A decade ago, it was conventional wisdom that the world would soon start running low on oil and that the United States would henceforth be at the mercy of the inexorable trend. Then the fracking revolution came about, and the U.S. resumed its long-lost place as the world's No. 1 oil and natural gas producer.
The result: lower oil prices for American consumers, less dependence on petrodespots, a dramatic shift from coal to natural gas for electricity generation (with concomitant benefits in carbon emissions), and hundreds of thousands of working-class jobs, including tens of thousands in swing states like Colorado and Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth Warren wants to kill all this.
You don't have to think that fracking is an unalloyed blessing — much less deny that tough safety standards are necessary — to acknowledge its benefits. You might also argue that curbs on oil and gas production are needed both to preserve the environment and accelerate a transition to renewables. Fine.
Yet it takes a peculiar sort of political audacity to pledge, as the Massachusetts senator did last month, to "ban fracking — everywhere." Warren also favors a ban on fossil-fuel exports — another U.S. industry that has seen dramatic growth in recent years — and a "total moratorium" on new fossil fuel leases on federal lands, which generate billions every year in federal and state tax revenue.
American Indian tribes also got about $1 billion from those leases in 2018. Isn't the Warren campaign supposed to be about sticking it to richer Americans instead of poorer ones?
That's a question that would-be Warren supporters might ask a little more insistently as she approaches front-runner status.
Take health care. As an ethical matter, it may be defensible for Warren to argue that "Medicare for All" is fairer than the current system. As an economic matter, she could be right that overall costs will come down under her scheme. And as a political matter, it isn't surprising that she has been less than forthright about the middle-class tax increases her plan will require.
But what about the fact that Warren isn't merely proposing a dramatic change in the way 170 million or so Americans obtain health insurance? She is advocating the abolition of an entire industry, one that employs about 550,000 people. Whatever one thinks of health insurance companies (and most Americans seem satisfied with the coverage they have), isn't it worth wondering what these half-million workers might do with themselves after being put out of work — or, as voters, what they might think of Warren's designs for their future?
Then there's big tech, another industry Warren doesn't like and promises to "break up" by turning Facebook, Amazon and Google into regulated utilities. For this task, involving some 800,000 workers and companies with about $500 billion in revenues, she has a 1,700-word plan.
One wonders what Warren thinks might happen when things don't work out. Industries aren't assemblages of Lego blocks that can be taken apart and reassembled according to a clever new design. They are complex and evolving ecosystems, organized around scores of institutions, hundreds of laws, thousands of personalities, millions of relationships and a potentially limitless number of ideas.
What will happen to the real human beings whose lives and careers will be upended or derailed while the mandarins of the Warren administration try to figure things out? Will President Warren have contingency plans for her ever-proliferating plans when — as they inevitably will — things don't go according to plan?
Of course she won't. She won't because she can't; she can't because the central flaw of every economic plan is the plan itself. That's the lesson of the 20th century, and it's why Warren's critics aren't totally off the mark in accusing her of being a socialist — not in intent, but in mentality. Those with plans for everything prove only that they can't be trusted to plan for anything.
Voters may not yet see this, which is why Warren has risen in the polls. But they will, eventually, especially when they notice what the senator's plans entail for them.
For the sake of democracy, let's hope Democrats give America a better, safe, easier choice.
The New York Times