Things We Read Today (40), Weekend

The Unmeasurable Downside of Feel-Good Greenness

Reading this happy article by Providence Journal reporter Alex Kuffner, one might believe that there is absolutely zero cost to all the green goodness that energy-conscious suppliers and consumers can devise.  Honestly, the energy thing is an area in which I’d love to go along with the dahoo-doray chorus doing the obviously correct thing with no consciousness of some potential cost to it all.

Really, can’t we all just agree to let this be the one thing that we just do as a society in which the only argument in the negative is a reluctance to move on from superficial, but destructive, old habits?  Can’t we let Earth-conscious electricity be like cigarette smoking?

Well, no, sorry, we can’t — even if only out of a sense of the importance of economic literacy.  Consider:

So to truly understand the effect of an efficiency project, you have to think in terms of savings not just for one year, but for all years going forward.

By this measure, Rhode Island has achieved a lot. In terms of money, $251 million from a ratepayer-supported fund was spent on electric-efficiency projects in the state between 1998 and 2011, according to figures from Environment Northeast, a Boston-based group.

Lifetime savings on electricity created over that same period amounted to $955.7 million — nearly four times the money invested.

To translate: Rhode Islanders’ electricity bills were about $18 million higher per year, from 1998 to 2011, than they otherwise would have been in order to subsidize marginal efficiency improvements for individual homeowners and businesses.  By some definition of “lifetime” (likely much, much longer than 13 years), those homeowners and businesses will save themselves more than that.

Lost in the equation is what Rhode Islanders might have spent that $18 million per year on. Perhaps groceries, college tuition, career-related investments, or other investments that would save or make them money in the future (retirement investments come to mind).

On the plus side, I guess, people who had to leverage personal debt in order to make up for that $18 million per year investment in savings for somebody else have ensured that they’ll have to work harder in the future than they otherwise would have in order to catch up.  That’s productivity!  Win-win-win-win-win… ad nauseam.

And Since We’re Not Worried About Costs…

Andrew Morse gives some compelling thought to the bottom-line rationale behind the unions’ pension lawsuit:

Ultimately, the courts in Rhode Island Public Employee’s Coalition et al. vs Chafee et al. are being asked to decide whether the modern government appropriations process was scrapped when public sector collective bargaining was enacted in RI. Upon what principles the government appropriations process is based, and why people should be expected to go along with it are important questions to ask — and to convincingly answer. Fail to acknowledge the question, and what remains is a system where people are expected to give stuff up to whomever asks most vigorously, a system of might makes right. When answered prior to the democratic era of history, justifications generally centered on a belief that the people of the earth were divided into rulers and ruled, and that rulers needed permanent claim on the property of the citizens so rulers would have what they needed to provide an orderly society.

Just as (keeping with the Grinch theme) Christmas came without packages, boxes, or bags, so do the public-sector unionists get their benies.  They come despite laws that forbid collective bargaining of pensions; they come despite statutory limits on contract duration; they come despite woes that are the laughing stock of the nation.

Presidential Royalty for the Holidays

And while we all trudge along through the Christmas season, subsidizing our exterior light displays with credit cards and wondering whether a judge with (at least) three generations of living relatives currently in the RI pension system will consider us while reviewing the law, Mark Steyn reminds us that America still understands the importance of supporting a shining beacon of hope in the White House:

Say what you like about a high-living, big-spending, bloated, decadent, parasitical, wastrel monarchy, but, compared to the citizen-executive of a republic of limited government, it’s a bargain. So, while the lovely Duchess of Cambridge nurses her baby bump, the equally radiant president of the United States nurses his ever more swollen debt belly. He and his family are about to jet off on their Christmas vacation to watch America slide off the fiscal cliff from the luxury beach resort of Kailua. The cost to taxpayers of flying one man, his wife, two daughters, and a dog to Hawaii is estimated at $3,639,622. For purposes of comparison, the total bill for flying the entire royal family (Queen, princes, dukes, the works) around the world for a year is £4.7 million — or about enough for two Obama vacations.

Steyn is off base for two reasons.  First, I’m pretty sure I heard on the radio that strict animal importation rules in Hawaii mean that the First Canine is staying behind in Washington, D.C., so Bo can’t be averaged into the cost.

Second,  the Obama family isn’t competing with British royals.  They’re competing with celebrities.  Sure, movie stars and ultra-rich business folks subsidize their lifestyles through profits made from the voluntary use of consumer dollars for their products, while the government elite must bring in their wealth through taxes or the sale of special favors.  But really, we can’t have our great Chosen President humbling himself in comparison with people who crassly profit from capitalism, can we?

 Oh Beautiful, for Spacious… Refusal to Bend to the Will of the Powerful

In none of the other 39 iterations of this column have I felt so strongly that I should end on a positive, uplifting note, and for that, we turn to Portuguese immigrant and science fiction author Sarah Hoyt:

Yeah, Americans talk back, and make classrooms noisy, and can sometimes be counterproductive.  On the other hand, Americans, faced with a gadawful mess don’t look around and wait for “the proper person” to fix it.  They roll up their sleeves and each of them goes “Well, I’ll do this.”

It’s hard to explain how different that makes us.  To most Americans it seems logical behavior (it is) and I only get the difference because I remember being brand new here and how ALIEN it was.  And I remember living in Portugal without the constant “oh, for heavens’ sake, just do it” moments I have when I go back now.  (I should possibly point out that most Europeans find most middle aged American women bossy, interfering and a bit terrifying.)

Yes, my fellow Americans, we’re still different and special (in the non-euphemism sense).  My fear is that — program by program, lawsuit by lawsuit, photo-op by photo-op — we’re neglecting to see just how quickly our difference is fading.  And as that happens, we’re losing sight of why it’s good to be special in the way Hoyt describes.

The part of How the Grinch Stole Christmas that isn’t drawn out in the book, the cartoon, or even in the movie is that the Grinch’s rejection of the insipidness with which the society of the Whos had interwoven their holiday is the halfway step to his seeing what was truly important within it.  Surely some of the people of Whoville did indeed “boohoo” when they found the trappings and presents gone.

Just so, I think, we’re losing sight of the underlying importance of a community and of providing for our neighbors and helping each other. The uplifting part: We’re not there yet, and we can still turn it around.

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