Will Subsidies Fix the Energy Industry?

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Jorge Velasco has the answer to that burning question at Reason: Subsidies Won't Fix the Energy Industry. In fact, he argues that ending energy subsidies would cut both carbon emissions and costs.

Having taken back the House, Republicans say they want to revamp domestic energy policy. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Wash.), the ranking member on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce and its likely chair next year, has said the party wants "workable solutions to make energy cleaner, reduce emissions, prioritize energy security, and keep energy costs low."

Politicians and bureaucrats have been singing this tune for decades. One thing they've done wrong is waste billions of dollars on energy subsidies. Instead of fueling innovation, subsidies have unfairly cherry-picked certain energy sources and technologies, causing both economic and environmental inefficiencies.

In 2017, the consulting firm Management Information Services, Inc. analyzed federal energy expenditures from 1950 to 2016. It found that nonhydro renewable energies, such as solar and wind energy, were the largest beneficiaries of such assistance. Solar and wind received $158 billion, or 16 percent, of federal energy subsidies, mostly through tax credits. By contrast, the nuclear industry received less than half of that, mostly for research and development purposes.

If we treated food production like we do energy production, … oh, wait, we kinda do that too.

Briefly noted:

  • OK, subsidies won't fix the energy industry.

    But is it kooky to say that anti-capitalists are using climate change as a pretext for a planned economy?

    Well, no. As Dr Rainer Zitelmann points out at FEE: It's Not Kooky to Say Anti-Capitalists Are Using Climate Change as a Pretext for a Planned Economy When They Come Out and Say It.

    World leaders met in Egypt recently to discuss climate change. This time, the focus was on the demands of poor countries that want money from rich countries because of climate change. After more than 50 years of experience with development aid, one can already predict where this money will end up—with corrupt governments in countries in Africa and other poor countries.

    Many so-called climate change activists are not really concerned about the climate and the environment. No, for them, these are merely instruments in the fight against capitalism.

    For the last three years, Greta Thunberg has said that her life’s purpose was to save the world from climate change. Now she told an audience in London that climate activists must overthrow "the whole capitalist system," which she says is responsible for "imperialism, oppression, genocide... racist, oppressive extractionism." The "activists" of the doomsday cult "Last Generation" say quite openly that their goal is the abolition of capitalism.

    I'm old enough to remember when it was thought that socialist systems were simply, scientifically, better at fostering growth and prosperity. (I had that famous Samuelson textbook that claimed “the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.”)

    Well, that argument got debunked by reality pretty quickly afterward. So now anti-capitalists grab onto predictions of ecological catastrophe instead. Any excuse to destroy free markets will do.

Existential Physics

A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The author, Sabine Hossenfelder, is an actual physicist, and she's an excellent science popularizer as well. You can get a sampling of her output at her website and her blog. I really liked her previous book, Lost in Math, so I snapped this new one up when it became available at the Portsmouth Public Library.

Sabine's (I call her Sabine) writing style is heavily first-person and chatty, and occasionally pretty funny. (Should I add "for a German" to that? Nah, guess not.) Sample, where she mentions a debate she had about the "fine tuning" of physical constants:

I didn't look forward to the debate. I have found it futile to argue with fine-tuning believers. They just aren't interested in separating the scientific from the ascientific part of their argument. Also, I am terribly unspontaneous. If you put me on the spot, I can't find answers to the most obvious questions. Hell, I'll sometimes mispronounce my own name. Full disclosure: the major reason I agreed to this debate is that they paid for it.

That points to a (more or less) overriding theme here: Sabine is very critical of scientists wandering into ascientism, loosely defined as "religion masquerading as science under the guise of mathematics." E.g., when theories of the very early seconds of the universe speculate in matters that can't be observed or verified (at least for the present, and maybe not ever).

What are the "biggest questions" explored here? Fortunately, they are chapter titles: Does the past still exist? How did the Universe begin? How will it end? Is math all there is? Why doesn't anyone ever get younger? Are you just a bag of atoms? Is knowledge predictable? Do copies of us exist? Has physics ruled out free will? Is consciousness computable? Was the universe made for us? Does the universe think? Can we create a universe? Are humans predictable? What's the purpose of anything anyway?

Some of these "biggest questions" chapters also consider slightly-less-big subquestions. And there are a number of interviews with folks like David Deutsch and Roger Penrose used to explicate their views on some of the questions.

Even when I disagree with Sabine's answers (I'm a believer in free will, she's not) I have to admit she's relentlessly fair in presenting her views and possible objections to them. In a number of areas, she's happy to entertain even the most out-there speculations. (The only point where she falls down that I noticed was her discussion of whether people can be held morally responsible for their actions in the absence of free will: I found it evasive and unconvincing.)