One problem that popular political movements encounter is that they periodically succeed. When that happens, they find themselves having to deliver, and to do so in the face of reality, which, let’s face it, is not always congruous with popular political movements.
Take “Defund the Police,” for instance. That idea swept municipalities across the U.S. since last summer, as a policy manifestation of anti-police hysteria, reducing local police budgets — substantially so in some jurisdictions.
A year in, and we find, apparently to some people’s great surprise, that the experiment in defunding the police has run up against a crime problem. Namely that crime is going up — way up — in the shadow of freshly under-funded, under-manned, and under-equipped police departments. The Wall Street Journal last week ran a front-page story highlighting several cities that have begun desperately reversing the cuts they made to their police departments as their streets become unlivable. Baltimore’s mayor, for example, who spearheaded efforts to cut the city’s police budget by $22 million last year, is now proposing to increase it by $27 million.
It oughtn’t tie up a great deal of empirical resourcefulness to figure out that the recent policy attacks on the institutions of law enforcement – from de-funding, to officious arm-chair quarterbacking by oblivious city councils, to policies gravely limiting the cop’s ability to defend themselves – are taking a toll on an already dangerous and necessarily violent profession, resulting in alarming reductions in police ranks as both veteran and would-be officers decide the risk is simply not worth it. Combine that with policies like pre-trial reform and sentence reduction which inherently put more lawbreakers on the streets, and violent consequences can hardly be avoided.
Policing is probably the most conspicuous and palpable example, given the immediate gravity of the consequences, but reality has a habit of upending idealism in most areas of public endeavor. Energy and environmental concerns are no exception. It works both ways, of course; an absolute disregard for environmental considerations bears disastrous ecological impacts, the likes of which we saw in the 1970s. But the evolution, or cooption, of the environmental movement into one of theological zealotry has resulted in a movement that proceeds with unchecked enthusiasm, unimpeded by sufficient thought given to contextual frames of reference.
The environmental zealots rejoiced last week at the reports of an activist investor leading a miniscule hedge fund staging something of a proxy shareholder coup at Exxon Mobil, as they managed to take advantage of the exigencies of the pandemic and finagle two (perhaps three at the time of this writing) seats on the corporation’s 12-seat board, outrageously disproportionate to their 0.02% share of Exxon stock. The San Francisco based hedge fund, Engine No.1, was formed with the broadly stated eager intent of forcing the oil giant to “transition” out of oil and gas production (a business it knows and is good at) to solar, wind and what have you (businesses that are not its area of expertise). Now, nobody, least of all Engine No. 1’s founder Chris James, believes that Exxon will do any such thing, which is why James’ organization has been purposely vague in its proxy materials about the specific role it envisions for Exxon. That’s because James knows that, wistful thoughts aside, fossil fuels are not going anywhere in the near future. Indeed, Exxon’s stock is up some 44% this year as the world’s economy restarts. His play was political maneuvering and rhetorical showmanship, not a real financial revolt.
It’s one thing for characters like Chris James to play around with lofty idealism, quite another for policy makers to do so. Ideologically-tinged attempts to close in on multiple environmental fronts has created political economic hybrids, miscalculations, and market manipulations which end up costing millions of dollars — in increased electrical costs, stilted growth, added financial burdens on business and so forth — when grand schemes slam into the cold wall of reality. In Colorado, SB 200 is on the ropes precisely because the powers that be are forced at some point to reckon with the realization that fervent wishes and corporeal existence do not automatically reconcile, regardless of the intensity of the wishing.
So it is with much of public policy being developed in Washington D.C., Denver, and elsewhere. Volumes can, have, and will be written, for instance, on the pending economic consequences of the current intoxicating level of spending, fueled by the dogmatic lust to “tax the rich.” The moral: indulge in idealistic fantasies for the corollary satisfactions they provide, if you must; but always remember that reality will turn up to reap its pound of flesh.