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Reagan Versus McCain

Jim Manzi isn't impressed with John McCain's energy policy. The best that can be said of it is that it's slightly better than Obama's.


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Carl Pham wrote:

No, the best that can be said of it is that it's sufficiently vague and pointless -- except for the "more nukes" line, which is great -- that it promises mostly government inaction, which is what's generally best, and that it's proposed by a Republican who would take office with a thoroughly Democratic, thoroughly enraged and uncooperative Congress, thus guaranteeing even more inaction.

One of the biggest problems for me with Obama is that he'd almost certainly have a Democratic-controlled Congress, which means any hare-brained dumfuk Soviet scheme could actually become law. If the Republicans had a 60 seat majority in the House and a 10 set majority in the Senate, I'd be pretty unconcerned about Obama's domestic plans. For much the same reason, I'm not too concerned about John McCain's domestic initiatives, almost all of which will be DOA in Congress. Electing John McCain does only three important things:

(1) Ensures that the Iraq war will be finished with victory, and the Afghanistan war will be prosecuted vigorously. Also, not likely national security will be gutted, a la the Clintons.

(2) Prevents socialized medicine and, hopefully, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, so the economy can keep humming. Hard for people to realize just how very important that is: it sure is nice to live in a country rich enough to be able to afford to buy Priuses to combat global warming, ain't it?

(3) Thoroughly demoralizes the Democratic Party, leading to either their dissolution or a great purge of their insane Stalin Youth wing, returning them to their serious-adult Trumanesque roots and allowing me once again to consider voting for them, and thus forcing the Republicans to no longer take for granted the votes of serious men, damn them.

(4) [lately] Sets up Governor Palin as nominee-presumptive in 2012 or 2016, thus utterly screwing the Democrats' identity politics "historic choice first woman to..." game and ideally leading to its permanent retirement. I dunno if Sarah Palin would make a good President or not, but I love the idea of her candidacy knocking out that vicious meme.

As for energy policy in general: we don't need no stinkin' energy policy. An energy policy is just another way to say that government is going to stick it's brain-dead fingers into a market that is fully developed and functioning very efficiently already, thank you very much. Yes, if government were run by Einsteins and Newtons, no doubt it could force change upon us that would save us from our own folly and do wonders. Alas, government is apparently run by people no smarter than those running oil companies, gas stations, or deciding whether to buy a Hummer or a Corolla now that the kids have moved out -- that is, us. Under those circumstances, the last thing you want to do is give it power to make big decisions for everybody.

Maybe he meant an energy "unpolicy," however, i.e. a policy to get government out of the energy business. For example, we could stop subsidizing corn-based ethanol, solar panels, and windmills -- that is, stop screwing with the capital market, so that you don't do stuff like accidentally divert capital into futile tiny marginal increases in solar cell efficiency, and away from (say) bioengineering bacteria to synthesize ethanol from weeds and grass clippings. I could certainly get behind that.

red wrote:

Think about energy policy in terms of national security. It's almost a matter of the OPEC nations, and countries like Russia, being at war with us, similarly to the Cold War.

Would we respond to a military invasion with a hands-off government policy? The situation is of a similar scale, from September 11 and the War on Terrorism, to the battles in Iraq and Afganistan, to Georgia, South America, the U.S. economy, pollution of various sorts, and foreign money influence on the U.S. political system.

Also think about energy policy in terms of something lots of us talk about, space policy.

Do we want to expand our U.S. space infrastructure, business, and general capabilities? Yes. How should we do that?

Have a hands-off policy for the government - no U.S. DOD, NASA, NRO, NOAA, etc government satellites and spacecraft? Private space might come into its own some day, but it would take a long time.

Have a hands-on policy for the government - launching all U.S. payloads on the Space Shuttle, doing the same with Constellation, and so on? No, that would probably get us nowhere, ever.

I think most of us would agree that a good space policy would involve the government doing what it needs to in-house, or with contractors, like secret military satellites. Otherwise, it should buy commercial launches, satellites, and services as a general rule, and encourage such services when they don't exist with incentives like COTS, Zero-G Zero-Tax, NACA-style R&D, prizes, and so on. When some government-subsidized launch vehicle or satellite competes with U.S. commercial businesses, our government needs to step in and level the playing field, or shut out the foreign government sponsored competitor.

So, what's the analogy with energy policy? You can't have a total hands-off policy with OPEC. If you do, you'll have fun with your SUVs for a while and eventually be crushed. You also don't want a nationalized energy company, but noone is proposing that. You don't want a lame, clunky, expensive, polluting solution that fails to achieve your policy goals (Shuttle, oil when the U.S. has so little and OPEC has so much, and can pump it much cheaper and crush U.S. sources at will). That doesn't mean you necessary have to retire the boat anchor (Shuttle, oil) immediately, but you need to bring out government incentives to get the commercial alternatives online. That's what we're talking about - the energy equivalent of COTS (for various forms of solar, wind, geothermal, and other forms of electricity, and PHEV's, various sources of methanol, various sources of ethanol, and so on for liquid fuel for transportation). Add in the energy equivalent of NACA R&D.

Unlike space, you'd also be wise to add some specific, focused mandates that don't cost too much and accomplish a lot in the relevant field of battle (methanol/ethanol car mandate, increased CAFE gas mileage standards, efficient appliances and buildings). Yes, that's blatent government interference, but we're at war, in military terms and in economic terms. That's part of the cost of war (see gas rationing in WWII).

Carl Pham wrote:

C'mon, red, let's not play "six degrees of separation" here. Just because energy is eventually related to everything else in modern life, by some link of cause and effect, doesn't mean we can't distinguish between "national security policy" and "energy policy." Our relations with foreign countries fall under the former, not the latter.

And, no, I don't agree at all with you that the government needs to be overseeing or directing or in any significant way involved in leading on the issues of energy production and distribution. That's nuts. Government is always representative of the current consensus viewpoint, and the current consensus viewpoint on how energy is best generated in the future is almost certainly wrong, pretty much by definition. That's because it isn't obvious what can better work than combustion of fossil fuels. (If it were obvious, we certainly wouldn't need the government to be involved, would we? We'd all be doing it already.)

So if the correct solution is not obvious, then any "solution" seen by the majority -- hence promoted by the government in a democracy -- is probably wrong and stupid, simply because on any nonobvious question, where people have to make at least somewhat of a guess at the answer, there are just far more ways to be wrong than right, so most guesses are wrong.

The correct solution is only seen today by a tiny minority, perhaps by only one crazy visionary in his garage. The only way for that solution to reach us is to leave that guy alone, let him fiddle around with his crazy notions, try them out in a free market without having to fight uphill against arbitrary subsidization of other, more conventional ideas (hydrogen, solar, wind), so that, if he's right, his clever idea gradually proves itself and becomes the new accepted conventional wisdom.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 10, 2008 12:27 PM.

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