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Conservative Spotlight: Competitive Enterprise Institute

It’s time to make America more free, not less

In conservative Washington circles, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) needs no profiling. But for those not familiar with the group, CEI does yeoman work on behalf of limited government, private property, deregulation, and common sense.

“March 9, 1984 — CEI is founded. First offices were in Fred Smith’s kitchen. After the first few months, he’d spent a few thousand dollars, but received far less in contributions, and was real worried. His wife Fran said, ‘But Fred, that was part of your business plan.’ ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘but now it’s actually happened.'”

Since that Orwellian year, CEI has grown to 30 full-time staff. It celebrated its 20-year anniversary May 19 with a 700-guest dinner featuring the Smith and CEI style of combining fun and irreverence with hard facts. Hard facts are particularly detrimental to the environmentalist movement, and CEI focuses much of its energy there.

“You could substitute ‘everything’ for ‘the environment,'” said Smith in an interview. “The concept of ‘the environment’ enabled them to try to regulate everything. Of course we need to protect the environment. The question is how.”

Smith explained that private property is the institution that provides good protection. “Private property is one of the best ways to link the use of resources to the consequences,” he said. “Private property has been one of the greatest institutions linking people to nature. Private property links our current actions to future results.” When people own things, they take care of them and they develop them, he said. He pointed to the examples of oil and water.

“Oil is not a scarce resource,” he said, pointing out a startling fact: “The quart of oil in your grocery store is typically cheaper than the quart of water down the aisle.” So much of America’s groundwater is commonly owned or heavily regulated that it has become expensive, he said.

But environmentalists have transcended real but manageable environmental issues and invented doomsday scenarios, above all the global warming theory. “We must calculate risks,” said Smith. “Is the risk of a global warming catastrophe worth spending trillions of dollars? The only way we can prevent an increase of carbon dioxide emissions is by keeping most of the world poor. I believe the risks of keeping most of the world poor are greater than those posed by the possibility of a catastrophe’s resulting from global warming.”

Smith noted a few basic facts:

  • The Earth has always gone through long cycles of warming and cooling,
  • Some 90-95% of global warming is caused by water vapor,
  • Most of the documented warming over the past century occurred before most of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere,
  • And the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions caused by man is “trivial.” These facts didn’t stop Britain’s chief scientific advisor from making one of the increasingly ludicrous statements regularly issued by eco-Fascists.

    “The alarmism of Sir David King, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, has become even more hysterical in recent days. Not content with repeatedly calling global warming a bigger threat than terrorism — even after the Madrid attacks of March 11 — and publicly criticizing the U. S. administration, he has now gone, as the British say, ‘completely off the deep end,'” wrote Myron Ebell, CEI’s global warming expert, May 18. “On May 2, the Independent on Sunday reported King as saying that ‘Antarctica is likely to be the world’s only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked.'”

    CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman heads CEI’s Death by Regulation project, which tracks the cost in human lives of such government acts as delaying the approval of new drugs or imposing fuel efficiency standards on cars — aspects of regulation the mainstream media don’t mention. In 2001, he said, the National Academy of Sciences quantified the number of Americans killed by the lighter cars produced by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. “In the press, however, that was spun as an argument for making CAFE more stringent but having fewer additional deaths,” saidKazman. Even Ralph Nader, he added, “used to be against small cars because they were more dangerous. He came out against the Beetle. This is an undeclared blood-for-oil war and this war is waged against civilians.”

    “America is the only country in the world that can afford more socialism,” said Smith, who said he was “very disappointed” in the lack of pro-freedom action taken by Republicans in Congress and the Bush Administration. “America has become less free over the last 20 years but the rest of the world has become more free. Reality is affecting the rest of the world.”

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    Written By

    Mr. D'Agostino, former associate editor of HUMAN EVENTS, is vice president for Communications at the Population Research Institute.

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