not new. Nor would it trouble me overly if the proposed Climate Sustainability Center were merely useless. What would a recession be without pointless make-work?

No, what should unnerve us all is that in the midst of a recession we have elevated “sustainability” to sacred cow status. Our businesses are asked to sacrifice cheap power, enhanced productivity and higher profits on the altar of a concept whose meaning eludes even its champions.

What inspired the sustainability movement was the fear that man-made carbon emissions were heating the planet catastrophically. Other eco-activists have piggy-backed their pet causes onto the “global warming” gravy train, but it was this primal fear that pushed it down the tracks.

Only now, the fear of “climate change” — note the semantic shift — has yielded to the fear of heresy. A few months back, for instance, the New York Times headlined its profile on global warming skeptic Freeman Dyson, “The Civil Heretic.” As the nation’s most prominent physicist, he can absorb the blow. Your local business cannot.

For corporations, the debate is over. They cannot appear to even question a bovine already beatified by the media. So they spend countless hours reassuring themselves that going green  “just makes good business sense,” even in the face of a recession, even when it doesn’t.

Two years ago, the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation proposed to build two, clean, state-of-the-art 700-megawatt coal plants in western Kansas, an economically strapped area that had not seen a better business deal since the railhead first came to Dodge City.

The Sebelius administration killed the project, as the Associated Press reports approvingly, because “the state couldn’t ignore the dangers of global warming.” There was no law about global warming in Kansas, just fear and, of course, the dictates of green fashion.

New Gov, Mark Parkinson authored a compromise deal that allowed for the building of one plant coupled with a new law that would mandate 20 percent “renewable” energy by the year 2020.  “Renewable” energy is expensive and impractical. It needs to be subsidized. Coal doesn’t, and there is no shortage of this wonderfully organic stuff.

The Cleaver Climate Sustainability Center, if built, will serve as temple for the sustainability priesthood, a godless temple at that in which the only sins are those against Mother Gaia. A botanical garden will “focus on climate-friendly agriculture techniques.” The labs will be used“for the study of climate change.” The classrooms will provide “hands-on training.” The outcome of the research is pre-ordained. No heretics need apply.

The center will generate its own water and power, resources that the area already has in cheap abundance, and combat a problem, namely “climate change,” that, if it is a problem at all, is one the center cannot hope to solve. They will pay for this boondoggle with borrowed money whose vig will fall on our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

Bottom line, the EDA is laying the groundwork for a permanent, federal-run power sector, one driven by dubious fears and unmoored from the profit motive. This sector promises higher prices, limited supply, and all the needless guilt that our eco-warriors can dish out.

To me, and I am sure to you, “This just makes good business sense.”


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