Temperature’s Rising

by Don Boudreaux on February 15, 2010

in Energy, Environment, History, Nanny State, Regulation

Jeff Jacoby’s column in yesterday’s Boston Globe is not to be missed.  And it prompted me to write this letter:

Jeff Jacoby rightly warns against the noxious “soft tyranny” (to use Tocqueville’s term) now stalking the land in the guise of environmentalism (“Big Brother out of control,” Feb. 14).

Note, however, that Audi’s Super Bowl “Green Police” commercials are even less far-fetched than Mr. Jacoby indicates.  In the June 25, 2008, issue of Time magazine, columnist Joe Klein – a quintessential member of the mainstream media and someone with unusual access to the highest reaches of power – off-handedly but in all seriousness asked each of the then-candidates for the U.S. Presidency to “call for an immediate 5deg.F thermostat adjustment.”

If the notion that Americans’ thermostats are potential objects for government regulation is aired in Time without causing a national uproar, the time might not be distant when our doors are rapped by the rough knuckles of the real Thermostat Police.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

After reading this letter, my friend Kirk Dameron, from Colorado, sent me the following recollection by e-mail:

I was disturbed by that [Audi Super Bowl] advertisement as well.

But do you recall, we already had a chapter of this madness in the US.  During the Carter Administration, the state implemented the “Emergency Building Temperature Restrictions” which required all businesses to reduce their winter temperatures and increase their summer temperatures.

I know about this first hand as I personally had a major role in implementing these overreaching rules — and “justifying” (for potential inspection and enforcement defense in the event of a visit by government agents) some 60 or 70 authorized “exceptions” — at a two million square foot IBM manufacturing and development facility in Colorado.  I had the job to read/interpret the “regulations” promulgated in the Federal Register, develop communications to senior management at the 5000-person location, lead a task force and effort involving 20+ people to plan for how IBM Boulder would comply, and then implement all the myriad non-productive activities that a regulatory regime such as this would necessitate for any productive enterprise.  In the end, I was also the guy who possessed the “official” binder of paperwork for the authorized exceptions, and would be called by Security if/when the feds came to check our temperatures and thermostats in this large facility.  Madness.

I find it interesting that there is little scholarly work or institutional memory for this lamentable chapter of US political history.  I’ve never done a serious scholarly search, but I have noted that even Wikipedia does not have an article about this sad exercise in government folly.

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