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Google electrifies power consumers by pairing its free PowerMeter software with a power monitor provider; sideteps public utility monopolies

October 9th, 2009 No comments

“If you cannot measure it; You cannot improve it.”

— Lord Kelvin

I noted in February (“Empowering power consumers: Google beta tests software to give consumers real-time info“) that Google, whose climate change-related efforts I’ve blogged about previously,
has been beta testing a new “PowerMeter” software that – when coupled with a “Smart Meter” installed by the local utility – will help consumers to measure, track and compare their real-time
electric usage, thereby allowing them to make better choices as to when
and how they use electricity, and to better match such use
to the pricing programs of their utilities. Google testers
have found that the software allows them to relatively easily cut use
(by an average of 15%), and to save on their electricity bills by an
even greater percentage.

Google has just announced that it has side-stepped the need for consumers to wait for their utility to install a smart meter, by partnering directly with TED (“The Energy Detective“), the provider of the TED 5000 device, presently priced at about $200, that consumers can  have attached to their power supply.

More information is here (from The Energy Circle, which has been testing PowerMeter with an earlier TED device) and here (CNET).

Next up? Hope springs eternal that developments like this will remind policy makers, pundits, pressure groups (like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and browbeating enviros like Joe Romm) that the real reason for the nasty public squabbling over “green” power mandates and subsidies (as I noted in a recent post about Steven Milloy`s railing about “evil” GE and federal stimulus
) is the fact that power markets are not free, but are burdened by sweet – and horrifically inefficient – cost+ deals to the public utilities. As I noted previously:

While there are plenty of root causes for the calls for legislative
and regulatory mandates in favor of clean / green / renewable power,
such as:

  • concerns about climate change,
  • the political deal in favor of dirty coal under the Clean Air Act, 
  • the enduring role of the federal and state governments in owning
    vast coal fields (the royalties from which it does not distribute to
    citizens but go into the General Pork Pool), 
  • the unwillingness of state courts, in the face of the political
    power of the mining industry, to protect persons and private from
    pollution and environmental disruption created by mining,
  • the deep involvement of the government in developing, encouraging and regulating nuclear power,

the most obvious and proximate root
cause is something that attracts far too little attention – the
frustration of consumer demand for green energy, and the inefficient
and inaccurate pricing and supply of electricity
.  It`s prettty clear that the
grant of public utility monopolies and the regulation of the pricing
and investments by utilities greatly restrict the freedom of power
markets, from the ability of consumers to choose their provider, to the
freedom of utilities to determine what infrastructure to invest in, to
even simple information
as to the cost of power as it varies by time of day and season, and the amount power consumers use by time of day or appliance.

With freer markets, we would see much more competition, better
pricing, much more cost-saving (and conservation), and more money
flowing into green power. So why is so little attention being paid to
all of the gains that could be achieved from less – and more rational –
power regulation?

Steve Milloy criticizes GE’s "smart-meter profiteering" via green mandates, but ignores state grants of "public utility" monopolies

October 2nd, 2009 No comments

Anti-enviro gadfly Steven Milloy has a new blog post up that rightly skewers the green mandates that are providing a taxpayer-funded stream of business and profits to GE.  Notes Milloy:

GE announced today that utility giant American Electric Power (AEP)
will purchase 110,000 smart meters from GE. And just how is AEP
managing to buy all these smart meters? President Obama and Congress
are making us pay for them.

On Sep. 1, AEP applied to the Department of Energy for $75 million in federal stimulus money for the smart meter purchase.

It’s a good thing that GE’s Immelt sits on Barack Obama’s Economic
Recovery Advisory Board — how else would the Department of Energy know
to direct smart meter purchases to GE?

Of course, AEP isn’t the only conduit for sending federal stimulus
money to GE. So far about 50 utilities have applied to DOE for a piece
of the almost $4 billion in stimulus money earmarked for smart meter

From an Austrian perspective, what`s wrong with this post? The simple fact that Milloy isn`t interested in problem-solving, but in bashing greens, Dems and GE. If he were a problem-solver, he would be a little less partisan and would devote a little more effort to throw light on some of the underlying factors that fuel green concerns and utility mandates, such a the little problem that states have prevented the development of free power markets by granting “public utility” monopoly status to local power providers, as I have noted in a number of posts.

A problem-solver might also devote some time to examining the entanglement of the state with other rent-seeking corporations, such as the coal producers; but those trapped in partisan, rent-seeking games are often good only at seeing the flaws of those whom they criticize, while ignoring the way that they themselves are co-opted by other rent-seekers.

I left Steven the following comment:

Steven I think your criticism of GE is fair, but it`s clearly lacking in context.

Where`s your post criticizing the states for their continuing grant
of monopoly status to “public utilities”, which is the chief reason why
there is no free market in providing power to consumers? With a free
markets, we`d have seen smart meters like GE`s years ago, and there
would be no basis for all of these “green power” mandates.

Why does everyone calling for or condemning government "green power" mandates ignore the frustrations resulting from public utility monopolies and regulatory Balkanization?

May 23rd, 2009 8 comments

The incessant calls for – and criticism of – government-funded/mandated “green/clean power” pork both ignore root causes and potential common ground.  As a result, both sides of the debate are largely talking past each other, one talking about why there is a pressing need for government policy to address climate change concerns (concerns underscored by the May 19 MIT study), while the other is concerned chiefly about the likelihood of heavy-handed mis-regulation and wasted resources.  This leaves the middle ground unexplored.

While there are plenty of root causes for the calls for legislative and regulatory mandates in favor of clean / green / renewable power, such as:

  • concerns about climate change,
  • the political deal in favor of dirty coal under the Clean Air Act, 
  • the enduring role of the federal and state governments in owning vast coal fields (the royalties from which it does not distribute to citizens but go into the General Pork Pool), 
  • the unwillingness of state courts, in the face of the political power of the mining industry, to protect persons and private from pollution and environmental disruption created by mining,
  • the deep involvement of the government in developing, encouraging and regulating nuclear power,

the most obvious and proximate root cause is something that attracts far too little attention – the frustration of consumer demand for green energy, and the inefficient and inaccurate pricing and supply of electricity.  It`s prettty clear that the grant of public utility monopolies and the regulation of the pricing and investments by utilities greatly restrict the freedom of power markets, from the ability of consumers to choose their provider, to the freedom of utilities to determine what infrastructure to invest in, to even simple information as to the cost of power as it varies by time of day and season, and the amount power consumers use by time of day or appliance.

With freer markets, we would see much more competition, better pricing, much more cost-saving (and conservation), and more money flowing into green power. So why is so little attention being paid to all of the gains that could be achieved from less – and more rational – power regulation?

Allow me to provide a few quotes and links to those interested:

1.  Lew Rockwell, President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, “The Real Cause of Blackouts” (July 27, 2006):

Now, if markets were in charge, a heat wave would not be looked at as a problem but as an opportunity. Entrepreneurs would be swarming to meet demand, just as they do in every other sector that is controlled by markets. The power companies would be praying for heat waves!

Just who is in charge of getting electricity to residents? A public utility, which, in the absurd American lexicon, means “state-run” and “state-managed,” perhaps with a veneer of private trappings. If you look at the electrical grid on a map, it is organized by region. If you look at the jurisdiction of management, it is organized by political boundaries.

In other ways, the provision of power is organized precisely as a central planner of the old school might plan something: not according to economics but according to some textbook idea of how to be “organized.” It is “organized” the same way the Soviets organized grain production or the New Deal organized bridge building.

All of centralization and cartelization began nearly a century ago, as Robert Bradley points out in Energy: The Master Resource, when industry leaders obtained what was known as a regulatory covenant. They received franchise protection from market competition in exchange for which they agreed to price controls based on a cost-plus formula — a formula that survives to this day.

Then the economists got involved ex post and declared that electrical power is a “public good,” under the belief that private enterprise is not up to the job of providing the essentials of life.

What industry leaders received from this pact with the devil was a certain level of cartel-like protection, the same type that the English crown granted tea or the US government grants first-class postal mail. It is a government privilege that subjects them to regulation and immunizes companies from business failure. It’s great for a handful of producers, but not so great for everyone else.

There are many costs. Customers are not in charge. They are courted only for political reasons but they are not the first concern of the production process. Entrepreneurial development is hindered. Our current system of electrical provision is stuck in time. Meanwhile, sectors that provide DSL and other forms of internet and telecommunication services are expanded and advancing day by day — not with perfect results but at least with the desire to serve consumers. …

How New York and California consumers would adore a setting in which power companies were begging for their business …. Competition would lead to price reductions, innovation, and an ever greater variety of services — the same as we find in the computer industry.

What we are learning in our times is that no essential sector of life can be entrusted to the state. Energy is far too important to the very core of life to be administered by a bureaucracy that lacks the economic means to provide for the public. How it should be organized we can’t say in advance: it should be left to the markets. …

What we need today is full, radical, complete, uncompromised deregulation and privatization. We need competition. That doesn’t mean that we need two or more companies serving every market (though that was common up through the 1960s). What we need is the absence of legal barriers to enter the market.

2.  Lynne Kiesling, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Northwestern University and former director of economic policy at the Reason Foundation; participant in debate at Reason online “Carbon: Tax, Trade or Deregulate?

[M]ost people fail to realize that the abysmal job we do of pricing electricity contributes substantially to our energy use. The only resources that are priced as badly as electricity in our economy are highways and water.

Retail competition and choice for consumers would increase the offering of time-differentiated dynamic pricing, which shifts resource and electricity use across time. Research shows that this promotes conservation and more efficient use of electricity, increases offerings of green power to consumers who want to choose a green power option, and increases the incentives to develop and adopt technologies, such as price-responsive appliances, that enable private individuals to control their own energy use.

So the message from me is this: It’s a complicated, imperfect world, and the policies we can adopt that induce innovation and harness diffuse private knowledge will be the most effective for this long-term problem.

3.  Paul Joskow, current President of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and former head of theMIT Department of Economics (now on leave) and former director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research; speech at the National Press Club in September 2008:

For almost 50 years this sector was stuck in an organizational and regulatory framework that may have been well matched to the electricity generation and transmission technology available in 1935, but was surely poorly matched to changes in technology, new technological opportunities, contemporary investment needs, or current economic and environmental challenges. Then in the early 1980s, electricity sector reformers began to stir, responding to concerns about the system of regulated vertically integrated monopolies inherited from the 1930s. The “good old days” of regulation represent a view to the past with rose colored glasses. The system of regulated vertically integrated monopoly was plagued by cost overruns associated with nuclear power plants, poor operating performance for both nuclear and large fossil-fueled plants, poor fuel procurement decisions, wide price differences between neighboring areas, excess generating capacity, inefficient dispatch and economy energy trading between generating companies, regulatory incentives to keep old inefficient plants operating rather than retiring them, too many small utilities to take advantage of economies of scale, institutional and technological barriers to using the transmission network to access lower cost power, productivity lags, and inefficient retail prices. The system …was unnecessarily costly and inefficient.

Reformers looked to the favorable experience with restructuring, competition, and regulatory reform in other sectors and with electricity in other countries to help to solve the problems associated with the fragmented electric power sector made up of over 100 vertically integrated geographic monopolies. Municipal distribution companies and large industrial customers were especially aggressive at promoting reforms focused on open transmission access, the creation of transparent organized regional competitive wholesale markets, and (in the case of large industrial customers) retail competition.

A large number of states initially embraced this restructuring, competition, and regulatory reform vision and began to implement it. In 2000 it looked like restructuring and competitive market reforms were going to sweep the U.S. electric power industry.

Then came the California electricity crisis, the collapse of Enron and a number of merchant generating companies, increased volatility to natural gas markets and associated volatility in wholesale electricity market prices, and a long march upward in fossil fuel prices ultimately resulting in rising retail electricity prices in both regulated and restructured states. Most of the states that were leaders in restructuring during the late 1990s, when natural gas prices were low and there was excess capacity, initiated reforms during a period when regulated prices for generation service were expected to be much higher than perceived comparable competitive wholesale market prices. The expectation was that over time retail prices would fall. This forecast was based on the assumption that low prices for natural gas in particular would continue and that a new system built on efficient CCGT technology would evolve. At that time, a major “problem” that many of these states had to cope with were the “stranded generation costs,” primarily associated with what were perceived to be costly nuclear power plants, that were expected to result from the introduction of real wholesale and retail competition. This was expected to be a “transition problem” because it was expected that competition would result in market prices that would fall to levels below the embedded costs of nuclear plants and older fossil plants that would have otherwise been used to calculated (higher) regulated retail prices.

However, as natural gas and coal prices continued to rise far above anyone’s expectations, many of these states soon found that competitive market prices were rising dramatically along with natural gas prices (which affect competitive wholesale electricity prices in most regions of the country) — arguably rising to levels above what regulated prices would have been today under the status quo ante (though this requires a difficult counterfactual analysis). This, of course does not mean that these electricity sector reforms were a failure. In states that adopted the restructuring, wholesale and retail competition model, retail prices now reflect marginal supply costs, as they should to give consumers the right price signals to use electricity wisely. Rather it means that regulated prices are or would have been too low to give consumers appropriate incentives to make wise consumption decisions.

In evaluating restructuring, competition and regulatory reform one must understand all of its efficiency and distributional properties, not just at short run price effects. From an efficiency perspective, the restructuring reforms implemented at the federal level and in some states have led to numerous cost reducing successes in the face of rising fossil fuel prices.  These include dramatic improvements in the performance of divested nuclear plants, significant improvements in the performance of fossil plants that now face market incentives, roughly 200,000 GW of new (mostly merchant) gas-fired generation has been added to the system between 1999 and 2004, while the risk of cost overruns, fuel price fluctuations, demand variations, and availability problems experienced by some of these plants were shifted to their owners through the market rather than borne by consumers through cost-of-service regulation. There is good empirical evidence that the expansion of the boundaries of RTOs (e.g. PJM) have led to significant changes in power flows and more efficient dispatch of power plants, while inefficiencies are observed at the boundaries of RTOs that have not agreed to be consolidated (e.g. NY/NE). Gradual improvements in wholesale market designs have increased the efficiency of these markets and have restored investment incentives. Moreover, retail prices now respond quickly to changes in wholesale market prices, providing consumers with the right price signals rather than the wrong price signals resulting from retail price regulation. And these price signals are properly differentiated by time and location to reflect marginal supply costs, rather than the depreciated original cost of generating plants built 50 years ago. Demand management programs linked to short-term supply and demand conditions are expanding quickly as well in the reform regions.

Of course, the full reform program has not been implemented in large areas of the South, the West, and portions of the Midwest. The partial electricity reform equilibrium that we appear to be in now will not serve the country well and is potentially quite unstable. We have a system that is 1/3 reformed and 2/3 stuck in the structural and regulatory paradigm of the 1935s or somewhere in between.

The problems created by an antiquated industry structure and incompatible mix of state and federal regulation have not gone away. They are lurking out there to undermine achieving the goals that I enumerated earlier. Absent a comprehensive national electricity policy framework this sector is and will perform poorly in meeting the four sets of goals that I discussed earlier.

Joskow has spelled out his specific proposals for reform, which I note here.

4.  Google, September 19, 2008 press release – “Partnering with GE on clean energy“:

Today we announced that we’re joining forces (PDF file) with GE to use technology, information and corporate resources to drive the changes necessary to empower consumers with better energy choices. We will focus on improving power generation, transmission and distribution – a combination of technologies that could be known as the “smart grid.” (It would be fair to refer to electricity technologies in common use today as a “grid of only average intelligence.”)

The existing U.S. infrastructure has not kept pace with the digital economy and the hundreds of technology opportunities that are ready for market. In fact, the way we generate and distribute electricity today is essentially the same as when Thomas Edison built the first power plant well over one hundred years ago. Americans should have the choice to drive more fuel efficient cars – or even electric cars – and manage their home energy use to reduce costs, and buy power from cleaner sources, or even generate their own power for sale to the grid.

We all receive an electricity bill once a month that encourages little except prompt payment. What if, instead, we had access to real-time information about home energy use? What if our flat screen TVs, electronic equipment, lights and appliances were programmed to automatically adjust to save money and cut energy use? What if we could push a button and switch the source of our homes’ electricity from fossil fuels to renewable energy? What if the car sitting in our garage ran on electricity – the equivalent of $1 per gallon gasoline – and was programmed to charge at night when electricity is cheapest?

This vision is what unites Google and GE. We’ll start by working together in Washington, D.C. to mount a major policy effort to enable large-scale deployment of renewable energy generation in the United States.[deregulation? mandates?] We’ll also work on development and deployment of the “smart” electricity grid that will empower consumers, utilities, and technology innovators to manage electricity more efficiently and lower their carbon footprint. Finally, we’ll collaborate on advanced energy technologies, including technologies to enable the large-scale integration of plug-in vehicles into the grid and new geothermal energy technologies known as enhanced geothermal systems (EGS).

As I have noted elsewhere

While Smart Meter / Smart Grid programs have been growing, there is still considerable market fragmentation and rights of consumers have not been clearly spelled out. According to Google, while some state regulators have ordered utilities to deploy smart meters, their focus has been on their use by utilities and grid managers, and not on consumer rights to the information they generate.  As a result, Google is engaged in policy advocacy as well; says Google:

“deploying smart meters alone isn’t enough. This needs to be coupled with a strategy to provide customers with easy access to energy information. That’s why we believe that open protocols and standards should serve as the cornerstone of smart grid projects, to spur innovation, drive competition, and bring more information to consumers as the smart grid evolves. We believe that detailed data on your personal energy use belongs to you, and should be available in an open standard, non-proprietary format. You should control who gets to see your data, and you should be free to choose from a wide range of services to help you understand it and benefit from it. For more details on our policy suggestions, check out the comments we filed yesterday with the California Public Utility Commission.”



5.  Jerry Taylor, senior fellow at Cato Institute, “The Right Way to Fix the Grid“, August 19, 2003 (New York Post):

Yes, the need for more investment in the grid seems clear. The system was designed to handle a limited number of transactions, not the large interstate exchanges of electricity now common. Moreover, transmission capacity has been stagnant relative to the growth in power generation, stressing the system even more.

Why has the grid deteriorated?

* Transmission projects are considered, approved and paid for at the state level – but the benefits cross state lines. And state-level decision-makers understandably resist using ratepayer dollars to pay for investments that will mainly help out-of-staters.

* In much of the country, incumbent utilities and state politicians actively resist improving the grid. Vertically integrated companies (which own the generating plants, transmission lines and distribution networks within a service territory) often fear that a more robust transmission system would boost potential competition.

Many politicians also oppose grid improvements because new transmission capacity would make it easier for out-of- state customers to bid-away the cheap power from in-state consumers.

* Returns on transmission are regulated, so utilities have found that they can make more money by investing in virtually anything besides transmission infrastructure.

* With many regulatory fights still unresolved, and the potential for profit thus unclear, investors have delayed risking their money on the grid.

The solution now in vogue to solve these problems is to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more authority over transmission investment. State regulation of transmission is, after all, an archaic relic of another era; and all who use the transmission system are vulnerable to the weakest links in it.

But forcing utilities to invest in transmission upgrades through increased federal regulation is too crude and blunt a policy hammer. It may get the job done to some degree, but running industries by federal dictate is less efficient than ensuring that proper incentives exist for the industry to operate efficiently on its own.

Instead, why not try deregulating the grid? Kill the cap on transmission profits. Jettison the state regulations that protect transmission companies from competition. Cease the endless political debate over how the transmission lines ought to be organized and managed and let grid owners discover for themselves how to most efficiently run their businesses – something market agents are more adept at learning than legislators or regulators.

Most analysts are convinced that the transmission system is a natural monopoly, and so recoil at the very thought of competition to the grid. But it already exists, in the form of natural-gas pipelines.

All new power plants, after all, are natural gas-fired. They can be located far from urban areas and their product shipped to urban areas via the electricity-transmission system, or they can be located in urban areas and their output shipped locally.

The competition between gas and electric transmission is no worse than the competition between cable and satellite television service providers.

Deregulation would also mean an end to rules that force grid owners to do business with anyone who wants access to their wires. Transmission providers should be allowed to negotiate the terms and conditions for both putting power into the lines and for taking it off.

Those who own the power lines, after all, have a greater incentive to ensure that their lines run safely than do the regulators who watch over them, particularly since they wouldn’t be able to rely on regulatory bodies to guarantee them a rate of return on their investments.

Deregulation can’t guarantee that blackouts would never again occur. But it would almost certainly lead to a faster flow of dollars into overdue investments in reliability and a far wiser use of such dollars than would the orders and mandates being contemplated in Washington.

More by Taylor on power regulation here and here.

Any Austrians who have read through this may be familiar with these words from Roy Cordato:

“by placing environmental problems within the context of personal and interpersonal plan formulation, we discover that they are not about the environment per se but about the resolution of human conflict. …

“Humans cannot harm the environment. Instead, they can change the environment in such a way that it harms others who might be planning to use it for conflicting purposes.”

“The focus of the Austrian approach to environmental economics is conflict resolution. The purpose of focusing on issues related to property rights is to describe the source of the conflict and to identify possible ways of resolving it.”

“Environmental problems are brought to light as striking at the heart of the efficiency problem as typically seen by Austrians, that is, they generate human conflict and disrupt inter- and intra-personal plan formulation and execution.” 

Do Austrians and others have their problem-solving caps on, focussed on aiding conflict resolution?  Or are they instead simply fighting over the wheel of government, in a way that ensures the continuing frustration of the concerns that many have about apparently very serious climate change risks? 

On climate, why are so many anarchists/libertarians/conservatives part of a Bootlegger-Baptist coalition that protects the crony status quo?

April 21st, 2015 No comments

[from a Facebook post]

On climate, why are so many anarchists/libertarians/conservatives part of a Bootlegger-Baptist coalition that protects the crony status quo?

Could it be that tribalism and confirmation bias makes hating on lefty enviro-fascist watermelon commies so much fun?

Is there a “burden of proof” before we have to start criticizing government ownership/mismanagement of resources, grants of public utility monopolies that crush competition and consumer choice, pollution regulations that provide free rights to pollute (and grandfather the dirtiest polluters), and government creation of corporations that provide grants of limited liability to investors?

Come on.

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IF the Planet's First-Ever Human-Precipitated Mass-Extinction is Underway, So What? || A dialogue between Libertarians

January 31st, 2013 No comments

I just stumbled across an old post and comment thread, that I thought some might find worth pondering, so am cross-posting it here.

*   *   *

Planet’s First-Ever Mass-Extinction Precipitated by Humans

Should we be alarmed at the current massive die-offs being noted in the animal and plant kingdoms? After all, new species arise and old species die off all the time. Its just nature taking its course, right? Not necessarily. What’s different about this die-off is that this is the only such event precipitated by a biotic agent: humans.

read more | digg story


Blogger James Rothfeld said…

Wrong. One of the largest extinctions in the history of our earth was when oxygen from photosynthetic life forms began to reach levels that were toxic for anaerobic life forms. Granted, the victims were mostly bacteria and some other simple life forms, but – extinction is extinction.

So, humans are not the first biotic agent to lead to massive extinctions.

4/23/2009 01:43:00 AM
Blogger TokyoTom said…

James, thanks for honoring me with a visit and comment.

Of course, I mainly blog at LVMI – – and I`m not really quite sure what I did that caused this post (which is the intro to a longer piece that I didn`t write) to go up, but in any case I appreciate the engagement.

You have a valid point about the great switch from anaerobic to aerobic life, which many people seem to forget about, but:

– obviously the main comparison is which other great extinction events (caused by meteors/ volcanic/ climate events) that affected complex vertebrate and other life, not archaea or bacteria;

– the event you speak of actually CONTRIBUTED to the development of more complex life;

– there is plenty of anaerobic life still around and being discovered (even in rocks miles down), and we really have very little idea as to whether the switch to aerobic life caused any kind of massive loss of anaerobic species; and

– what we are now doing to the oceans – via “dead zones” resulting from fertilizer run-off and further changes expected from warming and pH changes will result in areas not “dead”, but occupied by less complex anaerobic bacterial communities.

4/23/2009 03:20:00 AM
Blogger James Rothfeld said…

Now you are weaseling out, Tom! You did not specify that you were only referring to complex vertebrae, but only seemed to talk about extinctions in general. I think this is arbitrary and obfuscates the point: the point is that extinctions are caused by all kinds of events, and at the time of the event, they are not horrible for most life forms (horrible being a function of going extinct).

The argument that the aerobic extinction contributed to more complex life forms does not really get us anywhere, since there is no reason to assume that higher life could not emerge out of anaerobic life. What can be said is that the aerobic extinction contribute to the emergence of complex aerobic life, but that’s simply proving the assumption, or whatever logical fallacy we are dealing with here. The likely reason anaerobic life is rather simple these days is that it is forced to live in rather confined environs, including the gut of aerobic life.

The world’s oceans seem to have passed through a number of anoxic events, and those life forms that made it through the malaise probably did quite nicely as competition was greatly reduced. I’m sure life as such will make it quite nicely through the next one as well. Whether we humans will make it through it remains to be seen, though I am actually quite optimistic (pessimistic??) that they will. In smaller numbers, but nonetheless.

I think it is too early to judge whether or not the current extinction will in fact be a disaster. I am in fact not even convinced we are really going through a particularly dramatic extinction – the claim about dozens or even hundreds of species going extinct is based on some pretty speculative reasoning.

As far as I know, there have only been about 300 or so documented extinctions in the last few centuries. I also don’t think the the extinction of species limited to very small local habitats should really be counted: if the only place you can find a particular animal is a small island or a specific mountain, I suggest the species is done for no matter what.

I also don’t think that anybody has yet established a relationship between species extinction and human survival (and don’t start with the buffalos – the populations at First Contact were human artifacts).

But, back to the dead-zones in the oceans: I am amused that few ecologists have yet made the link between agricultural subsidies and fertilizer run-off. The link is so blatant and in your face, this oversight is almost telling.

In any case, I came by your blog because that’s where clicking on your name at Crash Landing gets me.



4/23/2009 06:32:00 AM
Blogger TokyoTom said…

James, I was not weaselling out, but expanding on a point that you also acknowledged: “Granted, the victims were mostly bacteria and some other simple life forms.”

The fact that remains that if there is a wave of extinctions underway as a result of the rise of opportunistic and technological man (with various man-related extinctions starting millenia ago), this is clearly different from prior catastrophic extinctions, which resulted from external physical impacts on the planet. That`s the comparison being made, and reference to the initial shift to oxic life forms is interesting, but irrelevant.

“there have only been about 300 or so documented extinctions in the last few centuries. “

This of course tells us little, since even now we have no comprehensive catalog of life.

“I also don’t think the the extinction of species limited to very small local habitats should really be counted: if the only place you can find a particular animal is a small island or a specific mountain, I suggest the species is done for no matter what.”

I fear you are right as to the “no matter what”, but your conclusion that the extinction of localized species “shouldn`t count” is a value judgment. Good Austrians will recognize that others have equally valid preferences. Biologists and others familiar with the dimishing diversity of life express a deep sense of loss.

4/23/2009 11:50:00 AM
Blogger James Rothfeld said…

Tom – I was just teasing about the weaseling in any case. What I am trying to get at is your last point: whether or not any of this is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. Every activity has externalities – whether good or bad depends on the judgment of those affected, physically or otherwise, including emotionally.

So, yes, localized species extinction is certainly not good for the species affected or those who care about them. Maybe the world would be a better place with dodos and woolly mammoth in it, but maybe not. Who can tell?

I’m sure nomads think settled societies with their strict geographic borders stink, but farmers have little sympathy for dirty herders and their stomping herds.

Will the world be worse off if the only life forms to survive are those that serve human needs? Aesthetically, I would say no, but then again, those who will live in such a world will hardly miss what they have never known.

I don’t lose sleep because there are no more Aurochs, even though I think they were really amazing animals. I also don’t miss the dinosaurs, though other might differ.

In the end, it’s all a question of preference – and who am I to say that my preferences are any more worthwhile than those of others.

Here’s another question I was wondering about, by the way, and it’s serious – if a change in technology would bring about economic ruin for a particular region and its population, simply because it would make their only product useless, would the inventor/users of this technology have to compensate the people who were damaged? Would the users of word processing software have to compensate print employees for lost jobs? Would users of the internet have to compensate newspaper workers for lost jobs? I’m not being funny, it’s an important question that is directly relevant for the question of property rights in the context of environmental change. I am sure you see the relevance. I have no real answer to this (except gut opinion). Any thoughts?

4/24/2009 05:48:00 AM
Blogger TokyoTom said…

“Maybe the world would be a better place with dodos and woolly mammoth in it, but maybe not. Who can tell?”

I agree completely that this is a question of human judgment. However, we should acknowledge that we are bumping some species off the planet and squeezing others drastically (and many to a completely unknown degree).

“Will the world be worse off if the only life forms to survive are those that serve human needs?”

Are you confident that the species that don`t survive don`t serve human needs? Many we simply have no clue about, while others, such as whales, dodos, passenger pigeons, Steller sea cows and numerous crashed/crashing fisheries have been extinguished and are threatened not because of lack of utility, but simply because nobody owned them.

How much more shall we destroy, for want of investment in property rights/commons management?

” would say no, but then again, those who will live in such a world will hardly miss what they have never known.”

Only partly true, as some of the world that we have been losing has been and will be documented.

“would the inventor/users of this technology have to compensate the people who were damaged?”

Not in a libertarian order. But I fail to see the relevance to “environmental” problems, either those that involve activities that damage the persons or property of others, or damage resources that are communally owned or are owned under regimes that fail to protect the resources. Care to clarify?

5/19/2009 01:04:00 PM
Blogger James Rothfeld said…

My basic point is that every action has effects at least one person would perceive as injurious to their well-being, and would prefer that it rather not happen. If we were to refrain from all such actions, we would probably lose the freedom to act at all. Fundamentally, I want to argue that a ‘negative externality’ that cannot be dealt within a libertarian order has to be simply accepted as a given along the lines of ‘shit happens’.
If we cannot find a non-libertarian solution to an environmental problem, than so be it. That’s my only point. Nothing more, nothing less. Which is why I agree that in a libertarian order it’s your tough luck that you lose your job because somebody else is smarter. It also means that if, for example, people using a specific aquifer cannot agree on a libertarian solution to its management simply have to suck it up. Or that if I live on a nice piece of land with a pretty view, and my neighbor erects an ugly building with garish design elements spoiling my aesthetic enjoyment, I’ll have to suck it up – unless the two of us can agree on a solution.
I think some environmental problems have no libertarian solution. I don’t know which they are, but maybe we simply have to accept that.
For example, there may be no libertarian solution to fighting asteroids about to hit our planet. Maybe we could collectively deal with it, but maybe not enough people can be bothered – or believe in it – and so the few who care simply have to deal with the fact that they will die, well-knowing that a solution was at hand.

To repeat the point: in my hierarchy of needs, freedom comes before security. If the price of freedom is to live in a world that will experience dramatic changes in climate, and if the only way to avoid is were to give up my personal freedom – then I’ll accept the dramatic changes in climate.

That’s my only point.

5/20/2009 09:55:00 AM
Blogger TokyoTom said…

Thanks for the clarifications, James.

I`m not so far away from you, but come to different conclusions: where there are obvious commons problems, those who care about the problem should obviously work to resolve them.

This includes libertarians who are personally most interested in individual freedom, freedom that is imperilled by the state-heavy “solutions” that often underlie the problem (to the benefit of entrenched insiders) in the first place.

Far from leaving the field of battle to others, libertarian ought to be proactively trying to mediate, lest what they value most highly be trampled.

5/20/2009 10:51:00 AM
Blogger James Rothfeld said…

Seems we ran out of disagreements 🙂

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Japan's nuclear power subsidies to rural areas a case study in sick dynamics: how governments eviscerate local economies and addict them to what destroys them

June 12th, 2011 No comments

We can see the same phenomenon in extractive economies wherever governments own the resources, but locals own the risks – as in the Gulf of Mexico/BP (as I noted in a number of posts) accident, Nigeria, Ecuador/Texaco, etc.

We can also see this more generally with crony, corporation-based capitalism.

Japan’s version is more complicated and seductive: the locals get paid off – at the expense of electric power ratepayers who are subject to a government-supported monopoly – in a way that encourages them to abandon their own livelihoods and further dependent on handouts.

Below are excerpts from a May 31  article at the New York Times:  In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency


When the Shimane nuclear plant was first proposed here more than 40 years ago, this rural port town put up such fierce resistance that the plant’s would-be operator, Chugoku Electric, almost scrapped the project. Angry fishermen vowed to defend areas where they had fished and harvested seaweed for generations.

Two decades later, when Chugoku Electric was considering whether to expand the plant with a third reactor, Kashima once again swung into action: this time, to rally in favor. Prodded by the local fishing cooperative, the town assembly voted 15 to 2 to make a public appeal for construction of the $4 billion reactor. …

As Kashima’s story suggests, Tokyo has been able to essentially buy the support, or at least the silent acquiescence, of communities by showering them with generous subsidies, payouts and jobs. In 2009 alone, Tokyo gave $1.15 billion for public works projects to communities that have electric plants, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Experts say the majority of that money goes to communities near nuclear plants.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, experts say, as the communities also receive a host of subsidies, property and income tax revenues, compensation to individuals and even “anonymous” donations to local treasuries that are widely believed to come from plant operators. …

In a process that critics have likened to drug addiction, the flow of easy money and higher-paying jobs quickly replaces the communities’ original economic basis, usually farming or fishing.

Nor did planners offer alternatives to public works projects like nuclear plants. Keeping the spending spigots open became the only way to maintain newly elevated living standards.

… Towns become enmeshed in the same circle — which includes politicians, bureaucrats, judges and nuclear industry executives — that has relentlessly promoted the expansion of nuclear power over safety concerns. …

“This structure of dependency makes it impossible for communities to speak out against the plants or nuclear power,” said Shuji Shimizu, a professor of public finance at Fukushima University.  …

Much of this flow of cash was the product of the Three Power Source Development Laws, a sophisticated system of government subsidies created in 1974 by Kakuei Tanaka, the powerful prime minister who shaped Japan’s nuclear power landscape and used big public works projects to build postwar Japan’s most formidable political machine.

The law required all Japanese power consumers to pay, as part of their utility bills, a tax that was funneled to communities with nuclear plants. …

Political experts say the subsidies encourage not only acceptance of a plant but also, over time, its expansion. That is because subsidies are designed to peak soon after a plant or reactor becomes operational, and then decline.

“In many cases, what you’ll see is that a town that was depopulating and had very little tax base gets a tremendous insurge of money,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, a political scientist at Purdue University who has studied the laws.

As the subsidies continue to decline over the lifetime of a reactor, communities come under pressure to accept the construction of new ones, Mr. Aldrich said. “The local community gets used to the spending they got for the first reactor — and the second, third, fourth, and fifth reactors help them keep up,” he added.

Critics point to the case of Futaba, the town that includes Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, which began operating in 1978 and 1979, respectively.

According to Professor Shimizu of Fukushima University, Fukushima Daiichi and the nearby Fukushima Daini plants directly or indirectly employed some 11,000 people in communities that include Futaba — or about one person in every two households. Since 1974, communities in Fukushima Prefecture have received about $3.3 billion in subsidies for its electrical plants, most of it for the two nuclear power facilities, Mr. Shimizu said.

Despite these huge subsidies, most given in the 1970s, Futaba recently began to experience budget problems. As they did in Kashima, the subsidies dwindled along with other revenues related to the nuclear plant, including property taxes. By 2007, Futaba was one of the most fiscally troubled towns in Japan and nearly went bankrupt. Town officials blamed the upkeep costs of the public facilities built in the early days of flush subsidies and poor management stemming from the belief that the subsidies would remain generous.

Eisaku Sato, who served as the governor of Fukushima Prefecture from 1988 to 2006 and became a critic of the nuclear industry, said that 30 years after its first reactor started operating, the town of Futaba could no longer pay its mayor’s salary.

“With a nuclear reactor, in one generation, or about 30 years, it’s possible that you’ll become a community that won’t be able to survive,” Mr. Sato said.

Futaba’s solution to its fiscal crisis was to ask the government and Tokyo Electric, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, to build two new reactors, which would have eventually increased the number of reactors at Fukushima Daiichi to eight. The request immediately earned Futaba new subsidies.

“Putting aside whether ‘drugs’ is the right expression,” Mr. Sato said, “if you take them one time, you’ll definitely want to take them again.”

Eiji Nakamura, the failed candidate for mayor of Kashima, said the town came to rely on the constant flow of subsidies for political as well as economic reasons. He said the prefectural and town leaders used the jobs and money from public works to secure the support of key voting blocs like the construction industry and the fishing cooperative, to which about a third of the town’s working population belongs.

“They call it a nuclear power plant, but it should actually be called a political power plant,” Mr. Nakamura joked.


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Immodest thoughts: To fix capitalism, we must get govt out of corporate risk-management (rent-selling) business and get shareholders to stop playing ‘victim’ & start paying attention to risks

May 11th, 2011 2 comments

I am prompted by recent events to follow up on thoughts I emailed to Sheldon Richman a few months back:

I feel strongly that If we want to fix the country (and if libertarians don’t want to be dismissed as irrelevant/patsies for rent-seekers) we need to find ways to restore shareholder ownership of downside risk. This is the only way to back away from the destruction of communities and our natural and government commons by faceless elites through corporations – and the battle for control over Government micromanagement that so often is captured by corporations and serves as barriers to entry.

Insurers would step in to help shareholders and act as a check on management.

The states that create corporations retain power under the 14th Amendment to discriminate in favor of local, unlimited liability forms of corporation or corporations in which shares are not fully-paid up. There is nothing like a substantial risk tail to focus shareholders on managing management.


In addition, allow me to summarize thoughts that I have posted extensively elsewhereThe state has institutionalized moral hazard and exacerbated principal-agent problems via the grant of limited liability to corporate shareholders. This grant is at the core of why investors chose to us the corporate form (as opposed to traditional partnerships and older versions of corporations where shareholders retained substantial risk), and is something that cannot be obtained merely by voluntary transactions – as it involves future potential involuntary victims of acts by the new corporate legal entity (lenders and other parties can of course agree in advance to liability caps and recourse limits). 

This state intervention has set in motion and greatly fuelled the growth of government and battles with citizen groups over the wheel of government — battles in which insider elites, generally acting through long-lived and deep pocketed corporations that are armed with greater knowledge and cloaked with anonymity, have the overwhelming advantage. I earlier summarized these dynamics here: The Cliff Notes version of my stilted enviro-fascist view of corporations and government


As I have noted elsewhere: I am NOT arguing FOR a general rule that shareholders SHOULD be liable for corporate torts. Rather, I:

(1) point out that limited liability itself has served to muddle the question of whom, exactly, should be responsible for the very real harms that corporations frequently cause (if, as some argue, the corporations and their shareholders themselves are the “victims” of the troubles they create, then whom, exactly, are the perpetrators?),

(2) note that the limited-liability corporate form has enabled risk-generation and -shifting on a massive scale, with innocent third parties frequently being stuck holding the bag (not solely when liabilities exceed assets, but more generally since the cycle of escalating government interventions to rein in corporations perversely ends up raising barriers to entry and giving corporations regulatory â€śrights to pollute” that curtail liability even when sufficient assets are available),

(3) argue that libertarians should reconsider the grant of limited liability for torts (as opposed to limited liability as to those who contract with the corporation on a voluntary basis) not simply because it is clearly non-libertarian to begin with, but because it has had profoundly perverse consequences (consequences at a serious enough level that state-loving libertarians in effect concede simply by troubling themselves to argue against curtailing limited liability),

(4) note that the most efficacious way to roll back the regulatory state lie in the direction of shifting ultimate responsibility for managing risks to enterprise owners (and ending the counter-productive regulatory risk-management experiment), and

(5) note that a curtailment of limited liability for torts could be hedged by shareholders via insurance, and could be achieved by state governments and the federal government offering more lenient regulation to busness enterprises that operate as partnerships, unlimited liability corporations, or in cases where shares are not fully paid up so that calls for significant additional capital could be made against shareholders if needed to pay claims.

All of this should be quite evident in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the nuclear crony-capitalism behind the decision-making that has now come back to bite Japanese individuals and firms that use TEPCO power or which are downwind of their tsunami-damaged nuclear plants (though both of these cases are compounded by even deeper governmental interventions). It should also be evident in the many cases at home and abroad where corporations act to exploit (and pay royalties to governments on) mineral and energy resources that governments purport to “own”, and where governments grant corporations “public utility” monopoly rights.

Any suggestion that one must “provide a theory of liability that coherently distinguishes shareholders from any other patron of the company” BEFORE one can examine any justifications FOR the state grant of limited liability or the consequences of such intervention would be both sadly non-libertarian and dangerously blind and shallow.

Can I interest any other libertarians in pursuing this avenue of rolling back the state?

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Great news! IPCC climate panel acknowledge in new report that it will be extremely difficult to find alternatives to fossil fuels in time to stabilize CO2 levels for many decades

May 10th, 2011 No comments

[Warning: obvious snark above]

1.  See this analysis by Roger Pielke, Jr.:

The IPCC has just issued a new summary for policy makers for a forthcoming special report on renewable energy that appears (indirectly and obliquely) to finally admit that we just do not have the technology necessary to achieve low targets for the stabilization of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (e.g., something like 450 ppm). 

2.  The FT discusses the report as well: has a

3.  Here’s the report itself.

4.  My own view is that our energy sector is massively skewed by government ownership of energy resources that it wants to see exploited (both to feed government and to satisfy insiders), and by a wide range of government policies, from the creation of limited liability corporate engines of moral hazard, risk-shifting and commons destruction, to a refusal to allow ordinsry citizens and resource users to protect private property and common resourcves, to the creation of utility monopolies.

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WSJ article makes clear that dealing with nuclear power plants in crisis mode is very much experimental

April 23rd, 2011 No comments

I ran across an interesting WSJ piece today that I Tweeted as follows:

=EXPERIMENT: Tepco Let  Pressure Soar to Twice Design Limit Before Venting that then Exploded WSJ

Here are some excerpts of the WSJ article,”Reactor Team Let Pressure Soar

The operator of Japan’s stricken nuclear plant let pressure in one reactor climb far beyond the level the facility was designed to withstand, a decision that may have worsened the world’s most serious nuclear accident in a quarter century.

Japanese nuclear-power companies are so leery of releasing radiation into the atmosphere that their rules call for waiting much longer and obtaining many more sign-offs than U.S. counterparts before venting the potentially dangerous steam that builds up as reactors overheat, a Wall Street Journal inquiry found.

Japan’s venting policy got its first real-world test in the chaotic hours after March 11’s earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power complex. By the first hours of March 12, an emergency was brewing inside the plant’s No. 1 reactor.

By around 2:30 a.m., the pressure inside the vessel that forms a protective bulb around the reactor’s core reached twice the level it was designed to withstand. Amid delays and technical difficulties, it was another 12 hours before workers finished releasing radioactive steam from this containment vessel, via reinforced pipes, to the air beyond the reactor building.

About an hour later, the reactor building itself exploded—a blast that Japanese and U.S. regulators have since said spread highly radioactive debris beyond the plant. The explosion, along with others amid overheating at reactors 2, 3 and 4, contributed to radiation levels that led to mandatory evacuations around the plant and the government’s admission that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster ranks alongside Chernobyl at the top of the nuclear-disaster scale.

Experts in the U.S. and Japan believe the venting delay may have helped create conditions that led to the blast. In one possible scenario, pressure built so high that it damaged gaskets and other parts of the venting system, through which highly explosive hydrogen gas leaked from the core into the reactor building. It was Japan’s cautious approach to venting, an outgrowth of its profound concern over nuclear contamination, that may well have made the accident worse, they say.

Containment vessels can withstand higher pressures, some studies have indicated. Among these are studies conducted in the 1990s by Japanese operators and equipment manufacturers, in preparation for Japan’s first set of severe-accident protocols, that say such vessels can withstand twice the design pressure. Many Japanese operators have adopted this as their benchmark for releasing contaminated air.

Tepco spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai confirmed that if there is a risk of releasing radiation, the company doesn’t vent until pressure hits roughly twice the design limit. “Venting is a last resort,” Mr. Nagai said.

General Electric Co., the designer of the vessel at Fukushima Daiichi, said it is unaware of any such Japanese studies or venting protocols.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it doesn’t have specific guidelines on venting and doesn’t comment on the appropriateness of actions taken in member countries.

U.S. protocols on handling accidents at similar reactors call for venting before pressure exceeds the design level. The same protocol is followed by plant operators using similar types of reactors in Korea and Taiwan, industry experts in those countries say.

I am reminded of the article by Bill Keisling on the Three-Mile Island that I cross-posted earlier; here’s a relevant excerpt for those of you who missed it:

Rule 1: Commercial atomic energy technology is a pseudo-science and is not based on proper scientific experimentation.

As we recently witnessed during the multiple nuclear accidents at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, a damaged reactor (or reactors) often has broken controls, computers systems, and gauges that make monitoring a runaway nuclear reaction difficult, if not impossible.

Confusion and fright in the control room(s) at the time of emergency create what can almost be called A Fog of War. Indeed, war it is. They’re at war with a runaway nuclear reactor.

At Fukushima, as on Three Mile Island, operators wished they could simply peer into the containment building with their own eyes and dispense with the broken alarms, computers and gauges that tell them nothing, and often mislead them.

‘The nuclear power industry naturally doesn’t think very much of troublesome nitwits like Galileo, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, and their ridiculous, old-fashioned ideas about experimentation, reproducible results, and scientific method.’

But that’s only a small part of the problem. Truth is, no one really understands the behavior of tons of melted nuclear fuel in a reactor.

For a variety of reasons, the commercial nuclear power industry and its government regulators never conducted a single experimental meltdown of a full-size nuclear reactor.

So, until one melts, no one knows how a runaway reactor will behave.

As most of us remember from high school, scientific knowledge has advanced over the centuries because of what’s called the Scientific Method.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Scientific Method as “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

In simple words, real-world experiments must be designed to test a hypothesis, and results must be reproducible.

As we know, cars and planes are rigorously tested and crashed all the time, in all manner of ways, in all sorts of conditions. That’s how designers and regulators learn how these complicated machines behave in real-world accidents, and whether they’re safe.

Not so nuclear reactors. For a variety of reasons, including half a century of financial and political considerations, regulators in the United States side-stepped or outright ignored the issue of full-scale reactor safety testing, and continue to ignore it to this day.

This inescapable and troubling fact is entwined with the history of atomic power regulation in the United States. 

Perhaps it’s time for us to try the experiment of ending all government support for nuclear power, “public” utility monopolies, and corporations in general (which could not exist in their present form without state grants of limited liability to shareholders)? Maybe then – when investors and power companies are faced with a greater share of the actual risks generated by their businesses – we will see a more responsible and prudent form of capitalism, one that generates true wealth, and noty simply moral hazard and risk-shifting, plus profits for a few?

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Ayn Rand Center promises to have fun with man-hating enviros for Earth Day, so for fun I sent them a note

April 13th, 2011 No comments

A little birdy Tweet by the Ayn Rand Center for Corporate Individual Rights told me that the ARCs Voices for Rent-Seekers Reason blog is “Gearing up for Earth Day”, so of course I had to go take a look.

Here’s some of what I found:

As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, the Ayn Rand Center wants to help you understand the destructive campaign environmentalists have pursued for decades against energy production.

… [It is] clear that environmentalists are not so concerned about carbon emissions—they fight against every form of practical, cheap energy regardless of whether it emits CO2 (like fossil fuels) or not (like nuclear and hydro).

As ARC fellow Dr. Keith Lockitch explains …


the basic moral premise at the root of environmentalism is the premise that nature is something to be left alone—to be preserved untouched by human activity.

… This moral animus against human “intrusion” upon nature creates a basic conflict between the goals of the environmentalist movement and the needs of human life.


The blog post ends with a promise that (emphasis added)

on Earth Day, which is on Friday, April 22, we will be hosting a live Q&A session from our headquarters in Irvine, CA, where resident fellows Keith Lockitch and Alex Epstein will answer any questions you have about Earth Day, environmentalism, the recent nuclear scare in Japan, and related issues.

Besides some inaugural encounters at Mises Daily and the Mises Blog with Objectivist Dr. George Reisman,  readers might like to note that I previously commented on some of Keith Lockitch’s work relating to aid and development.

It certainly should not surprise my regular readers for me to note that I find the gist of the ARC post to be largely irrelevant, and productive only in the sense of offering a self-deceptive defense of a profoundly corrupted and statist ‘free market’.  Citizens of all stripes have every right to want to fight with others over:

  • how valuable government-owned resources (public lands, lakes and waters and marine resources) will be used or protected (as no private transactions to otherwise express preferences are possible);
  • levels of air, land and water pollution that governments will license companies to emit (rather than enforcing rights to prevent trespassing by others to person and property);
  • what energy sources that ‘the government-licensed and -regulated companies we call ‘pubilc utiities’ will invest in (at guaranteed rates) and what conservation measures they will embark on (as preferences can not be expressed via free transactions in competitive markets) – including nuclear power; and
  • what risks to the public at large (and what political activities) we wiill allow those massive and politically powerful risk-shifting and commons-privatizing machines we call corporations.

While I strive for an optimism that self-described principled libertarians will aim for a constructive engagement with people who are understandly dissatisfied with a system profoundly skewed by government, sometime my cynicism gets the better of me.

I already regret the following note that I sent via the comment form to the ARC bloggers, but hey, who knows?

Sadly, it looks like far from a ‘principled’ examination of the very negative roles that government plays in the destruction of resources and the other environmental and human rights issues that concern environmentalists, ARC wants to attack motives.

Examine the role of govenment owership of resources in destruction of the Gulf of Mexico, in overfishing and in fostering political battles for control of use of ‘public lands’? Doesn’t seem ARC is interested.

Examine the role of government in licensing polluting coal plants, stripping govt-owned lands for coal, owning TVA and others which have large fly-ash pollution, and licensing mountain-top remval practices that destroy the rivers shared by others? Will ARC sympathize and point to government refusal to protect private property (thus leading to political battles over regulations), or simply bash enviros?

Will ARC examine the negative role of government in granting monopolies to utility companies, thereby leading to wasteful pricing and lack of choice -as well as costly crony capitalism in the case of nuclear power, which gets rate guarantees and liability waivers?

Will ARC examine the role played by government in creating corporations in the first place, in a form that embeds moral hazard and exacerbates ‘agency problems’, by legislatively telling shareholders they have no liability for the damages the legal fiction they own might cause to others? Will  ARC even notice how abuses arising from the corporate form have given rise to the modern, corrupt regulatory state?

I’m on pins and needles, just waiting to see how principled and productive ARC is going to be!

By the way, I had some comments for Keith a couple of years ago: Not #Climate Change Welfare, But Capitalism and Free Markets? A few thoughts: TT’s Lost in Tokyo #tcot #p2

I AM hoping for productive comments that address the role of government (and of the commons-destroying corporations they’ve created) rather than the motives of those nasty ‘capitalism’-hating enviros.



“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

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