According to estimates, there are 100,000 unemployed oil and gas workers in Alberta, most of them highly trained professionals in my home town Calgary. Many of them have been without work since the oil prices collapsed about two years ago and have run out of severance packages and unemployment benefits, reports Claudia Cattaneo in the National Post. In its zeal to become a climate change hero by stalling new pipeline construction, the Canadian government has contributed the oil and gas professionals’ plight. And now, it has committed to a federal carbon tax, further undermining the employment prospects of the petroleum engineers, geologists and geophysicists and others and the prosperity of all Canadians.
Cattaneo rightly points a finger at the government’s misguided fight against the human carbon dioxide emissions as the cause of the continued malaise in the oil and gas industry and ends her column by suggesting the government must now “fix” the unemployment problem. But the column does not discuss what such fixing would entail.
I argue that the only thing the government can do to correct oil and gas unemployment is to stop interfering with the economy altogether, including regulating oil and gas pipelines and imposing carbon taxes. Notwithstanding that there is no need to fight carbon emissions and to move to non-carbon sources of energy, as there is no evidence for human-caused disastrous climate change (watch the Greenpeace founder Dr. Patrick Moore’s informative explanation here), governments’ attempts to steer the economy always diminish our well-being.
The most grotesque examples of the destructiveness of government interference in the economy come from socialist, the centrally planned economies, such as the famines in the Soviet Union or in Mao’s China, or the perpetual poverty and shortages of everything in Cuba since the Castro’s revolution.
However, government interference in mixed economies is also destructive, as the current slump in the oil prices and the unemployment it has caused show. The oil price collapse was caused by the governments of the OPEC countries through the manipulation of oil supply. Cheered on by anti-human environmentalists, some governments have made the situation worse by seeking climate change heroism with oil pipeline bans and delays, such as President Obama with the Keystone XL pipeline and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the TransCanada pipeline. Add to that carbon taxes, and you get a perfect recipe for chasing away investment and jobs.
The solution to economic problems such as unemployment, toxic pollution (CO2 emissions don’t qualify), or poverty is not a government policy or a program but a free market in which the government plays no role. In a free market, investment—and jobs—go where the opportunities are, also reducing and eliminating poverty. Government-caused uncertainty, such as not approving pipeline construction or imposing more taxes (such as the carbon tax), discourages investment and thus prevents employment recovery.
Governments certainly play an important role in enabling the free markets to function: they must ensure freedom by protecting individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. As Ayn Rand observed, governments’ only role is to protect their citizens against the initiation of physical force and fraud through three functions: the police, the military, and the law courts. No other role of government is necessary in a free-market, capitalist system where all property is privately owned, as free markets maximize people’s welfare and the protection of individual rights prevents or penalizes any abuse of them.
To fix the oil and gas unemployment problem, governments should get out the way: demolish the OPEC cartel, stop interfering with infrastructure investment and construction, privatize all property, and dismantle the taxation system, including the carbon taxes.
This is the only solution for long-term economic well-being and human flourishing for all.