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Plan to Save the Power System Disappeared: Scroogism vs Socialism

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

A federal lab found a way to modernize the grid, reduce reliance on coal, and save consumers billions. … (the Administration ) stopped it (Fairley, 2020).

Fairley (2020) points to how a science-based analysis by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory found potentially substantive benefits from fixing the US power grid. As it is now, there is essentially a wall between the eastern US and western US, up-and-down in alignment roughly with the border of Colorado and Nebraska: Power cannot be moved, at least not substantive amounts of it, across the wall in either direction. In effect, it is a wall (the Administration likes walls) against using solar based renewable energy. How?

Well, think of it this way: The Spaceship rotating to the east every day means a mass of solar collectors (both solar panels and wind, which is powered by the Sun, too) will produce most power in the eastern US in the morning, moving across the central US, and to the western US later in the afternoon. Extra solar produced power in the east in the early hours could be sent to the west; extra solar power produced power in the west in the afternoon could be sent east. Extra solar power in the central US could be sent in both directions. Most everyone could go along with said plan.

And, as Fairley (2020) makes clear --- atmospheric and ecosystem overload deniers (climate change deniers) take notice --- such a system could go a long way toward reducing the amount of carbon fuels we burn to produce electricity. It could contribute in substantive ways to reducing the excessive use of the capacity to process and hold greenhouse gases (especially excessive carbon dioxide) in the Spaceship’s atmosphere and ecosystem. Continued heavy loading with carbon sourced greenhouse gas ensures everyone loses, as the Spaceship system becomes less inhabitable, and potentially, then, less productive, which means the economic system will also suffer. Why damage the Spaceship within which the Economy is embedded? Good question, I think.

So, why is the Administration stopping progress on moving toward a sustainable energy system to help power the Spaceship, i.e. fixing the US grid to facilitate addressing the main problem with solar based energy, namely availability during off-peak (Sun out of site of the collectors) times? In a word: Scroogism.

Now, Scroogism is not a new idea --- we all know the story, as Scroogism alludes to the The Christmas Carol --- with Scrooge and the Ghosts, the Ego of Scrooge (capital) needing to be tempered by the Empathy with Cratchit (labor). And Scroogism has different meanings, in one case being characterized “…as favoritism towards rich people over poor people… that the world is essentially fair: Rich people deserve to be rich, and poor people deserve to be poor. They see rich people as being hardworking, brilliant and virtuous, whereas poor people are lazy, stupid and vile. ( ; also, see Wise, 2015)." Well, that is part of it, but I have a different take on it. Words derived from the English language often have many meanings. I am going to suggest a couple more.

In particular, in that the term Socialism has been adopted by the Political Right to characterize the proposals coming from the Political Left, I propose that the Political Left adopt Scroogism to be used to characterize the proposals coming from the Political Right. That is the Left needs a one word “flag” that can quickly warn the listener that something might be awry, stirring immediate fear and consternation with what the Right is proposing: In a word, Scroogism. Has a nice ring, Right?

And, I also am going to associate Scroogism (adding another line in the dictionary definition) with the wide-array of Bad Capitalism that is quite popular on the Right, represented in casino capitalism (recall the derivatives traders before the 2008 crash); shareholder capitalism, ever since Milton Friedman declared, in the 1970s, that CEOs had no social responsibility other than to raise shareholder wealth, and CEO wealth); and, crony capitalism (recall the bankers and traders in the market who were rewarded with bonuses by the government, paid from taxpayer funds, rewarded for bringing the crash of 2008 with Scrooge-based decisions). Remnants of all three types are still with us; it seems we are now also adding and even more dangerous form of especially Bad Capitalism as represented in an authoritarian capitalism based oligarchy on the way to fascism? Calling it Scroogism is to be kind. Or, what am I missing?

Bad Capitalism is a capitalism without a scientific-base, and, especially, one without ethical reflection, a capitalism that only a few (Scrooge does well) can go along with. In contrast, Good Capitalism is a capitalism with adequate attention to what Adam Smith referred to as “that which everyone can go along with.” It is a tempered capitalism, it is a humane liberalism based capitalism, a capitalism with lots of ethical reflection (as well as empirical and scientific-based reality). It is based in empirical and scientific reality. It is about balance.

So, an application here: The US power grid. First, I am going to clarify that the issue here is ultimately about sustaining the Spaceship Earth System, which is powered by the Sun around which we all Travel together. It is about building and relying more heavily on a sustainable energy system, which ultimately must draw more energy from that Sun. We have to find better ways to harvest and concentrate the mist of energy that comes into the Spaceship from the Sun. Second, the issue is really about science&ethics --- using the best science we have to make sound, empirically based decisions & keeping an eye to the ethics of it all, that which everyone can go along with, not just the few.

The Left has proposed shifting the energy system toward renewable energy: Fixing the grid would certainly be part of that idea. The Green New Deal is a proposal with said shift at the core of it. The Right has characterized the Green New Deal as Socialism. Ok, that works, everyone gets it, if not thinking much about it: Any New Deal is Socialism, by definition, Right? And, it is Socialism even if it is science&ethics based, as in the fact that science supports the shift toward more renewable energy, and, ethically, it is the right thing to do. Also, the Green New Deal is about bringing balance into the energy system that powers American Capitalism; it is not about either Socialism or Scroogism. It is about making Capitalism Better. So, why is a science&ethics based proposal branded as (Bad) Socialism?

Well, because the people who call it Socialism apparently prefer Scroogism, with science&ethics subservient to it. The Administration deciding to stop progress toward a US grid that would facilitate using solar-based energy, even if just a supplement to carbon based energy, is practicing Scroogism, at least that is what I am proposing those on the Left label it. As economists would say it, do not pay much attention to the words, but look at the actions, the revealed preferences: The Admin is revealing Scroogism, the tendency to excessive greed for own-self and cronies who benefit from the shared Scroogism. And, science&ethics? Well, if it serves Scroogism, it is deemed scientifically-based and ethical? I guess so.

Who is being served by Scroogism with respect to the carbon based energy grid and the wall? It is well represented in the coal industry, coal burning electric utility owners, and their political enablers. And, we have to broaden out the character of Scrooge here: The Scrooge characters in the play at hand go well-beyond any concern for Cratchit: Instead, the main problem is no empathy for the other creatures also Traveling on the Spaceship, resulting in massive species extinction associated with overloading the Spaceship with greenhouse gases. The Scrooge characters in the play also do not have any empathy for the people in Iowa who just lost 10 million acres of corn to a derecho; people in California wildfires, even experiencing firenados, tornadoes of fire; and people living in the Valley of the Sun in Arizona who recently, in one month, experienced 16-nights where the temperature never dropped below 90-degrees, and 25-days when the temperature exceeded 110-degrees, reaching 117-degrees one day.

And, the list here is short: It is much longer. And, sorry Spaceship capacity and climate change deniers: Your science has some intriguing twists and considerations at the periphery of the problem, but it is not convincing (In fact it is about as convincing as the science powered by Scroogism in the tobacco industry years ago, claiming smoking did not cause lung cancer: Seriously?). And, because of the wide-spread effects of overloading the Spaceship system with too much greenhouse (carbon-based) gas, it will take many Ghosts with different specialties to get the tempering done.

And, finally, while Socialism can be bad, Scroogism can be equally as bad. As Metaconomics makes clear, a truly good capitalism is impossible at either extreme (see Lynne, in press): The real solutions evolve with balance (the balance scale on the front page of the Metaeconomics website is there for a reason!), we might even say balance in Scroogism&Socialism: Take the good parts --- the parts that serve to fix problems of real people, and the Spaceship on which we Travel together --- from both sides. In this case, fix the power grid. Enough with the Scroogism-only: Bring on the Ghosts, and don’t bust them.

Fairley, P. How a Plan to Save the Power System Disappeared. The Atlantic, Digital edition, August 20, 2020.

Lynne, G. D. Metaeconomics:Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, in press

Wise, T. Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich, and Sacrificing the Future of America. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers, Kindle ed., 2015.

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