Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 23, 2013
Brian Gongol

Joining the family business
Nik Wallenda followed in the family business -- tightrope-walking -- with a walk across part of the Grand Canyon tonight, broadcast on the Discovery Channel. You know, when the family is in a really stupid business, it's OK not to join the family business. Even if it's been the family business for seven generations.

But it's interesting to think about the notion of the "family business". We romanticize it a lot -- but I was talking earlier today with someone who's in a family business, and in a position a lot like me in my own family business. We exchanged some thoughts on how important it is to keep an eye on the long term, which should hypothetically be easier in the context of a family business. But essential to that long-term vision -- equally important as the patience it implies -- is the drive to try to think constantly about the major risks to the business. As I've put it before, the best way to stay in business is to try to put yourself out of business.

A matter of convenience
It should come as no particular surprise that the White House is planning to make a big announcement about global warming on Tuesday. It's been a bad couple of weeks for the Obama administration, which is under fire for the NSA's surveillance practices, the FBI's rather unsettling level of attention to journalists, the IRS's excessive attention to some right-wing political groups, and other subjects. So it's probably just a matter of good political strategy to throw some serious red meat to the President's left-wing base.

But just because something like a new set of rules or regulations on climate change make for good political strategy doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do.

I'm not part of the climate-change denial crowd. It seems probable that human activity has changed the nature of the climate. But it also seems probable that this is a case of taking one's foot off the gas long after a high speed has been reached. We could cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States dramatically (and at great expense), but it seems likely that a lot of the damage has already been done -- and it's quite certain that China is already producing more carbon dioxide than we are. Now, there may be ways to sensibly and efficiently reduce the damage we may be doing -- as gas prices rise, for instance, we all have good reason to buy cars that are more efficient. But even if we try to go "cold turkey", there's a good chance that bad things will already happen.

Anytime someone proposes new government spending, taxes, or regulations (which are the equivalent of taxes), we should ask whether that spending is likely to do the most good. I'd propose that instead of spending a lot of money on greenhouse-gas cuts with very little certainty of return, we should instead pursue ways of directly saving lives, both here and abroad. We could do a lot of good in the developing world by fighting diseases like malaria and making big strides in sanitation. We could save lives here at home by making our roads safer. I'd propose doing that by pushing hard for the development of self-piloted cars. 32,367 people were killed on American roads in 2011 (the last year that has been fully analyzed); speed was involved in 31% of those deaths, and alcohol was also involved in 31%. Self-driving cars would neither speed nor drive drunk. Get rid of those factors, and we could cut the number of road deaths by 10,000 to 20,000. That would be dramatic, and well worth a reasonable cost.