In the Christian Science Monitor, Robert Rapier wishes for a stable energy policy. It is an attractive idea. After all, policy uncertainty plays havoc with the ability of investors, managers, workers and consumers to coordinate plans in ways that usually work to make us all better off. He provides three examples–the production tax credit for renewable energy, Bernie Sanders’s “End Polluter Welfare Act,” and Congressional interference with Navy biofuel purchases–and as many more examples as you want could be found.
Rapier ends with a common diagnosis of the problem: “the real reason we have dysfunctional energy policies is that we elect dysfunctional leaders,” and concludes we just need to find ways to work around them.
I disagree that the reason we have dysfunctional policies is because of dysfunctional leaders. Instead we have quite talented and adept leaders, entirely capable of working the system to their advantage. We don’t have stable policy because policymakers don’t want stable policy; stability would reduce policymakers’ significance to that of mere policy-caretakers, and no one shows much reverence for caretakers (nor donates to the caretakers’ Super-PACs).
But mostly our energy policy makers have figured out–in true “stationary bandit” form–that we want to let prices and markets work for energy resources, and so they tinker around the edges. Just compare today’s energy policy practice to that of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
This isn’t a policy that Washington, D.C., has adopted so much as a policy that reality has pushed upon them. Nor is this policy something Washington, D.C. really understands. So while most of the time the tinkering is around the edges, sometimes they accidentally strike close to the foundation. When they do, that’s when we need to sit up and take notice.
AFTERTHOUGHT: At least Rapier doesn’t conclude the answer is to elect better leaders. The better fix is to change the game, not merely change the players.
SECOND AFTERTHOUGHT: Except, of course, the players are the ones who decide on the rules of the game. D’oh!
THIRD AFTERTHOUGHT: Throw the bums out.