I tried to send the following message in support of H.R. 6, coming to vote this Thursday to phase-out oil subsidies, using Environmental Defense’s online submission form, but it turned out I was too verbose by about 1200 word even after editing, so I had to submit it directly to my representatives Webmail form.
Dear Representative Mark Kirk,
As you know from my previous correspondence, I believe energy policy to be of central importance to our nation. I have opposed the last 2 energy bills passed by Congress because they appear to only serve to perpetuate the interests of the oil companies. I am pleased to see legislation coming before Congress this week as part of the “100 Hours” agenda (thank you for your support thus far) that would undo some of the damage done by our current energy policy.
Please support H.R. 6, which would phase-out tax subsidies to oil corporations. As you no doubt know, with energy prices rising, oil companies have set record profits the past years. In such an environment, providing subsidies and tax breaks for oil producers is simply untenable. In fact, except for situations when a good or service is needed to preserve the security of a society and cannot be produced without price supports, I believe subsidies should be strictly avoided, as they are wasteful, self-perpetuating, and dangerous.
My disagreement the use of subsidies stems from two arguments. First, I think that using subsidies amounts to “picking winners.” Government should not be in the business of picking winners. That’s the job of the marketplace. Government can “cull losers”. That does fall within its proper role of preventing harm. However, the government is in a poor position to choose the best technology or approach to an environmental (or any) issue and therefore should strictly avoid employing such a command-and-control tool as the subsidy. Government simply lacks the requisite variety to know what to subsidize, especially in today’s rapidly changing social and technological environment. Subsidizing one approach will only serve to stifle innovation leading to other potentially better approaches. On the other hand, taxing destructive approaches would do the opposite, increasing innovation and leading to a wider range of preferable solutions. Government should be in the business of saying “what” is acceptable (through regulation and tax shifting) but companies and individuals must be free to choose the “how”. Government simply does not and can not have the capacity to determine the best “how” given its centralized nature. It is structurally incapable of doing so. Only the distributed power of the dynamic marketplace can effectively generate and select those options, given the overall constraints that government lays down.
The second problem I have with subsidies is that they are self-perpetuating and outlive their useful lives, even when they may arguably have done some good. This result, too, is built in to the structure of the situation. Providing hand-outs through subsidies creates a group that benefits from the continuation of that subsidy. Most often, the self-interest of the group autopoietically generates a system of political lobbying and political campaign fundraising maneuvers to ensure that the group’s funding source continues. Subsidies are extraordinarily difficult to “turn off” once enacted, as they engender this powerful, self-perpetuating lobby and campaign contributorships to keep the money flowing. The self-generating, parasitic nature of subsidies is one reason for soaring deficits and “big government”.
Given the analysis above, I believe subsidies to be extraordinarily dangerous tools. While I admit that they may be necessary in emergency situations to protect vital state or local interests, subsidies must be enacted with extreme care and subject to tight restrictions when used. For all but these dire situations where the lack of subsidies would destroy the integrity of society, I think they should be avoided, given the government?s lack of requisite variety to pick winners and the pathological autopoiesis of subsidy programs. The government has a myriad of other policy tools it can use in nearly all situations where it may be tempting to use subsidies.
Ending subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies will provide revenue that can more wisely used. As you would suspect from my distrust of subsidies, I do not strongly support the aspects of H.R. 6 that redirect money to develop clean renewable energy sources. As much as I would like to see such sources replace our dependence on fossil fuels, I think it best left to the market to generate them. However, turning off the money spigot to the oil companies is a greater good than funding some alternative energy research products is an evil, so I still strongly encourage you to vote yes on H.R. 6.
Moreover, I urge you, as I have in the past, to look beyond H.R. 6 and work in the new Congress to the urgent problem of global warming by enacting strong a cap-and-trade program with specific reduction targets and timelines, covering all sectors of the economy and all sources of global warming pollution, to reduce our global warming emissions while preserving free market flexibility.
It is the combination of eliminating subsidies for oil and strictly limiting our carbon emissions that will unleash the cash and the creativity of the private sector to stem global warming, create clean, sustainable energy alternatives, and ensure our nation’s long-term energy independence and security.