Drop the Freon and Come out With Your Hands Up (Jeffrey Tucker)
Tuesday September 11th, 2012
"All the profits of drug trafficking and none of the risk."
That's how the prosecutor in a federal criminal case described Carlos Garcia's smuggling operation that has landed him in the federal pen for 13 months.
Before wearing leg irons and striped pajamas, Garcia was a top executive in Marcone Inc., a leading supplier of home appliances. Today he is just a statistic, the newest addition to the world's largest prison population.
His crime: He was the mastermind behind Freaky Freon Friday. On this day, the company would distribute to wholesalers and repairmen, at low prices, the thing that millions desperately want but cannot otherwise get, thanks to federal regulations. They want HCFC-22 to fill air-conditioning units… so that their offices and homes can stay cool.
It has been illegal for two years to sell units that use it. But nearly all existing units use the old coolant. Importing HCFC-22 is severely restricted. The government's idea was to drive up the price, making it too expensive to maintain existing units, and thereby somehow inspire manufacturers to invent things to make us all more virtuous. But replacing units with unproven technology is expensive and risky.
When there is money to be made, through perfectly legitimate desire to keep people cool indoors, some people will "break bad" and go outside the law. Three years ago, the stuff sold for $55 per canister; now it sells for $140. It is produced in China, the label on the canister is changed, and then it is hidden among vast other cargo, imported to the U.S., repackaged, sent to Mexico, and sent back again. Apparently, this circuitous route is the safest and least detected.
Mr. Garcia was caught simple because the only office of the Justice Department that specializes in "environmental crimes" is in Florida near the office where he ran the operation. Garcia was the victim of a wiretap and a sting operation, as The New York Times reports. He was probably aware that what he was doing was technically sketchy, but he was unable to expunge from his mind the consumer-service ethic. His job was to make people cool.
Meanwhile, illegal HCFC-22 operations carry on all over the country, a fact we know because the street price of the coolant is falling even as demand is increasing. It's profitable contraband.
There are no restrictions on coolant in Mexico and most other countries in the world. It is still legal to actually make it in the U.S. and export it. It just can't be legally sold here. Nevertheless, people will stop at nothing to get it, especially given that more than half the country would be uninhabitable without air conditioning and that 90% of the existing units need coolant, and will for a long time in the future.
The hot war on cooling has only just begun. But roots of it all date back to the 1970s with the regulatory attack on aerosol, later becoming an attack on CFC, and then ramped up to abolish the CFC replacement HCFC, and we'll see how long its replacement is for the this world. The goal, as you surely recall, was to stop the hole in the ozone layer — a thing that's been out of the news since the real goal of passing the regs was achieved.
Now it turns out that the ambition is broader. Environmentalists are insisting that we turn up the temperature in our house to 85 degrees and just learn to live with it. The regulatory press (i.e., The New York Times) is running articles about how incredibly scary it is that many countries in the world are demanding ever more air conditioning.
No kidding. Air conditioning is an essential part of the civilized life. And that is precisely what government hates about it. That's because ever more in our times, government is devoted to taking away everything we love.
Of course, the regulators have "science" to cite to justify the attack on our happiness. The scientific evidence of some relationship between our cool living rooms and the melting Earth runs all directions. Not knowing enough about the technical aspects, count me as a skeptic. There is just something mystical and wacky about this whole notion.
Modern-day primitives are just too quick to imagine that a boiling planet is Mother Nature's way of forcing propitiation on us for our sins of man-made prosperity and comfort. Government loves these people because they provide a cloak for control and regimentation. There is always a scientist happy to cash a check from the government to confirm the pagan faith. Their data always evade that critical question of causation.
H.L. Mencken defined a puritan as someone who has a haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. It is true with regulators too. They have a haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be using technology in a way that brings comfort and convenience to life. They are seeking to crush this at every turn, and air conditioning is high on the list.
Meanwhile, the list of banned and soon-to-be banned products is growing. We are being hectored for our burgers, hounded for our sodas, denounced for smoking, jailed for growing pot, told to use less water, to use less energy in everything, to drive bikes, not cars, fussed at for having lawns, told to stop indulging ourselves with ice makers and large houses — even indoor plumbing is under fire.
They want to take it all away from us and manufacture some alternative universe in which we are happy as can be growing our own food, turning our toilets into compost pits, and cooking over an open fire, provided we don't cut down trees. Government has settled on these poverty-creating policies because it apparently realized at some point that it could not contribute anything toward make us better off, so it does more of what it is good at: spreading human misery and calling it good.
But it is not working, because these policies are contrary to human nature. Mankind wants a better life. That's most of what we do here on Earth. We struggle our way through the vale of tears called scarcity to make and get more and better. That's the very meaning of the process of living. We don’t respond well when a bully says you cannot have access to a good or service that would improve your life. You must learn to accept you downgraded state of being.
At some point, we recognize that it is not worth it to surrender all to our powerful masters. These policies are driving us all toward "breaking bad," a phrase drawn from the popular television show in which a chemistry teacher becomes a meth manufacturer in order to provide for his family. No, we are not making meth, but we are doing lots of things we aren't supposed to do.
Breaking bad takes many forms. We drink more than we should and then work to drive extra safely. Don't gasp; probably two-thirds of the drivers in my town on a weekend night could be jailed for DUI, and the same is true of your town. People buy extra pseudoephedrine in off months to stock up for bad times, technically acting as smurfs just to clear our clogged noses.
We hack our shower heads and our hot water heaters. We buy pirated products and stream videos illegally. We smuggle in Spanish ham in our bags, bring back Cuban cigars from our travels, pay and receive in cash instead of credit cards, search for gas stations that sell cornless gasoline, and drive across state lines to get our TSP so our clothing can get clean.
We are choosing to be outlaws, rather than chumps, and, as such, are ever more willing to recognize how impossible and undesirable it is to comply, rather than live a good life. In fact, the forbidden fruit is attractive to us. We want raw milk, home remedies, real light bulbs, cheap meds from Mexico, sketchy software from Thailand, off-the-books jobs, "counterfeit" sunglasses, and pirated shoes and handbags from anywhere.
Thanks to the Internet, the rebellious spirit in our bones, and the impossibility of stopping it all, we are all breaking bad and getting used to it.
In a country where everything wonderful is becoming illegal, and everything depreciated and inferior is mandated, this is the only way to live. To comply is to accept the status of poor slaves; to break bad is to leap into the speakeasy economy with trepidation but at least some hope of an improved life.
There are ways around the regulatory Nazis, but you have to be creative. I've assembled 12 of the ideas in a single report called “Hack Your Showerhead and Eleven Other Ways to Get Around Government.” This report singled the dawn of a new epoch at Laissez Faire Books: to embrace not just the theory of liberty, but its practice as well.
The new Laissez Faire Books began a Club of people dedicated to this goal. We gather to read the e-books distributed every week. These are classics and new works. I wish I could tell you some of the offerings that are coming, but this much I promise: there are books coming that no one else on the planet would be willing to risk publishing. Regardless, each book comes with a video and an opportunity for group engagement to inspire more learning and more liberty each day.
No, we never asked permission to start this Club. It's our way of joining the mass movement. Break bad with us and join the Laissez Faire Club.
Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo, It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, and A Beautiful Anarchy: How to Build Your Own Civilization in the Digital Age, among thousands of articles. Click to sign up for his free daily letter. Email him: [email protected] | Facebook | Twitter