Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blumenthal as Caligula

Gore Vidal, who was friendly with the Kennedy family, once was asked whether he was disturbed by Edward Kennedy’s long reign as senator of Masachussetts. Not at all, said Vidal -- author of “Myra Brekinridge/Myron-Myron", whose heroine, sort of, was a transvestite and “Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia", as well as a host of other well received books on various topics – every state “should have at least one Caligula.”

Connecticut’s Caligula may be Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose fondest wish – to save the world by suit – was granted, according to a story in the Hartford Courant, a day after Thanksgiving, when the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a suit championed by Blumenthal and other attorney’s general to force the Environmental Protection Agency to classify CO{-2} as a hazardous emission.

On the local front, according to the paper, “…a second coalition case known as Connecticut vs. American Electric Power seeks to force five of the nation's largest power-generating companies to begin reducing their CO{-2} emissions. Now pending before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, it argues that CO{-2} constitutes a harmful 'public nuisance' under common law.”

Blumenthal is quoted in the story as saying, “The most difficult question for me is not whether CO{-2} causes global warming and not whether global warming is harmful ... but what is the best way to stop global warming.”

It’s not the science of pollution that matters; the suit’s the thing. And if energy prices rise as a result of Blumenthal's efforts -- well, they rise.

In the wacky world of Connecticut politics, Blumenthal's suit should give a boost to Democrat efforts to lower energy costs, once a major pillar of John DeStefano's gubernatorial campaign. It all seems so long ago.

On September 13, Blumenthal met on the political stump with then Democrat gubernatorial John DeStefano and Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura to protest higher energy costs.

"Connecticut is mired in an energy crisis,” DeStefano cried out at Waterbury’s Town Hall. “It already has the highest rates in the nation, squeezing families and costing us jobs. While electric rates are soaring, Gov. Rell has not shown the leadership or a plan to reduce costs. As Governor, I would work with the legislature to lower rates for consumer and families by imposing a windfall profits tax, making Connecticut a national leader in conservation and putting in place a series of detailed measure to lower our energy costs.”

DeStefano vowed, “As Governor, I would immediately return $300 million to Connecticut's families and $40 million to businesses by imposing a windfall profits tax on electric generators."

Juggling the revenue and expenditure ledgers of business in the private or quasi public marketplace is a tricky affair, where taxes are treated as part of business costs. The costs of taxes are usually recovered through price increases. Both litigation costs occasioned by Blumenthal’s suits and tax costs occasioned by DeStefano’s windfall profits penalty usually would be recovered by businesses through an increase in the product price. Should such increases be made impossible, the product tends to disappear, except in markets that allow less punishing regulation.

There is one exception to this general rule. In socialist countries like Venezuela, where energy production is state owned, government can set the price of energy; but neither Blumenthal nor DeStefano have proposed the nationalization of energy producers.

Under the present circumstances, Blumenthal gets to have his cake and eat it too. He is partially responsible for high energy costs occasioned by litigation and regulation -- and yet he is permitted to pose before the public as a knight on a white horse fighting the greedy captains of energy who want to bilk the public and stuff their pillows with ill-gotten profits.

Energy production in the Northeast has not been properly deregulated; it would be truer to say that it has become a publicly regulated industry that borders on a monopoly, which is why it is so easily manipulated by legislators and attorneys general. The quickest way to create a quasi-monopoly in a quasi-free marketplace is to produce through government regulation a forbidding economy that will preserve old inefficient businesses and prevent new businesses from entering the marketplace on a level playing field.

Not a bad job – if you can get it from Blumenthal.
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