We had many excellent nominations for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.
I nominated Banksy, the graffiti artist whose works promote free speech, provide thoughtful social criticism, and beautify public spaces. But Banksy’s influence is not widespread enough to have done the most to improve the human condition. And I think we have already acknowledged the importance of free speech and public art by honoring Wim Nottroth.
Anna nominated the auto pioneer and believer in consumer choice, Ransom E. Olds. Having faith in the consumer rather than central planning does improve the human condition, but as Greg noted in the comments, the essence of consumer choice is among providers, not within them. But to his credit we can say that at least Olds was not the anti-Semite and general bigot, Henry Ford.
Collin re-nominated Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV broadcasts of football games. Collin’s post was hilarious, especially the bit about how “Stan Honey made watching football with football novices tolerable.” But I’m afraid that Honey fell short again. The Al isn’t just about quirky inventors of novel and useful products, even though those do improve the human condition.
And this is the same reason that Greg’s nomination of Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, the inventors of bubble wrap, doesn’t make the grade. The Al should recognize something more transformative — like spicy chicken.
I’m proud to announce that the winner of the 2012 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award is George P. Mitchell, the natural gas entrepreneur who commercialized fracking and horizontal drilling techniques that have made cheap, clean natural gas plentiful.
A common theme in all Al honorees is how they improved the human condition through individual freedom, not government control. Earle Haas liberated women from several days of confinement each month by developing the modern, hygienic tampon. This expanded women’s economic and political power by given them full access to public life. This advance in civil liberties came from a private businessperson, not from a government mandate. And the fact that he and the Tampex Company made a fortune in the process in no way sullies the benefits they produced for women. In fact, that profit motive made the advance possible by incentivizing them to develop and market it. And contrary to the vaguely Marxist critique of advertising as creating false and unnecessary desires, the marketing of the tampon was an essential part of making women aware of the tampon’s benefits and helping women overcome the ignorance and stigmas that hindered widespread use of tampons.
Similarly, Wim Nottroth’s improvement to the human condition came from his embrace of individual liberty. He stood up to an Orwellian government edict that denouncing killing was the equivalent of hate-speech against Muslims. As I’ve argued before, the most serious threats to liberty come from small-minded government officials and their enablers surrendering our freedom in the name of promoting something good, not the big scary dictators whose threats are self-evidently menacing and more easily resisted.
And Debrilla M. Ratchford, the inventor of the rollerbag, won the first Al in recognition of how important the quirky inventor of something useful could be to improving the human condition. But inventing knick-knacks and doo-dads is not the only, or even necessarily the most important, way to improve the human condition.
George P. Mitchell didn’t even invent the techniques that he commercialized to extract significantly more natural gas. Mitchell’s efforts didn’t just reduce carbon emissions by making clean energy plentiful, as Matt documents in his nomination. Mitchell demonstrated how improving the human condition, including improving the environment, is more likely to come from individual freedom and capitalism than from government coercion.
Yes, Mitchell was richly rewarded financially for his accomplishments, but we’ve already established that making money in no way undermines one’s case for having improved the human condition. Besides, I had never heard of him before, so the recognition that comes with winning the Al is appropriate. And yes, some people have publicly recognized the great things that fracking and horizontal drilling have done, but as far as I know Mitchell’s contribution has never been highlighted before.
And just to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, Hollywood is organizing the anti-fracking campaign with a forthcoming movie featuring Matt Damon about how fracking poisons a town. Here’s the trailer, which really puts the capital B in subtle:
And here’s the Oscar winning moment for Damon in the film:
Mitchell’s Al beats any Oscar any day for actually recognizing something that makes our lives better.