Archive for the ‘Enron’ Category

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
    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.


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