Archive for the ‘MasterResource’ Category

Rent-seekers at the Core: Rob Bradley is anxious to defend his role at Enron, but is uninterested in balance, open debate or correcting his own misstatements about EXXON's support for carbon taxes

May 10th, 2009 No comments

Apparently Rob Bradley`s self-proclaimed “free-market” energy blog, “MasterResource”, has experienced a recent increased flow of traffic, so Rob is busy patting himself on the back and spinning his blog to his new readers.

But what`s the reason for the increased traffic?  Is MasterResource finding more success at putting out a message of “free-market” energy and “principled entrepreneurship“?*

* This is a purportedly trademarked(!) phrase that encapsulates Bradley`s laudable professed beliefs that (i) “businesses, big or small, should not seek special favors from government but create private wealth via the economic means rather than the political means” and that (ii) “government activism, not consumer choice in a free society, is the major threat to energy sustainability”.

Far from it – in the face of the growing stream of unbalanced (pro-fossil fuels and “clean” coal), partisan, thinly argued, and some surprisingly not pro-free-market posts from MasterResource and its related sites, the Institute for Energy Research (of which Bradley is founder and CEO) and IER`s “independent grassroots affiliate”, the newly re-founded energy front group American Energy Alliance (which calls IER its “partner”), these groups and blogs have basically simply been earning negative attention from those they see as their opposition in a classic rent-seekers` battle over using government (via public opinion tools) to achieve economic and other ends.  IER has been busy pushing for greater energy production on “public” lands, while AEA, with the help of Burston-Marsteller, has created affliliates in every state, and is running a large “integrated education and advocacy campaign” against the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill (which AEA prefers to misleadingly call simply an “energy tax bill”).

As I noted in another post and in comments regarding a puzzled reaction by Bob Murphy (who has found himself the target of attacks as a result of speaking on behalf of IER against Obama`s green jobs program), this is too bad, not only because one of the first casualties in a war of words is truth and reason.  MasterResource and the folks Bradley runs with at IER and AEA are assembling their own “Baptists and Bootleggers” coalition, where market principles are given lip service (along with patriotism, energy independence and the like), but the funders appear to all have rather more common-place and less lofty motives.  The descent into partisan bickering (while Bradley tries to maintain a lofty tone, it`s easily seen elsewhere by those who pick up posts from his blog, IER and AEA) is too bad, but the natural consequence when one acts as a spokesman for particular classes of rent-seekers.

That this state of affairs – professing the high ground while fronting for rent-seekers (or “political capitalists”, to use a term that Bradley prefers) – is what Rob Bradley actually desires, seems to be attested to:

– (1) by the alacrity by which Bradley has rushed to defend himself and IER against criticisms that were generated in response to commentary from Master Resource and IER, while deliberately obfuscating and refusing to correct the record about ExxonMobil`s fairly dramatic change in position – from opposition to government action on climate financial support to cutting off funding for IER and to actively supporting carbon taxes (Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson: “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.”); and

– (2) of course, by the fact that, despite Bradley`s professed call to “Let the analysis and debate continue–and assume the best of intentions and civil discourse from all of us at MasterResource,” he banned me from the site, without explanation, and without the knowledge or consent of his “volunteer” co-bloggers in mid-conversations (Tom Tanton carried the conversation to my blog, while Chip Knappenberger responded by email, and I just discovered that Marlo Lewis, weeks after I was banned, posted a rejoinder).

Sure, Rob, let the “high-level” discourse continue, with nary an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of others`s preferences, of the role of government in frustrating such preferences so far, and of the firms and investors that continue to benefit from government interventions at the expense of consumers and the public weal. 

Heaven forbid anyone call for greater competition in power markets, for finding ways to rein in the mismanagement of the federal lands that your friends are itching to drill/mine, or for a frank acknowledgment that the world faces a number of “environmental” problems as a result of a lack of clear or enforceable private or communal property rights in important shared resources.

It`s the Austrian/libertarian/Objectivist way, after all.

Do actions speak louder than words?

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):

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
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 }

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 }

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 }

“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.
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]

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

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)?

Marlo Lewis/CEI at MasterResource: why a massive cap & trade program is much, much better than Jim Hansen’s simple rebated carbon tax idea. Or not.

March 3rd, 2009 2 comments

Marlo Lewis of CEI has a rather schizophrenic post up at Rob Bradley‘s MasterResource blog – one of my favorite “free market” fossil-fuel industry-funded sites (unlike the NRO’s “Planet Gore”, MasterResource actually allows comments!) – regarding the proposal by leading “alarmist” climate scientist Dr. James Hansen (of NASA and Columbia U.’s Earth Institute) that the federal government adopt a “tax and dividend” climate policy instead of a “cap and trade” approach.

Lewis notes that Hansen recently testified in front of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee about Hansen’s “tax and dividend” proposal, but while Lewis calls Hansen’s per capita rebated carbon tax proposal “clever”, Lewis puzzlingly fails to compare Hansen’s proposal with the cap and trade alternative that the Obama administration supports and that Congress (and industry) appears to favor.  Instead we get some poorly grounded speculation about the effects of a carbon tax and complaints about the political viability of a transparent carbon tax – all of which points not only ignore the more opaque, rent-seeking prone and heavy-handed cap and trade alternative, but by implication suggests that those who prefer an opaque and back-room deal prone cap and trade approach have made the correct political calculation.

Nor does Lewis make any mention of all of the support that carbon taxes have received, not only from economists, but from a wide range of others, including Exxon`s Rex Tillerson and various neocons, conservatives and libertarians (George Will, Congressman Bob Inglis, Jon Adler, Barbara Thoring, etc.), at least in comparison to cap and trade.

As a result, one is forced to wonder just whati it is that Lewis is trying to achieve – is he trying to sabotage a government-lite carbon policy, so that government-heavy policy is more likely to prevail?  If so, why?  Or does he really think that opposing EVERY carbon pricing policy is the most effective way to delay and/or influence ultimate policy outcomes?  I for one am confused.

My more extensive (and less high-level) comments to Marlo Lewis on his comment thread are copied below:

first, I’m afraid I don’t follow you on the science. We can’t stop our
still growing GHG releases on a dime, much less the short- to
medium-term feedbacks from water, methane and albedo changes, and
long-term will persist for centuries, and the water cycles, the oceans’
pH and world’s biota are changing noticeably and fairly rapidly, even
without significant further increases during the past decade – yet what
is it, precisely, about our ability to change our influence on the
system or to control responses that gives you comfort? Why do you seem
to think it is “conservative” for our nation and others to do nothing
in light of our remarkable and uncontrolled global climate experiment?

BTW, surely you are aware that Hansen has earlier offered extensive
information that paleoclimate records indicate that long-range climate
rsponse to a CO2 doubling is on the scale of 3 degrees C. Did you miss
that? Or were you more eager to say that Hansen’s reference to more
recent studies about facts some how implies that Hansen is “dissing”
models? What’s the point anyway, other than point-scoring – if facts
appear to indicate that long-term sensitivity is relatively high,
should we be ignoring that and placing our faith in models instead?
Should facts not further inform models, or policy-makers?

Second, while you note Hansen’s attack on cap & trade and his
“tax and dividend” proposal “quite clever”, you fail to offer any
opinion on the realative merits of these quite different proposals.
Instead, you offer some sniping criticisms of tax and dividend, as if
you are hoping that the consequence will be that the Obama
administration, Dems and rent-seekers generally will turn away from
climate policy altogether. But isn’t that nothing but wishful thinking,
and shouldn’t libertarians and others who prefer to avoid the
monstrosity of cap & trade be trying to encourage the efforts of
those whose proposals would be much less economically damaging? Isn’t
Hansen’s proposal far preferable over cap & trade, and the kind of
industrial planning that Jon Adler says is inevitable from the EPA
under EPA vs. Massachusetts without legislative action?

Exxon and a host of others (as noted at the blog posts linked at my
name) have come clearly down in favor of carbon taxes over cap &
trade; perhaps you may at some point care to favor us with your own
comparative views.

It seems to me that Hansen’s proposal is clearly preferable; it
could be easily implemented and monitored, would not involve large new
bureaucracies, would be much more transparent and less susceptible to
rent-seeking, would provide market signals on GHGs while having no
fiscal impact, would be grounded in the principle that the atmosphere
is owned by citizens and not government (or by corporations that are
given or purchase rights to emit GHGs), and, by being refunded per
capita to citizens would be generally progressive.

Third, as for your criticisms of Hansen’s proposal:

– carbon taxes will hit coal use more heavily than petroluem or
natural gas, so focussing first on “pain at the pump” smacks of
pandering, especially as revenue recycling may eliminate the pain

– older, dirtier coal plants are already uneconomic and generate
tremendous costs to health and property that are not costed to
producers or consumers; taxing carbon is a great way to end some of the
nonsense incentivized by the CAA. Your speculation about power supply
and electricity prices is nothing more than speculation, but oil and
gas-fired plants could be brought on line relatively quickly;

– as for the “green stimulus” effect, it is ironic that you fail to
see that the fact that “There is no guarantee people will use their
dividends to buy hybrid cars, energy-efficient appliances, or green
energy” is in fact an argument IN FAVOR of rebated carbon taxes as
opposed to cap and trade, as the first allows much greater economic
freedom and is thus more conducive to wealth creation. Further, not
only is dividending the tax proceeds a great way to make sure that the
government doesn’t have an even larger pot to dole out mandates,
subsidies and other goodies to favored industries, but the right could
trade its acceptance for such a tax for elimination of existing
subsidies to ethanol and solar.

– your point about labor productivity is fair, but it ignores the
social cost of carbon. Has forcing polluting industries for the ’60s on
benefitted society and improved productivity as a whole the whole? Or
is it simply more important to allow certain classes of producers and
consumers to profit while continuing to shift costs to others?

– as for “massive” transfers, this is all “would” and “could”
without any backing, and it completely ignores all of the massive
wealth transfers involved in the way we presently regulate power
generation and energy (and have refused to regulate GHGs). I’m happy to
have more information, but let’s not forget that the whole purpose is
to have a closer alignment between profits/benefits and social costs.