Monday, October 15, 2012

Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane on Al Gore: Rent-seeking and patent conflict of interest and bending the acts of government for selfish purposes

Charles Lane: Liberals’ green-energy contradictions - The Washington Post
Al Gore is about 50 times richer than he was when he left the vice presidency in 2001. According to an Oct. 11 report by The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig, Gore accumulated a Romneyesque $100 million partly through investing in alternative-energy firms subsidized by the Obama administration.
...As the Democrats become more committed to, and defined by, a green agenda, and as they become dependent on money from high-tech venture capitalists and their lobbyists, it becomes harder to describe them as a party for the little guy — or liberalism as a philosophy of distributive justice.

Gore’s sanctimony doesn’t help. The erstwhile Tennessee populist bristles at any suggestion that his climate crusade is about money. And, no doubt, he cared about the planet before he got rich. Still, his investments, including in such flops as Fisker, the maker of $100,000 plug-in hybrid cars, create a patent conflict of interest. This hurts his credibility — if not about climate change per se, then certainly about the particular solutions he advocates.

But that’s not the worst contradiction in the Democrats’ doing-well-by-being-green ethos. Green energy is not cost-competitive with traditional energy and won’t be for years. So it can’t work without either taxpayer subsidies, much of which accrue to “entrepreneurs” such as Gore, or higher prices for fossil energy — the brunt of which is borne by people of modest means.
The point remains: Government, with its inevitable susceptibility to lobbying and favoritism, should not be picking winners and losers, whether through green subsidies or tax breaks for oil and gas.

It’s one thing to lose your job because a competing firm built a superior mouse trap; it’s quite another, justice-wise, to lose it because a competitor talked the government into taking its side.
Meanwhile, Gore and his partners carry on rent-seeking. The greatest Tennessee populist of all would surely have disapproved.

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes,” President Andrew Jackson wrote in 1832. “[W]hen the laws undertake to add . . . artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.”

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