Thomas Sowell

MATHEMATICIANS use the term "rational numbers" for numbers that can form a ratio. By this definition, there is a lot of irrationality in California, where many people seem incapable of forming a ratio or proportion between different things.

California's electricity crisis is a result of years of refusing to have any sense of proportion between the desirability of environmental goals and the desirability of having electricity. Yet apparently the state's politicians have learned nothing from any of this.

Having provoked an electricity crisis and a financial crisis by imposing impossible conditions on public utilities, the California government is now imposing similarly irrational conditions on the automobile industry by requiring them to produce a certain quota of electric cars for sale in the state, as a precondition to their selling any other cars in California.

The purpose of the electric cars is to reduce the air pollution created by cars that burn gasoline. Obviously, no one is in favor of polluted air, but the question is whether the desirable goal of reducing pollution is to be pursued in utter disregard of other desirable things.

Electric cars may be fun at amusement parks, where they don't have to go very far or very fast. But if the consuming public wanted electric cars for regular use, Detroit would be manufacturing them by the millions. Only people infatuated with their own wonderful specialness would think that their job is to coerce both the manufacturers and the consuming public into something that neither of them wants.

California seems to have more than its fair share of self-infatuated people proclaiming utopian notions. Worse yet, such people are indulged by the media, the political system and the courts, while the enormous costs they create are quietly loaded onto unsuspecting consumers and taxpayers.

Somebody is going to have to pay for these electric cars that the public does not want. State agencies can buy some of them with the taxpayers' money. Some private individuals and organizations may be subjected to pressure from the state government to buy them. And some electric cars may just sit on dealers' lots or in storage, gathering dust. But they are still all going to have to be paid for by somebody because there is no free lunch.

Maybe those who imposed these new requirements think that the automobile companies can be forced to absorb the losses. Imposing costs on people out of state is a ploy that has been tried before with electricity. But apparently some people never learn.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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