The Environmental Protection Agency's designation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant is an attempt to give EPA bureaucrats such control in the likely event that the Senate fails to pass something like the bill the House passed last June.
So politicians are acting either in ignorance of specialist knowledge or by manipulating and misusing it in the conviction that central planners can organize and control human behavior better than individuals can through markets and voluntary action operating under the rule of law.
History provides copious evidence that this conviction is mistaken. Writing in Policy Review, economists Paul Gregory and Kate Zhou compare the success of market reforms in China and their failure in Russia. They point out that reform in China was bottom-up: Peasants started producing food for private sale and, as markets thrived, Communist leader Deng Xiaoping winked at their rule-breaking and changed the rules. The economy mostly thrived.
In contrast, reform in Russia was top-down: Mikhail Gorbachev changed the rules, but that allowed apparatchiks to gobble up state industries and created new monopolies, over which Vladimir Putin's government re-established control. The economy mostly stagnated.
The Democrats' health care and cap-and-trade bills are classic top-down legislation. Many inside players have bought into the changes and are preparing to game the new systems. Far from banishing lobbyists from Washington, Barack Obama has provided them with enormous amounts of new business.
An alternative approach was taken in George W. Bush's major domestic legislation. Tax cuts, the education accountability bill and the Medicare prescription drug benefit law opened up areas where markets and incentives could operate. Costs came in lower and revenues higher than projected. An economy stalled by recession proved capable of creating new jobs without direction from central planners.
Polls have shown that in the last 11 months, as Americans have started to think hard about Democratic proposals, they have become less confident in government's ability to direct society. Underlying the angry responses in focus groups and tea parties is an appreciation that problems can best be addressed by widely dispersed people with specialized knowledge operating in a predictable framework. Not by central planners acting in ignorance of or by manipulating specialized knowledge.