What we like most about T. Boone Pickens’ grand scheme for meeting America’s insatiable energy appetite and reducing the reliance on unfriendly foreign sources of oil is his willingness that all alternatives should compete.
Whether it’s drilling for oil offshore, or processing natural gas shale from the heartland or capturing wind that blows from who-knows-where, Pickens is all for it.
“I‘m for everything that’s American,” as the billionaire Texas oilman put it Tuesday.
What we like least about his grand scheme is that to pursue the parts of it he personally prefers, Pickens would rely on government’s heavy hand.
Without government subsidies, mandates and rights-of-way acquisitions, America’s switch from reliance on foreign oil to natural gas and wind-generated power won’t happen fast enough to suit him.
To promote electricity production from wind sources as a replacement for natural gas, Pickens wants government to mandate wind power, provide subsidies and exercise eminent domain powers to acquire land for transmission. That, in turn, would free natural gas to replace gasoline for large transport vehicles.
Despite claiming to prefer government not interfere in market decisions, Pickens is willing to take advantage when he can benefit from government’s intrusion.
The insidiousness of government intrusion in the market is that it often benefits someone. But always at someone else’s expense.
Rather than a mutually beneficial transaction between un-coerced participants, government’s involvement in market matters always means someone — usually the taxpayer — is an unwilling participant, who is forced to pay to benefit someone else, in this case Pickens.
Such arrangements are wrong in at least two ways.
First, from a utilitarian approach, government’s involvement is inefficient and inflexible. Whereas private parties are free to innovate, react quickly to changing circumstances and pursue the mutually profitable course, government meddling renders market decisions inflexible, arbitrary and perverts profit motives with gains through subsidies and losses from regulations that are completely unrelated to the transaction.
Second, from a moral standpoint, government’s involvement is wrong. It seeks to pick winners and necessarily designates losers based on capricious standards coercively imposed on the unwilling as well as on the willing.
If, as Pickens claims, wind power is feasible for generating electricity, and natural gas is better than gasoline for trucks, the market will figure it out.
From a utilitarian perspective, the market can be counted on to learn what works. From a moral standpoint, freely made choices coerce and abuse no one. That seems much more to resemble, “everything that’s American.”