California’s Philosophical Blackout

by | Jul 2, 2001

With the arrival of summer’s sweltering heat, California’s electricity demand will rise as people engage in the perfectly natural act of manipulating the environment, as through air-conditioning, to make life better. But electricity supply will not be able to rise the meet increased demand. The perfectly human mechanism of free supply and demand will have […]

With the arrival of summer’s sweltering heat, California’s electricity demand will rise as people engage in the perfectly natural act of manipulating the environment, as through air-conditioning, to make life better. But electricity supply will not be able to rise the meet increased demand. The perfectly human mechanism of free supply and demand will have been short-circuited by a decade-long grounding of the California power industry and, then, for millions of people, the lights will start going out.

But not for everyone. Some will be exempted from having their homes, office buildings, and factories periodically reduced to ornate caves. A swarm of supplicants has begun to descend on California’s regulatory agencies in order to be among the specially designated few to be sparred the impending darkness.

In California’s New Left economy consumers are competing over who won’t get electricity. They are bidding and haggling, but in a new kind of “market.” The “sellers” they’re hoping to buy from aren’t energy producers, but government bureaucrats. The product they’re after isn’t energy, but the privilege of being among those not to be blacked-out . “God,” and a few scheming peddlers, will likely only ever know what exactly the successful ones will use to pay for it.

California’s power market looks more like a medieval fiefdom, with clerics handing out dispensations and feudal lords dolling out scraps to an impoverished peasantry. How could one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world have fallen to such depths?

The problem is not one of science or engineering. Technically speaking, power plants have been around for ages; the energy could be produced abundantly. The problem isn’t economic, either. The economics of large-scale production and distribution are well understood; the internet and world-wide airline and shipping industries, to select two among myriad possibilities, are far more complex and yet operate smoothly.

Why has the power market in this one state been reduced to such a crisis?

Through what causes? By what logic? What power could destroy this industry in the midst of plenty?

The common outcry concerning the greed of companies has no explanatory currency. Airlines in America are much freer to “gouge”. Computer companies face far fewer regulations, and they make “inordinate” profits. Those industries operate with fantastic success.

To identify the specific force crippling California, let us examine its visible effects.

The power industry, in which production and distribution were severed–by government edict, in which prices were capped, and long-term contracts were erased–by government mandated power “exchanges”; the power industry, in which “dominant” companies were coerced into subsidizing their competitors, forced to shut down power plants, and prevented from building new ones–by government regulators; this industry was dubbed a “de-regulated” industry.

By what fraudulent agency could the word “de-regulation” come to apply to this scenario?

By the same agency that empowered environmentalists to steer the California government down the road it took.

Non-consumption has always been the environmentalist’s creed. Government-orchestrated, “de-regulated” non-production was the means they found for imposing it. California’s environmentalists first targeted coal-burning plants, then nuclear power, then hydro-electric dams, in a deliberate, step-wise campaign against all energy production in the state. Environmentalism holds that nature is of value in-and-of-itself, that any exploitation of natural resources is vicious, and that people should learn to do without. According to the philosophy of environmentalism the value of nature is a value apart from man–from man’s needs, from man’s life.

How could the concept of “value” come to refer to that which one cannot have?

One science is supposed to define what words mean. One science is supposed to teach men what is of value. Once science alone analyzes and defines what gives rise to the need for knowledge and values: philosophy.

In a world where concepts like “de-regulation” are brazenly deployed to denote their opposites, where values are things that human beings can’t have, and the new commodity that electricity consumers are bidding on is the avoidance of non-electricity, a blackout far more destructive than the loss of electricity is in effect: a philosophical blackout.

The roots of the California power crisis lie in the repudiation of objective language and logic, and the outlawing of human values. And the sum of this “game” really is zero.

As Californians claw their way around the dark this summer, they would do well to consider what motor it is that has ceased to function properly in this one state: the motor philosopher Ayn Rand called the “motor of the world.” That motor is the human mind, and only a philosophy of reason, human self-interest, and economic freedom will be able to fuel it back to life.

The author is a contributing writer to Capitalism Magazine.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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