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"The Climes, They Are A-Changin`"; Or, Dylan Does Copenhagen

December 6th, 2009 No comments

Apologies, but I can`t resist:

I saw a news item earlier today – “Copenhagen climate summit borrows Dylan’s voice” – that indicates that the COP 15 organizers (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which Pres. George H.W. Bush & Congress made US a party) are making informal use of Bob Dylan`s “A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall” as a conference theme (“UN to release ‘Hard Rain’ film with Bob Dylan tune on eve of climate talks | Spero News“). 

Well, a different Dylan song popped into my head; tweaked very slightly, it goes like this:

The Climes They Are A-Changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the climes they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Dylan`s original, The Times They Are A-Changin` is here.

I intend no offense here to anyone; those with different predilections on climate and the problem of government and rent-seeking will see this and other Rorshach Blots differently.

But for readers that have made it this far, I note the following:

The Road Not Taken V: Libertarian hatred of misanthropic "watermelons" and the productive love of aloof ad-homs

November 5th, 2009 2 comments

I copy below a comment I just left at Stephan Kinsella`s post on the main LvMI Blog, “Physicist Howard Hayden’s one-letter disproof of global warming claims“, which I have discussed here in several preceeding posts.

TokyoTom Published: November 4, 2009 10:54 PM (minor edits; links added)

Stephan:

– “They, like you, accept the state’s line and are happy to cede power to the state to “make things better.””

Except I DON`T “accept the state`s line”, nor am I “happy to cede power to the state”, which is precisely why I bother to interrupt your fantasies here.

This, in fact, represents the fallacy that is at work in climate change discussions here – and that almost completely vitiates the libertarian message –  namely, that if one concurs that we`ve got a potential problem, then they must then agree to the statist agenda.

So instead of any effort to engage ON the libertarian agenda, we get guys like you pandering – with demonstrable nonsense from guys like Harvey – to libertarians who hope the statists and the purported problem will just kindly go away.

What a great way for libertarians to muzzle themselves, and to stand by helplessly instead of weighing in.

Trying to reassure yourself and your buddies that the man with a gun is either deluded or trying to take over the world is hardly either reassuring, or a step on the way to getting him to put the gun down.

Nor is calling those [like me] who think conversation may be more efficiacious a “comrade to rotten watermelons” in any way helpful, unless the goal is simply to reinforce the echo chamber.

Watermelons, ahh, watermelons!  How helpful, and so much fun to bandy about this little bit of ad hom! Is it getting time for Austrians once more to gather `round the fire, and roast some watermelons?  Holiday joy: roasting “watermelons” on an open pyre!  A little eliminationist fantasy [a la Czech physicist Lubos Motl is not that far away ….

As I noted in my above post explaining the use of the “watermelon” ad hom:

“watermelon” is a venerable ad hominem here, useful for Miseseans to put fingers in their ears and dismiss what practically everyone who disagrees with them on climate change – from our national academies of science on down – has to say.

The trick is to first dismiss the evil “enviros” – you know, that class of rent-seekers that Rothbard and others tell us were created when statist corporations managed to subvert common law protections against polution damage to property – by focussing on their efforts to use the state to control corprations, while resolutely ignoring not only corporate statism but what Austrian economics tells us about how markets and private transaction are inefficient with respect to resources that are not clear owned or protected by enforceable property rights.

Then, having dismissed those wacky “watermelons”, we can simply ignore everyone else, by jeering at the enviros and thereby implicitly imputing to the whole scientific, economic, business and government community the same malevolent and stupid misanthropism.

Neat trick, isn`t it?

IOW, enviros should be burned at the stake for the heresy of trying to use the state to solve a possible problem, and everyone else, who have gullibly been corrupted by them, ignored. In this way, we can cleanse the body politic and avoid serious mistakes. See?

Serious people know that only irreproachable commentators like Dr. Reisman get to suggest that we use the state to address possible climate change:

“there is a case for considering the possible detonation, on uninhabited land north of 70° latitude, say, of a limited number of hydrogen bombs. … This is certainly something that should be seriously considered by everyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to preserve modern industrial civilization and retain and increase its amenities. If there really is any possibility of global warming so great as to cause major disturbances, this kind of solution should be studied and perfected. Atomic testing should be resumed for the purpose of empirically testing its feasibility.”

We can distinguish you from Dr. Reisman, Stephan, since you helpfully insist that the state should not engage in this testing, so that we must first privatize the holding of nuclear weapons, so that firms and individuals, unhindered by the state, can engage in such experimentation.  Such clear-mindedness is commendable, since freedom-loving commenters here or elsewhere seldom consider the difficult statist elements implicit in most discussions of active “geo-engineering” to dampen or reverse any climate change problem.

But while we`re on the subject of criticizing “watermelons” and their supposed “comrades”-in-arms, one wonders when aloof purists like you will ever deign to criticize fellow libertarians like Rob Bradley and Bob Murphy, who are also actively engaged in this statist discussion – shame! – but on behalf of the fossil fuel firms and utilities that until now have been the most successful rent-seekers.

So far, all we see with regard to the way libertarians actively defend successful rent-seeking is a studied indifference.

– “now that we have irrelevant credentials out of the way, let’s stick to substance.”

Absolutely; I was just concerned not to leave you hanging out there on the “irrelevant” limb all by yourself.

Best,

TT

As I noted on the main thread, surely it wouldn`t be helpful if I in like fashion called libertarians who refuse to engage in a principled discussion on the issue of climate policy (preferring instead to comfort themselves with one-page letters that tell us that our massive releases of greenhouse gases. etc. is peachy-keen) “coconuts” – hard on the outside, but empty on the inside?

The extra richness of Robert Bradley/MasterResource: diehard libertarian making a living at pure rent-seeking ("political capitalism")

September 11th, 2009 No comments

Lord knows I`ve got better things to do, but I can`t resist.

Rob Bradley has written extensively on energy regulation from a libertarian viewpoint and spent a number of years as an adviser to Ken Lay inside Enron – apparently seeing up-close (while conscientiously fighting a losing battle to steer Enron away from) the now well-known efforts of Enron to use the power of government to create profitable markets for it. Bradley`s energy commentary came to my attention a few years ago (on the Mises pages), and I have been observing him fairly closely over the past year, particularly after the launch of MasterResource, his “free-market energy blog”.

Unfortunately, even while Bradley has been making some very thoughtful comments on energy policy, he is now rather nakedly involved in precisely the game of
rent-seeking (Rob`s preferred term is “political capitalism”) that he
so loudly decries in practically every blog post or other piece of
“free-market” commentary that he spins out.

Bradley`s activities now include:

  • his commentary and support for Institute for Energy Resources
    a “free market” “think tank” that he founded and remains CEO of but which is
    now staffed by former Republican K Street apparatchiks Essentially the same staff as AEA, noted next), and which has moved from
    Houston to DC, the better to engage in influence peddling, but whose
    cover was blown wide open last year when ExxonMobil (a firm that Bradley has made clear, in post after post, that he adores), announced that it would no longer fund
    IER
    and others whose activities were tied too closely to anti-climate change
    science and policies that Exxon has decided are counterproductive);
  • support for the public lobbying arm of IER, the American Energy Alliance, staffed by former Republican K Street apparatchiks, which
    has been coordinating “grassroots” events to put political pressure on
    Congresscritters from coal-producing and -consuming states; and
  • his relentless blogging on climate police at MasterResource
    his chief soapbox – with co-bloggers who are generally well-regarded
    but nevertheless professionals at the climate policy influence game (such as Chip Knappenberger, who works at a self-proclaimed “advocacy science consulting firm”).

This is clearly a rent-seeker`s game, and Rob is in the thick of it, producing a steady stream of one-sided political, economic and scientific argument after another.

Bradley valiantly pretends simply to be an opponent of some possibly counterproductive government policies (of which there are plenty, to be sure) that various nefarious and/or corrupt interest groups are advancing, but in reality serves as a paid spokesman for that group of interests that have benefitted most from the status quo, and have the most to lose from any form of carbon pricing –  including “King Coal“, as Bradley so aptly names them. Coal merits unfailingly positive references – it`s clean, it`s cheap, it`s the FUTURE – but never any observations of the pollution resulting from coal (significant annual deaths, breaches of fly ash dams, court cases regarding cross-border pollution) or of the negative role of government ownership of coal reserves or of misguided federal regulations (Clean Air Act grandfathering of the oldest, dirtiest plants, and right to pollute; and the federal supplanting of private tort protections regarding air pollution and mountaintop removal practices).

It looks like a pretty good brew that Bradley serves up – he serves his clients well – but it`s always been a bit too strong for me. As a result, Rob has booted me from his bar, and I`ve been left to occasionally grumble outside. I haven`t particularly lost interest so much as run out of time and an ability to keep up, particularly as the flow of rhetoric and partial “analysis” has increased (in step with the legislative agenda).

But in a couple of recent posts by Bradley, the brew of self-righteous, self-serving and self-deceptive rhetoric has proved too rich for me to ignore.

1. The first is a naked appeal to influence the policy leanings of the natural gas industry, in Bradley`s September 8 post, the title of which lays bare Bradley`s clients: “Why Natural Gas Should Not Play the Cap-and-Trade Game (the real enemy is mandated renewables/conservation, not coal)” (geez, has he beat my record for long titles?). Why is this rich? First, because coal is the heaviest producer of GHGs per BTU, so coal is obviously most threatened by climate bills (that`s why Bradley and a legion of others can make a living at this, after all). Next, some of the reasons he trots out, such as his reference to “grassroot” citizens in Houston that Bradley and the American Petroleum Institute organized, and the more straightforward argument that, to be blunt, “Big Coal is too powerful for a Kill Coal bill on the Senate side“.  But despite all of coal`s bluster, Bradley knows that it is THEY that are on the table, not natural gas, and so he argues that it`s really natural gas “as the swing fuel in electricity generation” that loses mostly from a climate bill. Which is why Bradley closes with an appeal to natural gas to help not coal, but “capitalism in its desperate hour”.

2. The second post is a re-post of interesting earlier commentary by Bradley concerning Enron. This is rich because Bradley continually tries to draw important lessons about what went wrong at Enron (while thumping his chest about his own efforts to correct “philosophical errors” at the firm), while blindly ignoring his own present involvement in the self-same “political capitalism” that he decries. Bradley just conveniently overlooks that “political  capitalism” lies not solely in seeking CURRENT political favor, but also in PAST efforts to secure such favor, and in ongoing efforts to preserve it. One wonders whether for Bradley, reciting the lessons he learned from Enron might be serving as a salve for a guilty conscience for actually forgetting the inconvenient part of such lessons (and deeper Austrian lessons about problem solving and the frustration of preferences when government is acting heavy-handedly).

Okay, I`m all out of rants for now.

 

Categories: Bradley, Coal, Enron, rent-seeking Tags:

More stupid from Tierney; this time on "Kuznets curve" and the dynamics of "wealthier and greener"

May 11th, 2009 No comments

In addressing in a recent post Rob Bradley`s claim to have a “high” level of readers, I was reminded that one of his best and most frequent commenters was a budding conservative, war-supporting “libertarian” who actually, in the past month that I`ve been banned from the blog, has just graduated from high school.  A  “high” level of readership, indeed!

But as this young reader seemed interested in hearing more about libertarian views, I visited his blog (courtesy of Bradley, no longer being able to continue a conversation on MasterResource) and found that he was being led astray by New York Times` in-house “skeptic” science reporter, John Tierney, who had just devoted a long article – “Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet” – to conclusively demonstrate that he had NO CLUE about the dynamics underlying the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC).  

Tierney seems to believe that the Kuznets curve means that greater wealth magically makes for a cleaner environment.  To the contrary, it is the hard work of people, expressing their desires to protect their own property and to realize other preferences regarding shared resources, to increase wealth by finding means (property rights institutions, litigation and government regulation) to end tragedy of the commons-type situtations, who improve their environment.  That is, working to close externalities leads to both wealthier and greener societies.  

(I`ve remarked on the Kuznets curve before; interestingly, conservatives seem to misunderstand it more than liberals.)

So I tried to offer a more libertarian understanding, which I`ve taken the liberty of memorializing here (with typo correction and emphasis and further links added):

  • Andrew, food for thought on enviro Kuznets:

    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=kuznets
    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/01/22/poor-countries-need-capitalism-not-climate-change-welfare.aspx
    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/09/27/too-many-or-too-few-people-does-the-market-provide-an-answer.aspx

    Unfortunately, Tierney simply fails to understand that the enviro Kuznets curve does not tell us that problems relating to environmental cost-shifting or to the over-exploitation of unowned commons are best resolved by ignoring them and simply hoping for the best. Rather, it affirms that as people become more wealthy, they care more about protecting the environment and put more elbow grease into achieving improvements – via improved property rights protection, improved information disclosure, greater consumer pressure and even through greater regulation (which is the path the West has largely followed), and reaching agreements with others sharing the relevant resource).

    In other words, the work relating to global, regional and various national commons (atmosphere, seas, forests, water, etc.) is still ahead of us. Libertarians can advocate for property rights (and privatization of public lands) as ways to have a more efficient (and just) path on the curve, or they provide implicit support for powerful and dirty industries by standing by and waiting until citizen pressure groups force government to act in heavy-handed ways.

    TT


  • timetochooseagain

    Tom, I disagree. The way that richer leads to cleaner is through improved technology, not with the government creating artificial markets and new definitions of property. How exactly is it you think that you can extend property rights to the atmosphere? And what would that do? Spawn lawsuits? Why would you want to do that? You would just jack up energy prices. I am trying to understand your suggestions, but they just don’t make sense to me.


  • Andrew. I suggest that you start with this short article by Yandle:http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-commons-tragedy-or-triumph/

    I have plenty more links on my blog to him, Terry Anderson, Mises, Cordato, Block, Rothbard and others on Austrian approaches to environmental issues, fisheries, and climate. Ron Bailey (at Reason) has good posts on fisheries; leading enviro groups all agree that more privatization is desirable:http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/01/15/for-crashing-fisheries-coalition-of-mainline-us-enviro-groups-calls-for-property-rights.aspx

    Commons remain commons either because government ownership prevents privatization (as in the Amazon, US public lands and most fisheries management) or because full privatization is difficult. There are many examples of the latter case that involve semi-privatization and commons management, like traditional forestries, fisheries and water rights. Elinor Ostrom is the expert on commons; I have plenty of links to her too.

    By the way, you really should read Rothbard and Block on the history of air pollution and the undermining of the common law by industrial interests. The result has been and remains, on net, a subsidy to large polluters, particularly utilities, who have a license to pollute and immunity from most suits from injured persons. If coal was paying its true costs it would have been much cleaner years ago. The American Lung Assn said in 2004 that power plant pollution causes 24,000 premature deaths each year (at least 50% more than annual homicides), as well as over 550,000 asthma attacks and 38,000 heart attacks annually.


  • timetochooseagain

    “If coal was paying its true costs it would have been much cleaner years ago.”

    And how would it do that without technological development exactly? There are natural incentives in the market to reduce pollution-one can’t sell electricity to dead people, after all. But if the technology to clean up energy does not exist, how are they helped to find it by being sued by people who use their energy and then complain about the pollution? There is not just the property rights of those with a stake in the commons to consider, but the rights of the energy producer, too. What your suggesting, the way I see it, would be defacto regulation of the right of producers to do what they do best-produce. In the Laissez Faire approach, everyone gets richer, they invest in energy research (of their own free will) to develop cleaner energy. Then pollution goes down. What is wrong with that? It seems anything else added on to that is ad hoc…

  • Easy, Andrew. People and firms invest all the time in doing things in response to incentives, both positive and negative; viz. they also try to reduce costs, including the costs their activities impose on others if those they injured have rights of recourse. The effort to reduce costs is one of the chief factors driving technological advances.

    Surely you`re not suggesting that the best way to encourage wealthier societies is to free people from responsibility for the damages they cause others? That`s hardly a Lockean or libertarian view. A “Laissez Faire approach” leaves government out, in favor of voluntary transactions and enforecment of property rights, including rights not to be injured. The regulatory state has in fact been a boon to the most powerful producers, by giving them rights to pollute, often grandfafthering dirty plants, while forcing the highest costs on more nimble and cleaner producers. If you^re interested in learning about libertarian approaches to the environment, again, I suggest you look at Rothbard, Cordato, Block and others, whom I link to on my blog.

    You seem to make reference to the enviro Kuznets curve, and how wealthier societies bring pollution dow, while completely missing the dynamics. Wealthier societies clean up because they insist on bringing an end to tragedy of the commons-type exploitation of resources. A society that focusses on property rights typically has a lower curve than societies that fail to enforce property rights (needed for Coasean bargaining) in favor of government regulatory approaches. Our own curve remains too high, because wealtheir investors prefer to use regulation to shift costs to the rest of society.


  • timetochooseagain

    Alright, Tom, I will look into the things you are talking about more thoroughly. You seem to know a lot about this topic.

[Fixed] Exxon/Rex Tillerson: No longer willing to be "conservative" on climate risks, advocates carbon taxes and invests in carbon-lite tech

March 7th, 2009 No comments

[Somehow
most of my excerpts of Tillerson`s speech weren`t included in my first try; there`re here
this time.]

It may still seem novel to some, but Exxon
Mobil Corporation
began throwing its weight behind carbon pricing
policies
more
than two years ago

Subsequently, Rex
Tillerson,
Exxon`s Chairman and CEO, has
given
a
number of speeches
on
Exxon`s actions (and cost savings) in reducing its own GHG emissions, its
investments in energy technologies that further improve energy efficiency and
GHG efficiency, and Exxon`s views on climate risks and preferred policy
options.  Why is this worth mentioning?  Simply, Exxon is an
excellent, well-run company that knows the energy business and climate risks
well (its scientists have been sitting on the IPCC panels fromtheir inception),
so it has some credibility (in this vein, Rob Bradley`s MasterResource
“free-market” energy blog has a post up toda,
similarly remarking on Exxon`s credibility
as well-run, principled and
“the consumer’s friend and the taxpayer’s friend;” Rob just
conveniently fails to mention Exxon`s pro carbon-tax stance).

Tillerson made another such speech on February 17, on the occasion
of a visit to the Stanford
University
-centered
Global
Climate and Energy Project (GCEP)
, the world`s largest privately-funded
effort to conduct basic research on energy technologies that will further
reduce GHG emissions.  Exxon has has committed $100 million to
GCEP over ten years and has been the lead funder of GCEP since its
establishment in December 2002.  The punchline of Tillerson’s remarks?

“It
is rare that a business lends its support to new taxes. But in this
case, given the risk-management challenges we face and the alternatives
under consideration, it is my judgment that a carbon tax is the best
course of public policy action. And it is a judgment I hope others in
the business community and beyond will come to share.”

Tillerson`s
full speech here
is worth a look; I excerpt a few portions below – climate
policy comments are largely at the end (emphasis added):

GCEP’s research program, like ExxonMobil’s, is shaped to fit the contours of what has been termed the “grand challenge” before us. It is, in fact, a dual challenge — supplying the energy essential to global economic growth, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions and managing the risks of climate change. …


However, the world economy will recover. History shows that human ingenuity and productivity cannot long be suppressed. And when the world economy recovers, so will world energy demand.


Growing populations in developing countries who are seeking higher standards of living will drive this increased energy demand, which is expected to be 35 percent higher in the year 2030 than it was in the year 2005, despite the current and temporary economic conditions.


Meeting this growing long-term societal demand requires that we develop all economic and environmentally sound sources of energy. This includes hydrocarbon energy sources like oil and natural gas, which are abundant, available, versatile and affordable.


Huge investments over many decades have enabled oil and natural gas to meet close to 60 percent of the world’s enormous energy needs today, and projections are that oil and natural gas will account for a majority of the world energy demand through at least the year 2030. They are simply indispensable and irreplaceable at scale.


This global energy demand challenge is matched by a global environmental challenge — curbing greenhouse-gas emissions and addressing the risks of climate change. Thanks to greater energy efficiency and growing use of cleaner energy such as natural gas for power generation, greenhouse-gas emissions levels are expected to decline in some developed economies. …


The challenge for developing economies is more daunting, where energy demand is increasing as growing populations strive for higher standards of living. For example, by the year 2030, China’s carbon-dioxide emissions will be comparable to those of the United States and Europe combined — even recognizing that China’s energy use and emissions will be much lower on a per-capita basis — rising from 4 metric tons per capita in 2005 to 5.8 metric tons per capita in 2030.


Nonetheless, the net effect of these countervailing trends will be a sizeable increase in greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. Even with dramatic gains in efficiency, rising demand for energy will continue to push related carbon-dioxide emissions higher through the year 2030 — an increase of 28 percent from the year 2005. …

 

To develop these integrated solutions, we will need to find the best ways to unlock new technology. Energy innovation — led by private enterprise, furthered by independent research, spread by free markets, and supported by sensible and stable public policy — will be essential to enabling us to achieve each of these aims. It is the key to a more prosperous, more secure, and more sustainable energy and environmental future.


It is important to remember, however, that gains in efficiency and technology occur over time.


The most dramatic changes will not happen overnight, due to the sheer complexity of the technologies we develop and the enormous scale of the global energy market. Technological transformation takes time.


The history of energy over the last century helps put such transformation into perspective. For example, it is estimated that at the beginning of the 20th century, coal and wood provided more than 95 percent of the world’s energy needs. From that point, it took more than half a century for petroleum — a cleaner and more versatile alternative — to surpass coal as the world’s largest energy source. It took nearly 50 years more to develop the technologies and build the global infrastructure so that natural gas, an even cleaner-burning source, could play a sizable role in the world’s energy mix.


This reality about timeframes is another reason why we need energy policies that allow for long-term planning and consistent, disciplined investments that lead to technological advances.


National and state governments can play a helpful role in this vital enterprise.


By creating a stable, long-term policy framework for investment in academic and commercial research efforts, government can be a partner in the short-, medium-, and long-term technological transformations we need.


One of the areas where government can provide needed stability is by implementing simple, transparent, and predictable policies to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions. Throughout the world, policymakers are considering a variety of legislative and regulatory options. In our view, assessing these policy options requires an understanding of their likely effectiveness, scale and cost, as well as their implications for economic growth and quality of life.


Consistent with that view, we believe that a carbon tax would be a more effective policy option to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions than alternatives such as cap-and-trade. Pricing carbon through a direct and transparent tax could incentivize the search for lower-emissions energy solutions while also providing the stability and predictability industrial companies need to make long-term, capital-intensive investments in equipment and research.


To ensure revenues raised from this tax are indeed directed to investment, and to assist those on lower incomes who spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, a carbon tax should be offset by tax reductions in other areas to become revenue neutral for government.

It is rare that a business lends its support to new taxes. But in this case, given the risk-management challenges we face and the alternatives under consideration, it is my judgment that a carbon tax is the best course of public policy action. And it is a judgment I hope others in the business community and beyond will come to share.

Categories: Bradley, carbon pricing, Exxon, Tillerson Tags:

MasterResource/Tom Tanton: another muddle-headed "free-marketer" who thinks it’s fine that coal gets to shift pollution costs to others

March 6th, 2009 6 comments

Sadly, so-called “free-marketers” are often so busy smacking down bad arguments from greens that they fail to note, much less acknowledge, that they’re fairly frequently making bad arguments themselves or ignoring gaping inconsistencies in their own positions.  Of course it IS awfully easy to get caught up in partisan conflict, which provides a nice rush of self-righteousness, but it probably also helps if you’re being paid to post by fossil fuel interests, like the folks over at the supposedly “free-market” MasterResource energy blog, of Rob Bradley‘s Institute for Energy Research.  In any case, it’s disappointing, not solely because it comes from “free-marketers”, but because it offers no hope of engaging productively with those with whom they disagree.  In other words, more of Culture Wars “R” Us.

I’ve already commented quite a number of times here about Rob Bradley and his co-bloggers at MasterResource, but I continue to be astonished by the inability of the bloggers (and some commenters) to notice when they are being inconsistent or are taking anti-market/anti-lbertarian positions.  A recent post by Rob Bradley on the limitations of wind power, with follow-on comments by others, is a case in point.  In his post, Rob trots out some very old literature to make some perfectly fine – if rather obvious and well-known – points about the limitations of wind power; I observed that of course one can make similar observations about the short-comings of other energy sources, such as the social costs of coal. 

While Rob fails to respond, a visitor and one of his guest bloggers, Tom Stanton, senior energy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute (which bills itself as a “champion [of] freedom,
opportunity, and personal responsibility for all individuals by
advancing free-market policy solutions”) ride to his rescue, with strawmen and astonishingly non-libertarian (indeed, utilitarian) commentary.  Why can’t the right do better than this?

For the interested, I excerpt the relevant comments below (emphasis added):

1
TokyoTom { 03.04.09 at 12:09 pm }

Rob, thanks for this; you are right of course about the drawbacks to wind.

Now can I interest you in some very, very old tracts on how dirty
coal is, both in mining and combustion, or newer ones about deaths,
health costs, damages to property that are still ongoing and
uncompensated?
BTW, while you are obviously an advocate for coal, are you also an
advocate that coal producers and consumers bear their own costs? Or is
shifting those costs to others a right that they have homesteaded?

Andrew { 03.04.09 at 6:45 pm }

Tom,
the question isn’t “is coal bad?” its “is it better than (essentially)
nothing?” It is. Coal, I submit, has save far more lives than it has
cost, and has improved quality of life more than damaged it.

TokyoTom { 03.05.09 at 3:58 am }

Andrew,
the question is NOT whether “coal is it better than (essentially)
nothing?”, just as it is not whether wind or any other energy source is
perfect or preferable.

The question is whether those who engage in economic activities are
bearing the costs or risks of those activities, or whether those
activities appear relatively preferable to the people involved because
they are able to shift damages, costs, risks and/or responsibilities
for consequences to others.

True libertarians insist that individuals (and firms) bear full
responsibility for harms caused to others; some in fact insist that
those who are harmed without their consent have the right to use courts
to enjoin the damaging activity. Maybe this all seems a little quaint
to you?

My point is simply that Rob is ignoring, rather obviously and perhaps deliberately, the human costs of the use of coal.

Tom Tanton { 03.05.09 at 9:15 am }

The
“human cost of coal” has been extensively studied as have most other
energy (nay, all economic) technologies. That study are most often
referred to as “externalities”–Guess what? The economic ‘costs’ of coal
are mostly, if not completely, offset by the economic benefits.
The
negative externalities are NOT enough to offset the higher cost
premiums of technologies like wind that never quite mature (most likely
because of the heavy per unit subsidy they’ve become dependent on after
35+ years.)
Now let’s see about human costs–in countries with coal (or nuclear or
any meaningful) baseload power isn’t the average life span about twice
that of folks living in countries with no or primitive energy? Aren’t
THOSE folks also less educated, and less free? Do they even have 15
minutes a day of “leisure time”?Aren’t those folks also burdened with
spending every daylight hour finding a piece of wood (or dung) to cook
their measly daily bread and using unsanitary water to boot?
I don’t believe Rob is ignoring the costs of coal. I believe Sir you’re
ignoring the economic and human benefits of coal and modern energy
.

TokyoTom { 03.05.09 at 12:08 pm } [links added]

Tom,
it seems that you understand little, if anything, about free markets or
libertarian principles. Murray Rothbard`s paper on air pollution makes
it clear that it was utilitarian arguments like yours – “the damage my
pollution does to you is fine because people want to but my products” –
that industry used in the 1800s to subvert the common law and run
roughshod over property rights, leading to the “pollution is free”
philosophy and ruinous competition where the non-polluter went
bankrupt. The upshot was the horrible pollution in the 50s, 60s and 70s
that led to tremendous citizens` movements to use government to bring
pollution under control – with laws signed by Republican presidents.

No externalities? Where were you? What motivated the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, SuperFund?

As for coal vs. wind, please spare me the strawman. I`m not at all
suggesting that wind OUGHT to be subsidized. I`m just asking for a
little intellectual honesty that will recognize that coal use IS
subsidized, by being allowed to shift real and significant costs to
others, and that we`d all be better off if those socialized costs were
internalized.

Perhaps someday it will occur to those who (correctly) want to bash
greens for their stupid proposals that they might be more successful if
they were a little more consistent themselves and started exploring
common ground. Where`s the post praising the federal court decision
forcing TVA to do a better job at cleaning flue gases than required by
the CAA in order to limit harm caused in NC, for example? Where`s the
post calling for the privatization of the bumbling, polluting TVA,
which keeps generating costs for taxpayers and ratepayers?

But that`s not what this blog is all about, is it? You guys are more
into making enemies and fighting over government than in truly shifting
risks and regulation back to markets and the courts.

As for countries abroad, this is of course unrelated to a discussion
local/regional costs and energy alternatives in the US. But since you
bring it up, don`t forget that the real reason why these other nations
aren`t developed yet is that they`re still kleptocracies that don`t
sufficiently protect private property rights and returns on
investments.  Why are you cheering on poor governance, instead of
suggesting that they could become wealthier sooner by accelerating
their move up the Kuznets curve
(which is an artifact not only of
preferences, but of insufficient information and laws that protect the
elites over private property of the masses)?