The Remnant

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Barrett Brown says:

    That’s one of the more common liberal confusions, this weird melding of coercion and something that is not coercion but can be re-phrased in such a fashion as to be unsettling to people on first glimpse.Report

  2. What if someone has a bomb surgically implanted inside his person? Will the TSA require mandatory exploratory surgeries for anyone who ticks the alarm?Report

  3. Avatar Francis says:

    “Now his party is in power, and that power is growing, and he is happy”.

    I am not. I’m utterly appalled by the conduct of the Obama admin on the state secrets privilege and on the conduct of war in Afghanistan and on its approach toward civil liberties generally. I have three more-or-less exclusive choices: 1. Obama’s rhetoric about civil liberties during the campaign was mostly a lie and he’s now acting consistently with his true beliefs; 2. Obama has been cornered by the national security / military / industrial complex. There’s too much money in increasing security, and too much risk (mostly electoral) in decreasing it. 3. Obama has been briefed on just how much torture and other violations of American law occurred during the Bush admin. If he allowed investigations to start, he’d have no choice but to prosecute Bush, Cheney and their senior advisors for war crimes. Obama believes that if he does so he will cause irreversible damage to the country and/or the Democratic party.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Great essay, dude.

    I’ve long thought that there was much liberty to be found in a “Right to Privacy” but neither party is particularly interested in that… people might “sin”.

    Republicans hate the idea of non-procreative sex, Democrats hate the idea of non-procreative money.

    Privacy might allow people to use their own junk however they want… and, Lord knows, that will lead to Sin. And we have laws against murder, right? We have laws against rape, right? Therefore we can, and ought, legislate morality.Report

  5. Avatar RTod says:

    Two points. The first:

    “We live in the wasteland of power; we Remnant are losers. Like Christians, we take it for a badge of honor. If you are wondering about the persistent, elusive link between Christianity and libertarianism, this is it. ”

    A good post, but this seems a little over the top and self-important. As well, it seems the kind of link about the glories of libertarianism and Christianity that wouldn’t occur to anyone unless you were really, really looking and hoping for one. (In other words, apropos of a thread from ED last week, the label leading to the argument, not the situation leading to the label.)

    Second:

    I think you and your relative might have both missed the more obvious answer: That we all feel OK with the State taking some steps to secure us against things we are all scared or nervous about and and feel it a breach of our God-granted rights when it takes similar steps about things that don’t really worry us at all. It’s just that we all worry about and are frightened of different things.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to RTod says:

      To your first point: I am not a Christian. I am an atheist. Also, see the parenthetical right after the sentences you quote:

      Can you ever be sure that you are among [the Remnant]? Short answer: No, never.

      I may very well appreciate the idea of the Remnant, while failing to be a part of it. The parallel with the Christian idea of the elect is a neat one, and seductive to me as a historian of systems of thought, even if I do reject both election and Christianity itself.

      As to your second point, you are probably right — for most people. Personally, I find it creepy or annoying when the State does these things.Report

  6. Avatar 62across says:

    “It works like this: The majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority party can’t do much about it. We are a democracy, and minorities have fewer resources in a democracy. Rather than fight, lose, and be seen as a loser, the minority acquiesces.

    When the minority party becomes the majority, nothing changes. Once again, the majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority acquiesces. The cycle repeats.”

    This much is evident, but doesn’t this at least suggest that the politicians are not where the problem is? If the growth of government power continues regardless of who is in charge, then shouldn’t we look for what has been constant throughout? K Street and the national security/military/industrial complex (to borrow Francis’ phrase) are making the rules. The politicians are merely the tools.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I think what’s funniest about this whole TSA thing is that freaking out about human nudity is now the progressive enlightened viewpoint!Report

  8. Avatar 62across says:

    I have to admit you’ve lost me now. The Cato piece takes the position that advocacy for libertarian principles within our current system is “an utter waste of time” and argues for “calculated action.”

    You say this isn’t promising, so I take it you’re arguing that advocacy is not a waste of time. Then, what are you advocating for here?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to 62across says:

      I’m not saying that advocacy is not a waste of time. I just don’t see a quick fix by leaving advocacy in favor of changing the incentive structure. At least, not by way of seasteading.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Is there a reasonable examination of one’s person that we would admit flyers on jetliners are potentially subject to as a justifiable condition of flying in the post-9/11 circumstance, or just none?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

      The combination of locking cockpit doors and air marshals seems sufficient to me, along with the other ordinary security procedures used before. Any additional security provided by these “enhanced” patdowns and backscatter X-rays will probably not even decrease net mortality. Particularly not on the margin, as most of the foiled airline terrorism isn’t foiled by any form of security at all.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        But before you were potentially subject to a hands-on pat down of some kind, I believe on a random-plus-if-suspicion-warrants basis. I myself experienced one. I completely get that the kind of search what they’re doing now is way more invasive. But it seems to me then that what we’re trying to deal with is just identifying the level of touchy-feeliness that is reasonable and not an unjustified infringement of liberty, especially if you’re saying that how it was before they ramped up the procedures this year was tolerable (if unwelcome), and what they’re doing now is not tolerable. I believe we have always been subject potentially to a hands-on search of our persons if we want to fly, basically at the discretion of authorities. The fact that such searches were not routinely administered doesn’t really change the principle. So again, is it an intolerable infringement of our right to move freely to be potentially subject to being searched using the hands-on-our-person method as a condition of flying, or is this merely a matter of identifying the specific level of invasiveness that is tolerable in such a search? It’s one or the other.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

          I do think it’s a question of the specific level of invasiveness. Sorry if I was being unclear. And while clearly moving to that level of invasiveness is sometimes warranted, given the results of less invasive searches, starting out there isn’t remotely appropriate, as I see it.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Okay gotcha. From what I’ve seen I think what happening now is obviously out of proportion. But I think that the fact that pat-downs in some form are, at least between the two us, sill understood as a legitimate security procedure means that there is a lot less fodder for principled outrage here than it might seem, and more space for simple negotiation of an acceptable medium arrangement. I think that most of the reaction really hasn’t based on any principled distinction between measures that are infringements on a definable standard of privacy and those that aren’t, but rather in a visceral reaction to the experience itself or videos of it. And those reactions are perfectly legitimate, and are rightfully being expressed and taken on board in what amounts more or less to negotiation amongst ourselves about what exactly we want to undergo for the sake of some ostensible amount of increased security on airliners. I don’t think there’s actually much that’s win/lose, black/white, legal/illegal here. It’s just a continuum question that we have to figure out as a society.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I agree that the locking cockpit doors and air marshals would be sufficient in almost all cases.

        But alas, Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine has taken hold, so it is hard to be surprised that screening methods continue to be ratcheted up. Those in charge will be excoriated as long as anyone can argue that something more could have been done the next time some attack is even attempted.Report

  10. Avatar Marisa says:

    Wow. I like this site, and am not usually into being really PC… but TSA patdowns CANNOT BE COMPARED slave auctions. Seriously?Report

  11. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Jason, I agree with you about the TSA, which is the bulk of your post. But I still don’t get why you’re okay with a product surveilling the inside of someone’s house and selling that information to a third party without their knowledge or consent. You write, “Advertisers can’t deny your freedom to travel. All they can do is offer you stuff.” That’s certainly true. But why should I trust that the good spies and data miners who maintain this hypothetical file on me- incidentally, not knowing who they are or where that database is- would never sell that information to the government or to anyone who could use it against me? Because they usually work with advertisers so they’re on ‘our side’? I mean, say the state has questions about me and my private life, and there’s a company that knows what books I have on the bookshelf in my living room- walk me through why I should trust that no deal would ever be made there or hasn’t been made already. Is it that someone else would boycott the data mining company if they ever did something like that?

    I think what your friend was commenting on wasn’t that libertarians tend to distrust the state (although, of course, he could have been griping about that, and I’d disagree with him); but that they tend to overidentify with capitalism and be extremely trusting when it comes to business and business people. And, I know, I know- we don’t have to buy things, but we do have to live under the state- but that doesn’t quite explain why that is. Why are libertarians so often willing to extend boundless good faith so long as the people spying on or manipulating us are, on some level, involved with commercial interests?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

      One reason I’m unworried about the Microsoft incident is that there’s no there there. The entire thing was based on a stray, off-script remark by a lone executive at a shareholder meeting. His comment was immediately repudiated in a statement by the company, and observers all around noted that it violated the Kinect’s EULA.

      So on the one side we have a totally artificial panic, with no privacy breach at all. On the other side, we have the TSA.

      But even if Microsoft did take pictures of your living room and give them to advertisers — well, there’s nothing saying you have to buy a Kinect. I’d certainly deem air travel to be more of an inherent part of modern life, difficult to do business or often to conduct private life without, at least in the way to which we are accustomed. Sure there are substitutes, but these are vastly inferior for many of the purposes we have come to incorporate into our lives. There is a real loss of dignity to restrictions on air travel that isn’t seen in the restrictions on one’s choice of game system.Report

      • Well, if it’s just an unfounded rumor, fair enough. I’d never heard this Microsoft rumor before this post. So what I heard there was that your friend was asking why it would not be a violation of privacy for a company to take pictures of the inside of your house without your consent and then sell those pictures to some unknown third party, and then you saying that the device can’t touch your penis. You can see why I found that unsatisfying. But I take the point that your friend was repeating a silly rumor.

        I guess what I’m trying to work out, in a fairly inarticulate way, is that I’ve never been able to keep straight whether libertarianism is a critique of the state that makes use of a larger argument about innate rights, or a larger defense of innate rights that happens to bring libertarians most often into conflict with the state. I assume that someone must have posted on this question by now, but it’s escaped me somehow.

        Your point that a private company could, hypothetically, violate my privacy in such a way because I don’t have to take part in the market is why I have this question. I don’t remember ever having a conversation with a libertarian about a violation of rights that didn’t originate with the state. I mean, yes, I do understand that the state has a monopoly of legitimate force that makes their coercive power much worse than most private parties. And, in your hypothetical, I do get why restrictions on air travel would be a hell of a lot worse than a video game system taking pictures of my living room. But, of course, private bodies can still violate my rights. I assume that libertarians know that. But, as far as I can tell, when that happens, it’s not on the libertarian radar.

        Question: Is it possible that what I’m seeing as a lack of concern about other groups violating the rights of the individual is really just an awareness of how difficult it is to respond to those violations without bringing the state into it?

        Frankly, when libertarians speak rapturously about human freedoms, or even just rapturously about their love of human freedoms, I wish they’d qualify it. It seems more plausible that libertarianism is a critique of the state (which I happen to agree with) than a defense of individual liberties as such. Because, if the defense of individual freedoms in themselves was taken to its logical conclusion, I think we’d be talking about anarchism and we’re not.

        I should note, of course, that I’m working through thoughts I’ve had for some time here and not entirely responding to your points. I’m also not, in any way, trying to critique you. I’m really just trying to figure out why I so often agree with all the points made by avowed libertarians here, while not really considering myself a libertarian. It’s certainly not out of any loyalty to the Democrats or Republicans, who often tend to be full of it in exactly the ways you’ve outlined in this post. I suspect that I’m maybe just too paranoid for libertarianism. Not trusting the state is just the beginning of it for me.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

          These are large and important questions. I would like to respond to them at greater length than would be appropriate for a comment, and also I’m visiting with family through Monday. As I understand you’re in France, let’s postpone. Ping me if I’ve forgotten next week, because I have a lot to say.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    We live in the wasteland of power; we Remnant are losers. Like Christians, we take it for a badge of honor.

    Wow. Self-dramatize much?

    You make a nice living at being a libertarian. I’d call people working three menial jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ head the losers, myself. But by all means, let’s take away their food stamps in the name of freedom.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      You make a nice living at being a libertarian.

      And you know quite well that I’m unusual that way. Very unusual.

      Why do people work three menial jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ heads? Often, I’d say it’s precisely because of the economic power and privilege wielded by others. Where does that power and privilege reside? Where does it originate? In the unholy nexus between industry and government, and in the direct favors of the latter to the former. That’s also what I’m talking about here.

      Now, I don’t recall saying anything about taking away anyone’s food stamps, but do you really feel good about living in a country where one in ten get them? And do you feel confident saying that welfare traps have absolutely nothing to do with the prevalence of welfare?

      Even though my motto concerning welfare is “end corporate welfare first,” and even though, as a longtime reader, you ought to know this about me…. still. Let’s not have any illusions. It could be done a whole lot better than it is.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        > Why do people work three menial jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ heads? Often, I’d say > it’s precisely because of the economic power and privilege wielded by others.

        I’d say it’s because they don’t have skills valued sufficiently by the market to pay a living wage. Part of this is the continuing trend of moving jobs offshore. Whether it results in net efficiencies or not, executives love the notion of paying their workers less. (This isn’t just cynicism: I’ve lived through the time wasted trying to co-ordinate with a team 12 time zones away, created because claiming lower development costs would be a talking point during the hypothetical IPO.)

        > Now, I don’t recall saying anything about taking away anyone’s food stamps,
        > but do you really feel good about living in a country where one in ten get them?

        I’d much rather there were enough jobs paying living wages to go around, but that’s not the case. And I have no faith that cutting taxes and regulations would create them. It’s just as likely that the money freed up would go into more Ponzi schemes like CDOs.

        > And do you feel confident saying that welfare traps have absolutely nothing to do with the prevalence of welfare?

        No. Do you feel confident enough to let people starve to find out?Report

        • “No. Do you feel confident enough to let people starve to find out?”

          Jason, it’s useless discussing matters with someone who sees the world as a choice between the current welfare state and starvation. I understand what you are saying — you want to make sure that people who need assistance get it, but you believe the welfare state leaves a lot to be desired, and that we should be spending a great deal of energy developing a better way to provide assistance that helps people escape poverty and become independent. How anyone can argue with this is impossible to understand, yet, they do.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

            You’re basically right, but it seems that I tried to argue anyway. I’m sincerely curious what Mike has to say about it, because his idea of what I believe doesn’t square with what I actually do believe. For which see below.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I’d say it’s because they don’t have skills valued sufficiently by the market to pay a living wage. Part of this is the continuing trend of moving jobs offshore.

          If they do not have skills valued highly enough to pay a living wage, that may also be due to regulations, interventions, and the like. Or it may be due to the fact that a “living wage” in the richest country in the world is far, far above an objective living wage. Many of the things we consider essential aren’t, ultimately. And wealth is not the given or natural state of humanity. It does have to be created.

          Yes, it’s distressing to think that sometimes we may be market losers, but it remains an objective possibility. By my reckoning, people in other countries — who are vastly poorer than people in the United States — have just as much moral worth and dignity as we do, even if their skin does happen to be brown. I’m presuming that you feel the same way… but your comment here does lead me to some uncertainty. If they outcompete us, do they not deserve to reap the rewards? Or do they fail to deserve the rewards? If so, is it because their skin is brown, and they’re Mooslims?

          I know I’m throwing a firebomb here, but really, we ought to have the courage of our convictions, including the conviction that all people are human and all deserve a fair chance to compete. In the long run, this form of competition is by no means a zero-sum game, and I look forward to a richer planet, particularly among those who are the very poorest. These folks don’t live in the United States, you know.

          I’d much rather there were enough jobs paying living wages to go around, but that’s not the case.

          And I’d rather that everyone earn a living wage… AND get a pony. So that makes me the winner, doesn’t it? The real world isn’t measured by what you druther.

          Do you feel confident enough to let people starve to find out?

          My favored welfare program is a guaranteed minimum income combined with a negative income tax. Under such a system, anyone who starved would have only themselves to blame. Anyone who didn’t have health insurance likewise would have only themselves to blame. And I’d be okay with merely private charity for such cases, even if I don’t find it adequate in the world we now live in.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Is your negative income tax going to cover the whole world? If not, you’re talking apples and throwing oranges. (I agree that it would be a fine system domestically, assuming the natural demagogic tendency to keep cutting the levels could be restrained.)

            > And I’d rather that everyone earn a living wage… AND get a pony.
            > So that makes me the winner, doesn’t it? The real world
            > isn’t measured by what you druther.

            Since that was exactly my point (i.e. that the current usage of food stamps is necessary because the employment situation is so bleak), I have no idea what yours is.

            > If they outcompete us, do they not deserve to reap the rewards?

            To quote one of my favorite films, deserve has nothing to do with it. If I thought it did, I’ve have to question a system in which CEOs make absurd amounts of money for being mediocre or even failing miserably. Or in which the very people whose incompetence drove their employers into bankruptcy are paid bonuses for it.
            But if I had to answer the question, I would say that, no, being in places that lack rules about workplace safety or child labor makes foreign workers more exploitable, not more deserving.

            And if you think that in the current political climate, food stamps and other current forms of assistance are going to be replaced by superior ones, rather than tax cuts, I’d like you to pass whatever you’re smoking over this way.Report

            • CEO pay is such a star-spangled distraction. I’m not saying I love CEOs and think they deserve to get paid as much as they do. Frankly, that’s for shareholders to decide.

              The big picture is that most of this goes away if we allow people to fail. Also, any CEO’s salary is a drop in the bucket compared to the money that gets shuffled around and used to reinforce existing power structures anytime there’s a recession. If you’re gonna make CEO salaries an issue, I suggest paying attention to the number of zeros.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              A negative income tax need not cover the entire world to be an improvement. Adopting it here might even increase pressure elsewhere to do likewise. Tax competition changes the incentives for governments.

              My point about “a living wage and a pony” was merely that the living wage you love so much is essentially an arbitrary construction. You may wish for it, but then someone else wishes for something better, and morally they’re the winner.

              The real world is not made of wishes. It’s made of really hard work. Stamping your foot and demanding something for nothing may look superficially like the moral high ground, but it’s the same as hoping that ice cream will cure cancer. Passing a law won’t make it so either. Poverty is both the state of nature and a very difficult problem. If I knew how to solve it in a direct manner, by legislation or sheer force of will, I’d be trying whatever solution I thought would work. Unlike many, I don’t profess to know such a way. Do you? (If so, I’m going to laugh, mind you. But I’m curious.)

              As to CEO pay, I concur with Christopher Carr, below. Crunch the numbers and you will find that even paying CEOs nothing, and giving their salaries to ordinary workers, would yield them a pittance. And at the same time, being a CEO takes talent, and talent is in short supply. I’m quite sure companies would prefer to pay only for talent that delivers on its promises, but again, this can’t be predicted in advance. There are legitimate grievances here, but they aren’t ones whose redress would overturn the class structure. Not by a long shot.

              As to foreign firms doing the work of Americans, I do feel you’ve moved the goalposts. Your initial complaint was about their doing it more cheaply, not about their labor standards. If labor standards are your real issue, you ought to have said so up front. In any case, poor labor standards tend historically to be temporary, and they are most likely only a phase. Following their initial transitions, countries rapidly adopt not just better labor standards, but better environmental ones too. The way to hasten them on this journey is not to cut off trade with them. It’s to increase that trade.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                And at the same time, being a CEO takes talent

                Depends. Not if you take Ken Lay at his (post-indictment) word: that he was just a front man, and had no idea how the company was actually run.

                The real world is not made of wishes. It’s made of really hard work.

                Really? That thing I do 50-60 hours a week (when I’m not commenting on blogs) that puts food on the table is hard work? Thanks. I had no idea.

                Your initial complaint was about their doing it more cheaply, not about their labor standards.

                Are you suggesting that the two are unrelated?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Not if you take Ken Lay at his (post-indictment) word: that he was just a front man, and had no idea how the company was actually run.

                Now you’re just throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it’ll stick. Why on earth am I supposed to believe him, of all people?

                Are you suggesting that the two are unrelated?

                In some respects, yes! Living in Bangalore is a whole lot cheaper in real dollars than living in New York. On top of that there are labor standards issues, but those alone aren’t the whole of the difference.Report

  13. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Now you’re just throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it’ll stick. Why on earth am I supposed to believe him, of all people?

    Because he and Enron represent the free market at its best, of course, and anyone who thinks otherwise is envious and consumed with class hatred. I’ve read that dozens of times.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I do believe my chain has been pulled.Report

    • Mike, what is wrong with you?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to MFarmer says:

        Do you really not recall the esteem in which Enron was held before the dirt started to come out?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          So… a convicted felon says something preposterous, and desperate, to save his own ass, and it’s automatically representative of all CEOs everywhere?

          I suppose by your logic that I’m positively forced to consider Ted Bundy an upstanding citizen too. And it reflects on my character, you know. I’m a very bad person! Anything to hurt the defenders of the free market! (Can I give you Hitler?)

          I hope you realize that your guilt by association is just preposterous here.

          I held no esteem whatsoever for Enron. Truthfully, I didn’t give them much thought one way or another. At the time they went belly-up I was not actively involved in policy research, so unfortunately I have nothing to offer you personally.

          But objectively, Enron was in no sense a free-market concern. It was a skillful manipulator of a rigged market, engaging in arbitrage made possible by government quotas and price fixing. And who did the rigging? Consider the following:

          http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3381

          http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1511

          There are relatively free markets, but Enron never played in one. Instead, they took the elaborate quota and price fixing scheme in California’s energy market and exploited it for their own gain. The mere fact that California’s energy markets were called “deregulated” doesn’t matter.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Both of those date from 2002, before Enron’s role in shutting down power plants to cause artificial shortages had been documented. That is, Enron did much of the rigging. Duke Power did quite a bit too, on the gas pipeline side.

            And, no, Ken Lay isn’t typical, except in being given far to much credit for the success of his company. He’s simply the most obvious example of it being a crock.

            And I don’t know why you’re talking this so personally. No one (least of all I) ever accused you of being responsible for all the sins of the market.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              No one (least of all I) ever accused you of being responsible for all the sins of the market.

              Mike, Jason’s point is that these weren’t “sins of the market” because Enron wasn’t playing in a free market.

              Before you can persuasively argue that these were in fact “sins of the market,” you need to demonstrate that it was in fact a free market.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley says:

                It’s the sin of colluding with government, for which there is no forgiveness.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

                Concurred with both James and MFarmer. It never ceases to amaze me how everything bad done by everyone is automatically a failure of “the market,” and how, at least to some folks, all good seems to come from the government.

                I am on the edge of my knowledge here, but as I understand it, Enron’s shutting down of power plants would not have been a viable market strategy without the production caps present in the California system — caps that by definition would not exist in a free market.

                (Of course, without production caps, someone would probably make a profit, and someone in the government would have to come along and save us from that evil.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                It’s been a heck of a long time since I looked at this issue, but if I remember correctly, the structure of the power grid was a big issue, too. While the system was moving toward a deregulated market system, the grid–a big costly infrastructure–had not yet had time to be significantly enhanced, creating choke points that made it vulnerable to manipulation depending where power was produced.

                But, again if I recall correctly, not all of the allegedly bad actions Enron took were so bad. They were blasted for taking plants off-line to do maintenance, and while maintenance could have been their clever euphemism for screwing-with-supply, most of those plants had been running at more than capacity for several years due to California’s economic boom in the ’90s. Maintenance has to be done sometime.

                Then there was the tremendous stupidity of California’s government in agreeing to really long-term contracts at really high rates. They got totally snookered by the energy companies on that one, and while you can legitimately criticize the energy companies’ for bad behavior there, you also have to ask the question of why you would trust regulation to a group of people that so vividly demonstrated the ease with which they could be outsmarted and outmaneuvered by those they would regulate. (That’s the other thing that never ceases to amaze me–the faith in government bureaucrats to be clever enough to successfully constrain companies.)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                They [Enron] were blasted for taking plants off-line to do maintenance

                Why would that be Enron’s call, rather than the plant’s operator’s? Because, as you hypothesize, “maintenance” was their clever euphemism for screwing-with-supply. We do have tapes documenting this.Report

              • Avatar Mark Boggs in reply to James Hanley says:

                Watch “The Smartest Guys in the Room” to hear the actual tapes of these making the calls to do this while joking about how much money they were making.Report

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