February 21, 2021
Naomi Klein has an interesting piece in the New York Times on the implications of the Texas disaster. I would disagree with some parts, which attack the Texas approach to energy as “free market.” To my view, this is far too generous.
Even Texas’ deregulated energy market is still highly regulated. It is possible to have hugely different outcomes and incentives by structuring the market in slightly different ways. For example, since the supply of electricity to individual homes is inherently a monopoly relationship (no one will have two electrical hookups), the burden can be placed on the provider to ensure electricity in a specified price range, rather than structuring the market so the risk lies entirely with consumers.
The latter makes little sense for free-market types, since consumers both have no ability to assess the risk that their providers are taking, nor the ability to take steps to reduce the risk. If contracts were written so that the risks fell to the providers, this would provide the sort of market incentives that fans of the “free market” claim they value.
But beyond this issue, Klein correctly notes that Texas Republicans and Republicans more generally see the Green New Deal as a huge threat, which she argues is because it is a challenger in the battle of ideas:
“Because for the first time in a long time, Republicans face the very thing that they claim to revere but never actually wanted: competition — in the battle of ideas.”
I see the challenge as being even stronger. The Green New Deal is a huge challenge to major financial backers of the Republican Party. The fossil fuel industry has long been a major backer of the Republican Party and right-wing causes. Many major right-wing funders, most notoriously the Koch brothers, got a substantial portion of their fortunes from fossil fuels. If this industry is whacked by policies to limit global warming, it will be a serious hit to these funders.
Looking at politics this way mirrors the strategy that Republicans have used successfully for decades to undermine the basis for progressive politics. They weren’t just arguing in the battle place of ideas, they did things like appoint judges and National Labor Relations Board officials who would do everything they could to weaken unions and undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, they (along with leading Democrats) pushed trade and regulation policies that seriously weakened unions in sectors like manufacturing, transportation, and communications. After weakening unions in the private sector, they then designed a strategy for undermining them in the public sector as well.
They also looked to undermine other bases of support for progressive policies. For example, Reagan gutted federal support for legal services, which was a secure base from which many progressive lawyers pursued suits to benefit the working-class and the poor. They also radically cut back support for programs like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Basically, the Republicans were more interested in destroying the financial bases for support for progressives than winning battles of ideas. It would be great if progressives could turn the table and destroy a major source of right-wing funding while creating good-paying jobs and saving the environment.