Succeeding in the free market
One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Chait, has an article in The New Republic on “the latest in global warming denialism” (the latest being acknowledging it exists but refusing to do anything about it). It mostly goes over familiar ground, but I wanted to call out one part where Chait makes an unwarranted concession.
Discussing recent efforts to repeal some oil industry tax breaks in order to fund tax credits for renewable energy, Chait writes:
Objection number one is that repealing the tax break to pay for renewable energy amounts to “taxing successful energy sources and subsidizing unsuccessful ones,” as the Heritage Foundation puts it. This description was intended as a devastating insult, but of course it’s the whole point. If renewable energy were “successful” in the pure free market, then it wouldn’t need to be subsidized.
Argh. How could we possibly know if renewables could beat fossil fuels in a “pure free market”? There is no such thing.
After all, what’s under discussion here is not taxing oil companies but removing previous tax breaks and subsidies. An energy source that benefits from well over a century of favorable treatment from governments is not succeeding in a “pure free market.”
So while Heritage’s point would be silly even it if were true … it’s not true.
Chait even seems to realize this later in the piece:
What makes [objection number three] particularly comic is that the House isn’t proposing some new tax hikes for oil companies. It’s only proposing to get rid of a special tax break.
So why concede the Heritage Institute’s point?
I’m only making a big deal out of this because the notion that fossil fuels are the free market champions, and renewables can only compete with government subsidies, is a central talking point on the right. People on the right always think that those born on third base are better ballplayers. But the rest of us don’t need to buy it.