A Gore Administration
January 5, 1998
by Irwin Stelzer
This article also appeared in The Times (London) on January 5, 1999.
The forecasters have had their say about the outlook for America in 1999, and we now await the inevitable revisions as reality intrudes. But some of you undoubtedly worry about the longer term prospects for the world's only superpower. For those who like to think about that longer-term outlook, I will share a recurrent nightmare.
It is 2001, and Al Gore is being sworn in as President of the United States after obliterating his Republican opponent. Indeed, so great is voter antipathy to those who believed that a perjurer should be removed from office, the Democrats gain control of both houses of congress.
President Gore had promised, if elected, to bring an end to "human kind's assault on the earth". In his apocalyptic book he had made clear to the voters that in his view "We must change those features of our free market .. economic philosophy that we know are flawed in light of the ecological destruction they legitimize, even encourage." And change them he will. Gore immediately introduces legislation to tighten all environmental standards, even though told by his experts that the costs of compliance far exceed the benefits to be had from these regulations. American industry, saddled with a need to make billions of dollars of new investment, grumbles about becoming non-competitive, but has no choice but to comply. Then the other shoe falls. Or shoes.
The new president's antipathy to the internal combustion engine is a matter of record. He blames it for everything from the growth of the suburbs -- he calls the process by which people find new homes "urban sprawl" and the "malling of America" -- to dirty air, the latter despite the fact that cleaner cars and cleaner fuels have reduced auto pollution to lowest-ever levels. So it came as no surprise that he pushed a huge energy tax through a reluctant congress, driving up the price of petrol by three times. No longer can Americans casually decide to hop in their cars and visit granny, or afford an airplane ticket to visit her if she has moved to the Sun Belt.
Gore's election campaign was funded in good part by the trade unions, who also provided the doorbell ringers and foot soldiers that turned out the blacks, Hispanics and trade union members that provided him with his margin of victory -- just as they had turned the 1998 congressional elections into a triumph for the Democrats and Bill Clinton. The new Speaker of the House, Dick Gephardt, has long been the darling of the trade unions, and is their chosen instrument for getting their way with the new administration.
Gephardt calls on Gore to present his legislative calendar. Top of the list is a restriction on the importation of any goods produced in countries in which average wages fall below those in the United States, and which do not adopt the stringent environmental regulations that Gore has imposed on American businesses. The effect of such legislation would be more damaging to the world economy that the Smoot-Hawley tariff that produced the Great Depression, but Gore is beholden to the unions, and in no position to deny them their wish.
The next visitor is Senator Edward Kennedy, who delivered to Gore the remnants of the Camelot constituency and the women's vote, over which he holds sway despite a personal history that suggests that his respect for the opposite sex is not total. Kennedy has long sought a major increase in the minimum wage, and a universal health care plan funded entirely by taxes on employers. Gore, never as comfortable with limited government and the so-called Third Way as his predecessor, immediately agrees to back that legislation.
Then there is the Hillary problem. With Bill Clinton safely ensconced as president of a Hollywood studio, where he plans to make full use of all its resources, Hillary now wants something to do until a seat on the supreme court or in the senate opens up for her. Since Kofi Annan isn't prepared to resign as Secretary General of the United Nations to make room for Hillary, who now goes by the name Hillary Rodham, Gore parks her in his cabinet, as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
Ms. Rodham's first move is to seek an injunction against all fast-food shops, which have refused a compromise that would have allowed them to stay open if they converted to salad bars. She also declares caffeine a harmful drug, and bans the sale of coffee. This produces a run on Brazil's currency, which in turn throws of all Latin America into recession.
Hillary then avenges past insults by banning all cigars, whether used for smoking or for the less noble purpose to which her now-estranged husband put them.
That last act so personalizes the nightmare -- a world without cigars is hardly worth contemplating -- that I wake up in cold sweat. After all, it's only a dream. Or is it? Just which part seems implausible?
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.