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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Townhall Critique of Pelosi on Energy

Shooting fish in a barrel, but you have to keep the pressure on. The Congressional ban on offshore drilling expires on September 30. That means the Democrats have to figure out a way to reinstate it, without being obvious (hence the Gang of Ten plan). Go gridlock!

7 comments:

  1. It's curious, Bob, that you fail to note that the real issue relating to OCS and ANWR is the politicized battle over quite legitimate and differing preferences with respect to "public" resources.

    Obviously from an Austrian/libertarian position, what we want is steps towards privatization, NOT because we'll get more oil production, but because we'll get better resource management and better allow people to work out their disputes via transactions.

    (I've made what I think is a win-win proposal on semi-privatization here: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/07/16/breaking-the-senseless-impasse-on-anwr-and-ocs-exploration-and-development-a-tax-and-rebate-proposal.aspx)

    By continuing to push for drilling but not better resource management, and ignoring the legitimacy of the preferences of many that ANWR be off-limits, you come off as just another rent-seeker.

    But is that what you're paid for?

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  2. But is that what you're paid for?

    You and Silas can keep saying that; I'm going to have to get used to it I suppose.

    As for the substance of your question: Yes, you're right, IER is not going to pay me to discuss abstract libertarian theory.

    Are you telling me you think it's possible that Greenpeace or somebody, under full privatization, would pay over $1 billion PER YEAR to persuade the owners of the ANWR land to completely resist development?

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  3. Bob, thanks for the favor or a reply.

    I believe it's the first time I've asked that question (not one I keep arguing), but the point that you come off as just another rent-seeker - by continuing to push for drilling but not better resource management, and ignoring the legitimacy of the preferences of many (Senators, Governors and even Presidents, on behalf of their constituents) that ANWR be off-limits and that much of the OCS not be put up for lease - is entirely fair.

    You understand perfectly well that this battle is one that government ownership of resources creates, so why adopt the standard rent-seeker's position - we're right, and the others are laughably wrong, so their preferences can be ignored? There's NO HARM to being more balanced; all that you have to lose is a good opportunity for consensus on improved resource management.

    Is it that you find the tribal satisfactions of chosing one side and bashing the other to be so rewarding that they outweigh awareness of basic Austrian and public choice principles?

    As for enviro groups like Environmental Defense, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and others, I do think that, if they actually owned ANWR, they'd compare the costs and benefits of various streams of income, services and wildlife values and would conclude that they are better off developing ANWR responsibly and using the revenues to satisfy other goals. But since they DON'T OWN ANWR and don't get the benefit of any revenue streams for it, they are classic rent-seekers out to maximize the only benefits they can receive - keeping ANWR pristine (and keeping the donations flowing from riled up citizens who want to protect ANWR even if they can't afford to go there). IOW, they're like your clients.

    Surely this point, which has been made many times before, is no surprise to you. Resources for the Future has recently posted an op-ed that makes the same point: http://www.rff.org/News/Features/Pages/Kotchen_What-Would-Environmentalists-Do-with-ANWR.aspx

    Under full privatization of resources, the wealthy (and others who contribute to enviro/coservation groups) would certainly fund the acquistion and protection of resources they wish to preserve, and would probably try to stretch their dollars by striking deals with developers, and people/firms would band together to find ways to manage open-access commons. There is nothing new about this (many parks are actually lands donated by the wealthy), and environmental groups would be in the thick of this. It's the role of the state that perverts so much activity.

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  4. Is it that you find the tribal satisfactions of chosing one side and bashing the other to be so rewarding that they outweigh awareness of basic Austrian and public choice principles?

    OK for the record, when I read something like the above, I have to take 5 minutes to calm down. So if you want to ensure that I don't argue the merits of your case, go ahead and keep talking to me like that.

    Here's my overall view of theory / strategy: I think the US federal government is a dangerous beast. Anything that removes the discretionary power of the people in Washington, I think is per se a good thing, absent some compelling oddity.

    In particular, if removing a smidgeon of federal power moves the equilibrium social arrangement (after the policy shift) towards what I think the fully free market outcome would look like, then that is also a per se good thing, other things equal.

    I think recommending that Congress let the moratorium expire on its own on September 30--i.e. advocating that people in DC abstain from creating what will surely be a rights-violating bill that also renews the prohibitions on offshore drilling etc.--fits the bill on both counts.

    Finally, I note with irony that you and Silas are attacking me from opposite angles. Silas is mad that I am not allowing the government to implement a missing market, out of some misguided purity on my part, WHILE you do the opposite: You accuse me of not being purist enough, and chastise me for wanting the government to nudge things along towards the free market outcome, but without full privatization which I ought to know is the ideal.

    So it's weird that you guys are in agreement with each other, when your respective criticisms cancel each other, at least as far as the category of error I'm supposedly making.

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  5. Bob, first let me apologize for my elbows, which have been honed at LVMI, where I have encountered alot of fairly reflexive hostility. I try to soften them by asking questions and noting my impressions rather than making accusations, but I can understand your reaction.

    I'm not sure how you think Silas and I cancel each other out; has he been commenting on OCS/ANWR threads?

    But given that you also "want[] the government to nudge things along towards the free market outcome", I'd say that you, Silas and I are all approach things fairly similarly - none of us is really a purist, realizes that the government isn't going away, and wants to improve the current situation.

    Climate change is a different thread, but it's MY "special case" for government action. Otherwise, I'm with you in wanting to see much less government. I gather that Silas agrees with me that we face a problem of sufficient scale and complexity that, in a Westphalian world of nation-states, we can neither ignore states elsewhere nor expect private efforts, unassisted by the state, will evolve in time. I'm not sure if he really thinks that cap and trade is the best policy, but it is opaque and clearly rife with rent-seeking, so I prefer the more honest and simple carbon tax approach, rebated to citizens. I haven't really had a debate with him over the right policy approach; I'm happy he agrees with me that government should act, and that Austrians ought to be debating policy rather than focussing on dismissing science, via rather pathetic arguments than come down to either it's all a conspiracy theory or everyone's (and that's a broad everyone) crazy but us.

    For similar reasons as for climate, I favor more O&G exploration, but with royalty pass-throughs. We'll get better pricing, better resource management, less obstruction and hopefully the disease will spread to other parts of federal land management (like forests, where we waste money not only on timber leases but also on putting out forest fires to the tune of $1+ billion annually).

    I think you've dodged and mischaracterized my criticisms of you on ANWR and OCS. I have no complaints with you in wanting to nudge things towards a better position; I disagree with you on strategy and I don't think you are being even-handed.

    OCS and ANWR need to be distinguished but the reason both have been put off limits is because there are other obviously preferences at play besides the desire of the feds for more money. Accordingly, when you get on your soapbox but conveniently fail to discuss those other preferences and the dynamics of government disputes, you really aren't offering anything helpful. I can't help but wonder why, though I am sorry if I have done so in a way that hurts your feelings.

    In the case of the OCS, the real stumbling block has been the perception of environmental/tourism industry risk in the coastal states (mainly California, Texas and Florida), insufficiently balanced by the sharing of revenues. This block will crumble if the feds are willing to be less piggy with the states; and why can't us citizens get a cut too? It certainly seems that the parties prefer to posture than to act.

    ANWR is the tougher nut, but I think enviros can be persuaded to do a deal that could lead to great improvements in federal resource management; I encourage you to look at my post on ANWR/OCS and my responses to comments: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/07/15/breaking-the-senseless-impasse-on-anwr-and-ocs-exploration-and-development-a-tax-and-rebate-proposal.aspx.

    Regards,

    Tom

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