Book Review: Earth in the Balance by Al Gore

Preservation of Earth cannot be entrusted to any government.


I confess that my mind was too closed to political rhetoric, and my wallet too thinned by involuntary taxation, to fork over nearly twenty-three dollars to a then-member of the wealthiest club in America—the U.S. Senate—for a book. My daughter, however, a recently crowned lawyer, purchased Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance with the reckless abandon of the nouveau riche, and gave it to me for my birthday, along with a comment that the author was a man of brilliant intellect, and a pointed remark that “Not all things are subject to economic analysis.”

I rightly deduced from that remark what was in store for me, but I read the book anyway because I dearly love my daughter. (She is, regardless of weird ideas on political economy acquired at expensive schools that don’t teach classical economics, the best daughter ever entrusted to the blundering care of an unworthy father.) I only read Gore’s book because my darling Jenny gave it to me, but I’m glad now that I did.

If I could have but two books to read the rest of my life, one would be the Bible and the other would be Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises’ magnus opus, Human Action. I’d choose the Bible to enlighten me on spiritual matters; Human Action on matters economic. Together, these two books can save me from brilliant intellects.

Gore professes to be a Christian. “I am a Baptist,” he says. But thanks to Matthew, Mark, and Mises, I am not deceived by Al Gore. I deduce from his book and his voting record in the United States Senate that Vice President Gore is a devout practitioner of statolatry. “The state,” wrote Mises, who coined statolatry, “[that] new deity of the dawning age of statolatry, [that] eternal and superhuman institution beyond the reach of human frailties.” Jesus said, “Be on your guard against false prophets . . . . You will know them by their deeds” (Matthew 7:15-16).

Gore’s votes in the Senate, his deeds, so to speak, by which Jesus said we could know him, reveal much. This is a man who never met a government spending initiative he couldn’t approve. The National Taxpayers Union has ranked Senator Gore as the Senate’s leading tax-and-spender for the last two years.

Although the author laboriously denies it, Earth in the Balance is a cunning warrant for the establishment of the equivalent of world government through “a framework of global agreements that obligate all nations to act in concert.” Gore proposes a “Global Marshall Plan” incorporating broad governmental powers to save the environment, forcibly taxing and regulating people’s lives and restraining individual liberty in the process. A clever polemicist, Gore never refers to the unique attribute of government that imparts to it the illusion of being beyond human frailties: its monopoly on the use of force.

Mises, on the other hand, bluntly depicts the state as “the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion” whose role is “to beat people into submission” to its dictates. Jesus of Nazareth preached the futility of relying on force in the conduct of human affairs, and he taught us how to do without it.

Gore disarmingly argues that resolving the “global ecological crisis” caused by “humankind’s assault on the earth” is essentially a spiritual challenge. Whether his moralizing on man’s spiritual inadequacies is sincere or sanctimonious, the recommendations embodied in his Global Marshall Plan are entirely material and amenable to economic analysis.

Gore establishes the reality of a crisis primarily by the rhetorical devices of incessant incantation and vivid metaphor. He repetitiously refers to a “grave crisis,” “environmental crisis,” “ungodly crisis,” “deep crisis,” “population explosion,” “catastrophe at hand,” “catastrophe in the making,” “crumbling ecological system,” “ravenous civilization,” “destruction of the earth’s surface,” “garbage imperialism,” “destructive cycle,” “rapidly emerging dilemma,” and “ecological holocaust.”

Gore’s Earth in the Balance indicts classical economics and laissez-faire capitalism for the problem of environmental degradation. Why? Because if classical economics can be discredited, environmentalists can safely ignore the economists who warn that their utopian plans won’t work.

Gore pledges to reform his insatiable spending habit. But his sincerity is suspect, for he renounces only one ecologically disastrous government program among the multitude he has long supported. “I myself,” he confesses, “have supported sugar price supports and—until now—have always voted for them without appreciating the full consequence [in damage to the environment] of my vote . . . . I have followed the general rule that I will vote for the established farm programs of others in farm states . . . in return for their votes on behalf of the ones important to my state . . . . But change is possible: I, for one, have decided as I write this book that I can no longer vote in favor of sugarcane subsidies.” Hallelujah! A vote-trading, tax-and-spend junkie is willing to skip one little agricultural fix in order to overdose on a kilo of environmentally correct spending.

Although Gore pays lip service to the contributions of economics and praises laissez-faire capitalism faintly, their demise is his ultimate objective. He endorses “modified free markets.” Of course a slave is a person whose freedom has been modified merely by the addition of shackles. As classical economist Frederic Bastiat pointed out, one cannot be both free and not free at the same time.

Throughout Earth in the Balance, Gore confuses economics (a science) with capitalism (a social system), statistics, and accounting. His problems with semantics are not inconsequential and should not necessarily be attributed to ignorance. Mises warned us in Human Action that faulty nomenclature becomes understandable if we realize that pseudo-economists and the politicians who apply it want to prevent people from knowing what the market economy really is. They want to make people believe that all the repulsive manifestations of restrictive government policies are produced by “capitalism.” Blaming economics for environmental degradation is akin to blaming mathematics for the size of the federal deficit.

In Human Action Mises identified two primary causes of environmental degradation; namely, the failure of legislators to fully implement private-property rights; and the propensity of government to limit the liability and indemnification that would otherwise be imposed by the common law on the owners of property. If there is a “global ecological crisis,” and if it is the product of “humankind’s assault on the earth,” the science of human action is the only branch of human knowledge capable of understanding the problem, which is a prerequisite to avoiding an “ecological holocaust.”

Years before Rachel Carson launched the modern environmental movement with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962, Ludwig von Mises had considered the problem of mankind’s abuse of his environment, identified the etiology of environmental degradation, and prescribed the only practical defense against “humankind’s assault on the earth.” If Al Gore sincerely cared about the environment he would repudiate his plan to spend vast sums of other people’s money and embrace classical economics and laissez-faire capitalism as the keys to environmental salvation.

Preservation of Earth cannot be entrusted to any government--not the U.S., not the U.N., nor to any supranational coalition. To put the matter in perspective: Would you trust the people who gave you the post office, the House Bank scandal, the savings and loan debacle, and the national debt with the survival of the human race?

If Earth is in the balance, let us not entrust it to the wisdom of governments.

Jim Russell is a free-lance writer living in Ohio.