Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Further Radioactive Thoughts

Thank you, Capt. Schramm – it’s a pleasure to be aboard the good ship Ashbrook. I was welcomed by several thoughtful comments to my posting on nuclear energy. One issue in particular deserves discussion: Would conservatives really sign on to the high level of government activity necessary to make heavy reliance on nuclear power safe and feasible?

My short answer is “Yes.” My longer answer is that conservatism is often described by its enemies, and sometimes by its less helpful friends, as being “anti-government.” Not so – conservatism is much friendlier to government than liberalism. Conservatives favor limited government but oppose ineffectual government. We want the government to succeed at the things governments must do – secure the borders, win wars, jail criminals, build infrastructure. One requirement for that success is that we keep the government from squandering its time, money and moral authority on enterprises it can’t possibly do well, such as building Model Cities, promoting self-esteem, or guaranteeing the “right” to “rest, recreation and adventure,” as FDR’s National Public Resources Board advised in 1943.

The famous sentence from Federalist Paper #51 is, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” During my gloomiest moments I find myself thinking that we’ve somehow screwed up the Founders’ experiment in self-government in both directions: we have a government that manages to be intrusive, expensive and arrogant without being powerful and efficacious.

In the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger recently offered qualified praise to Robert Moses, the city’s mid-twentieth century infrastructure czar. Moses took a wrecking ball to many parts of New York City in order to build monuments like the Triborough and Verrazano-Narrows bridges, the Central Park Zoo and the Long Island Expressway. Robert Caro responded in 1975 by taking a wrecking ball to Robert Moses’s reputation in his monumental, 1,344-page biography, The Power Broker.

A reassessment is finally taking place, one that raises questions the success of Caro’s book had settled – that Robert Moses was a tyrant and a bigot, whose edifice complex caused the charm and vitality to be bulldozed out of every acre he touched in New York. Moses made plenty of mistakes, Goldberger says, but it’s impossible to imagine that city of 8 million people functioning if his successes had never been built. “Robert Moses got things done. In the age of citizen participation, this has become harder and harder. For more than five years, we have been fighting over what to do at Ground Zero, and the future of much of the sixteen-acre site is still unresolved. . . . In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses’s method of building by decree.”

America’s next generation of nuclear plants isn’t going to be built by decree. But if it’s going to be built at all, it’s going to be with the help of a government that is strong enough to govern. That government will be obliged to control itself, but according to the Constitutional mechanisms of republican government, rather than through an infinite number of apertures where any disgruntled group can throw sand in the machine’s gears. The next generation of nuclear plants, in other words, won’t just clear the skies and undermine the economies of terrorist-friendly states. It might also help make American government adequate to its tasks.

Discussions - 10 Comments

That New Yorker piece you link to is great, a must read for anyone who’s had the pleasure and the trial of living in the Big Apple. I wouldn’t begin to know how it applies to energy policy regarding nuclear power plants, and how this policy which simply must involve the national govt., should interact with federalism state-and-municipal, as well as private-sector energy companies. I can say that I hope the smaller plants might make them a better fit with our hopefully revivable traditions of more localized governance. I can also say that these sorts of issues always seem exponentially more complex in NYC...when I lived there it was hard as a newspaper reading citizen to get a handle on what the &*3$! was really going on in the battles between various agencies, unions, politicians, and citizen groups. There, the need for a Git-R-Done type authority is probably higher, but as Moses’ Port Authority history shows, such a solution injects yet another authority/interest into the mix, that as Ronald Reagan thinking predicts, will never ever die.

Would conservatives really sign on to the high level of government activity necessary to make heavy reliance on nuclear power safe and feasible?

I don’t see that there is some extraordinary degree of regulation needed to make nuclear power work. The airline industry is run by private corporations and regulated by the FAA, and it has an excellent safety record. Standards will have to be set and inspections conducted to make sure they are met. But that is true for todays power plants already.

What the Feds should do is hold a competition to find the best design, then require all plants be built to it.

The United States is figuratively and literally sitting on a pile of coal. This is a point I’ve made frequently, but which still hasn’t truly resonated. What ALL the OPEC countries COMBINED are to crude, the United States ALONE is to coal. And through modern technology, we have the ability to cleanly burn that coal, or translate that into refined product through our coal to oil capabilities. This isn’t future pie-in-the-sky hopes, this capability we enjoy presently. That being the case, why are we wasting time with these discussions of nuclear power.

We can easily build the energy infrastructure that completely frees us of foreign energy dependency, and what’s more, free our close allies as well, such as JAPAN, Australia and Great Britain.

We should use our coal over the next fifty years, and during that time, COMPLETELY PERFECT a breakthrough in hydrogen energy. And during that fifty year period, we could slowly build the infrastructure required for hydrogen energy to TRULY replace the system currently existant.

We don’t’ need a "growth" of governance. This is ridiculous. Simply use the coal resources that God has blessed this continent with. God has given us the ability to meet our energy needs, he has foreseen our energy needs, and provided for them. He has given us the ability to meet the energy needs of much of the Western world as well. We have the ability to completely dry up the finances propping up the monsters shariaa and jihad.

God is going to expect an explanation why we preferred to contribute to terrorists and jihadists, instead of using the energy sources that he blessed this dear country with. Think about it that way. Our refusal to use our coal resources properly is something of a sin, especially when we prefer to transfer TRILLIONS of dollars to monsters in the Mideast, who are enemies of this country, enemies of the West, enemies of civilization, enemies of Christendom itself.

We are DELIBERATLY choosing to continue to financially prop up monsters, instead of financially ruining them, by availing ourselves of our own coal resources.

And we will pay for this, in a manner that makes 9/11 resemble an early skirmish of a much greater war.

I’m beginning to think that State, CIA and much of our domestic elite don’t really want to financially put the squeeze on the Mideast powers. I’m beginning to suspect that they think that such a policy would dangerous, provocative, risky. A darkening of mind has occurred in this country, vision has been clouded, insight diminished. Future generations won’t know how to account for these policies both pusillanimous, dangerous and unwise.

I like what John says, above, except for the standard plan idea. I have a friend who works for companies that build nuclear power plants, and he helped build the one north of my home. There ARE federal standards for building those plants, and that can be part of the problem. Once the government sets a standard, change, innovation, IMPROVEMENT in the plan becomes dies. Well, it does not die, as the company my friend works for now has better plans, but a better plant can not be built because of the federal standards. If the federal standards were something like, "It must be demonstrably safe and we do NOT want this kind of problem to occur." it would be one thing, but that�s not how government works. They regulate the things down to the type of bolts and valves. These might be out-dated and inefficient compared to newer inventions, but must still be used because they are the government standard.

It is moot, really, because it has to have been twenty years since a nuclear power plant was built in the U.S. Poking around the web, I find this from the other day. Note the end, The consortium expects to apply for licenses in 2008. Construction could then begin in 2010 with completion in 2014....

I do not know what kind of conservative I am, which was a hot topic on here last week. Think of that. I have been a self-proclaimed conservative for nearly thirty years and I don�t know my type yet. It is probably more socially offensive than not knowing my blood type.

When you say, During my gloomiest moments I find myself thinking that we�ve somehow screwed up the Founders� experiment in self-government in both directions: we have a government that manages to be intrusive, expensive and arrogant without being powerful and efficacious. I agree, but must gloomy more often than you. I would suggest that while government might become powerful, it will never be efficacious. Even in areas where I believe government ought to function, as in national defense, any soldier I know will tell you that it is intrusive, expensive and arrogant as well as wasteful and inefficient.

Mussolini�s government may have made the trains run on time, but who wants to replicate such a thing here? Robert Moses� is just the type of control you get when you have effective leadership of government intrusion. If you do not like him, well then you have to settle for government by committee, if you will have government in charge of such things. Actually, that�s what I think we have in America, a type of fascism by committees. (I mean that term in the economist�s sense, NOT the war-protester�s) Maybe it is the only way populations as large as our may be governed.

Kate, I’d wager that the vast majority of American conservatives don’t give a thought about what type they are. This "neo" vs. "paleo" stuff only matters to intellectuals. Ordinary people don’t lose sleep over whether L-----n was a tyrant.

And Mussolini didn’t actually make the trains run on time.

Kate, I’m going to have to disagree with you on nuclear plants and government regulation. France has had great success with a standard plant design -- it allows them to have spare capacity (parts & expertise), it cuts building costs, and it makes the inspection regime more transparent and routine. As for government efficacy, that’s a libertarian bias on your part. Human social organization tends to be inefficient, whether public or private. The only difference is that companies and corporations go extinct after they become very inefficient (most of the time), whereas government can’t simply dissolve. And in some realms, particularly when it comes to coordinating multiple actors for the sake of efficiency, public regulation is preferable (e.g., the coining of money, railway standardization, highway construction). No, I agree with Mr. Voegeli -- mostly conservatives want efficient, constrained government. Market solutions apply to many things, but certainly not all things.

And, John, does spelling L-----N in this fashion suggest his name is unspeakable or, like Y----H, His name is too holy to be uttered?


why are we wasting time with these discussions of nuclear power.

Because nuclear power is cheaper than coal power, once coal power is forced to be as clean as nuclear.


They regulate the things down to the type of bolts and valves. These might be out-dated and inefficient compared to newer inventions

Engineering is a very conservative discipline. It runs on the maxim "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Airliner technology has scarcedly changed in the last forty years, even though things like supercritical wings and composite materials have been around the entire time. It’s almost always more important for something to work properly and reliably than for it to be more "efficient". There’s a lesson for life in there.

Maybe it is the only way populations as large as our may be governed.

You’re on to something there I think. The people who want our population to be as large as possible are also the ones who (suprise!) gain in power in such a scenario. The limited government idea does not work in densely populated areas. If I was an opponent of limited government I’d be doing all I could to drive America to 500 million people as quickly as possible. We’ll hit that number sometime in the next forty years, because the leadership in both parties really want it to happen.

John, does spelling L-----N in this fashion suggest his name is unspeakable or, like Y----H, His name is too holy to be uttered?

Neither. It’s sort of like a magic incantation--use of the word causes lunatics to materialize, seemingly from nowhere, and none of us wants to see that.

OK, John, good one. Guess I walked into that.

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