From Matt Welch:
The thing eight consecutive presidents have failed to adequately communicate is that ENERGY IS HARD. Yucky oil and Dickensian coal are just stubbornly cheap compared to everything else (particularly, though not only, because the liability for extraction accidents and other environmental damages are not properly priced).
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Moderately left-of-center economist Brad DeLong has a provocative article up entitled, “Global Warming Panic Attack,” in which he argues for nationalization of the U.S. energy industry. What’s interesting about the argument is that he fully concedes the gross inefficiencies that would result from government ownership and management of the industry. The reason he favors nationalization is that would, he says, stop the energy industry from lobbying the U.S. government for perverse policies that harm everyone, such as resistance to higher gasoline or carbon taxes.
In principle, this logic could apply to anything. Classical liberals – and, really, everyone of minimal economic understanding and human compassion – oppose agricultural subsidies. But farm interests keep Congress on a short leash. So – is there a classical liberal case for nationalizing the farms? Would our politics improve as a result?
I have to give DeLong a B+ for effort, as the argument sounds niftily counterintuitive enough to be interesting. But a moment’s reflection reveals its absurdity. Education in the U.S. is essentially “nationalized” (at the state and local level). Does that mean teachers’ unions are impotent? Hardly! In Mexico, petroleum and natural gas extraction and refining is a public monopoly (Pemex). Does this mean Mexico’s energy policies are uniquely rational? Hardly! Not only does Mexico not tax gasoline, it subsidizes it! If your goal is to reduce energy consumption through public policy, nationalization of the energy industry is probably the worst first step you could make.
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