21 Feb 2011

Institute for Energy Research Publicly Calls to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Shameless Self-Promotion 29 Comments

Some of my energetic critics often claim otherwise, but for the record, IER is against all government subsidies to energy sources, whether fossil fuels or “alternatives”:

In order to truly level the playing field and allow entrepreneurs to serve consumers with the best and cheapest energy options, the federal government doesn’t need to give handouts to all technologies. Instead, the government needs to stop trying to steer the energy sector altogether. By all means, cut funding for fossil fuel sources, but cut funding for their competitors as well.

Those who oppose subsidies for “alternative” energies don’t have a vendetta against renewables, nor do they harbor a grudge against the climate. The simple fact is that fossil fuels are currently the most efficient means of delivering energy to American consumers and businesses in a convenient form, in most applications. The government doesn’t need to ratify this fact; it needs to stand back and let market forces decide which technologies are viable, and which are truly immature and therefore should not yet be deployed.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I imagine Tokyo Tom will sing my praises. Who wants to wager?

29 Responses to “Institute for Energy Research Publicly Calls to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies”

  1. Zach Kurtz says:

    who gets more money via subsidies, traditional fossil fuels or alternative energies?

    • Ivan Ivanov says:

      In absolute dolars, or per unit of energy produced?
      (Either way I don’t know the answer but wanted to show there’s more then one way to look at the question)

  2. Silas Barta says:

    Does “oops my use of fossil fuels flooded your land permanently, and the government will ensure that courts will rule in my favor when you sue for damages irrespective of the merit of your case” count as a fossil fuel subsidy?

    (Adjust question gradually until it matches actual worldstate as believed by fossil fuel restriction advocates.)

    • Dan says:

      I agree with Silas, we not only should get rid of the subsidies but also get rid of the governments monopoly control of the judicial system. We need a free market in energy and law so that the government can’t game the legal system against just restitution.

      I’m pretty sure that’s where he was going with that, right?

      • Silas Barta says:

        I agree with Silas, we not only should get rid of the subsidies but also get rid of the governments monopoly control of the judicial system. We need a free market in energy and law so that the government can’t game the legal system against just restitution.

        I agree, Dan.

        I also agree that people shouldn’t be allowed to permanently flood others land with impunity on the grounds that we should wait for a perfect private law society to develop before enforcing anyone’s rights.

        I’m pretty sure that’s where you were going with that, right?

        • Dan says:

          Yes, we shouldn’t allow that to happen. We should start the process of repealing all the government’s regulations, subsidies, and control of the judicial system immediately. If not, we are likely to see more of all the same because the government isn’t ran by angels and doesn’t have an incentive to do the right thing. If people are waiting for the government to implement better regulations they are going to be saddened to find the regulations make the problem worse. So we need to get to work and start repealing big government right now because it is our only hope.

          • Silas Barta says:

            Nah, I think we should mainly just shill for polluters to the exclusion of that message like we’ve been doing. Great suggestion, though.

          • Dan says:

            Yeah, you’re right. Since we can’t do the right thing we should just wait for the government to solve the problem they created.

          • Silas Barta says:

            No, I think we should do the Murphy/Kinsella approach of acting like the state is the only basis of property rights that we like, and assume that any other property right in a scarce resource is necessarily invalid because the state happens to support it. That seems like a more level-headed approach.

          • Dan says:

            No, property rights in any scarce resource is valid but if the State is in control the outcome will be negative. The system that a State creates will stregthen the bond between big business and big government. Solutions won’t come out of the very people who created the problem. Either we go back to free market principles or the problem will get worse. I think it is a dream to hope for solutions from the State.

          • Silas Barta says:

            Okay, I’ll keep dumping my garbage on your yard until we have a 100% perfect private law society, and if you use any means of preventing this that involve any action by any representative of the state on your behalf, you’re a statist shill. Sound fair?

          • Dan says:

            Ok sounds fair.

  3. Xon says:


    I know I’ve reviewed this “debate” before, but where does Murphy reject the basic Rothbardian argument that the victim of such direct and traceable pollution has the right to sue for damages?

    Your argument is that he does this by implication in that IER article he wrote back in the summer of 09, right? Can you run me through that again, or give me a link to where you have already run through it so I can catch myself up again?

    • Silas Barta says:

      @Xon: This should give you the gist, and here is some further exposition.

      My primary concern with Bob’s handling of the issue back then was actually regarding how he handled scarcity — specifically, his sudden inability to understand and correctly apply it (I go into more detail in the second link). Regardless of what policy you might prefer, that handling was a severe error in reasoning on his part.

      I don’t really need to go into more detail here, since Bob has already admitted that the statements he make about scarcity were in error — it’s just that he won’t issue a formal retraction. The first link has a citation of Bob later saying,

      “However, as Silas correctly notes, if James Hansen and the guys at [RealClimate] are right, then CO2 emissions affect others just as conventional pollution does. If one agrees that one can have property rights to a clean stream etc., then in principle one could have a property right to the atmosphere and this could spawn a market in which the right to inject CO2 into this property is sold.”

      The whole thing was a disappointment for me, because all throughout, Bob showed a basic inability to distinguish separate issues — for example, he showed no understanding of the difference between statements like

      a) “This is a market solution” and “This is a good solution”; or
      b) “This resource is scarce” and “The government should implement policy X”

      all of which made it impossible to communicate with him.

      It’s one thing to say, “This government policy will be bad, and worse than the problem it purports to solve.” It’s quite another to say, as Bob actually did, that actual human beings aren’t scarce, and so harms to them must be ignored in order for true costs to show up in prices. Shameful, really.

      And frankly, I shouldn’t have to pull other libertarians kicking and screaming to admit basic things like this, even if it does — *gasp* — help “the enemy”.

      • Xon says:

        Okay, Silas, so Murphy admitted the gist of your scarcity point, but never issued a formal retraction/apology of that part of his article, and you believe this refusal constitutes an immoral act of sufficient gravity to warrant it being held against his account in subsequent climate articles he may choose to write. I’ll need to re-read those links you gave me before I can form my own judgment of that. In the meantime (I don’t mean to be demanding, just curious), I’m having trouble connecting this to your earlier point in this thread, though that may be entirely my problem.

        • Silas Barta says:

          First, Bob persists in making related mistakes, even after admistting the most glaring error. Second, the relation to my first comment on this post is that Bob (once again) assumes away the very scarcity that’s generating the debate in the first place: yes, fossil fuel subsidies should end, but environmentalists’ _entire freaking complaint_ is that fossil fuels are subsidized in that their users don’t have to pay for the scarce environmental resources (clean air, atmospheric carbon sink capacity, etc.)

          Can you see why that might get a little frustrating after a while? When someone’s entire M/O for talking about an issue is:

          a) Assume problem does not exist.
          b) Say who stupid the other side is for proposing an inconvenience despite the problem, by assumption, not existing.

          “You want to restrict carbon emissions to protect the environment? Well … carbon emissions don’t hurt the environment. Because I say so. Therefore, what possible reason could you have for supporting carbon restrictions?”

          • RS says:

            @ Silas,

            “environmentalists’ _entire freaking complaint_ is that fossil fuels are subsidized in that their users don’t have to pay for the scarce environmental resources (clean air, atmospheric carbon sink capacity, etc.)”

            Uh, “users” here includes living people (even arguably the “environmentalists”) who would not be so without “paying” for it. Indeed, that is their double standard. They suppose that humans can and should survive without energy and attempt to set that as a standard that any attempt to survive with energy is an assault on the “scarce” resources of those who would survive without, except that no one survives without, even the most extreme environmentalists, but such facts are ignored anyway because survival is not their goal and so then neither can they complain of such complex things as “scarcity” as dead people consume no resources.

          • Silas Barta says:

            @RS: No doubt some environmentalists want a return to the stone age. Let’s focus on the most serious, rigorous arguments of teh evil ppl on the other side, though, could we?

            Yes, use of fossil fuels improves our lives. But if it turns out there’s some threshold of aggregate fossil fuel use beyond which environmental disasters occur, then it’s still consistent to support fossil fuel use, *and* that it be kept below a certain level.

            Ever heard of the tragedy of the commons, where a resource gets over-used because the usage rights in it are not clearly defined and account for environmental limitations?

          • RS says:

            @ Silias,

            I’m familiar with the tragedy of the commons and it is neither a serious nor a rigorous argument for environmental limitations. why? because a “commons” is not defined as “the whole world” or “all the air” etc. treating the whole world and anything untouched by mans actions as a scarce resource that someone is entitled to simply because they say so, outside any context of property rights, is not a serious argument for curtailing people’s ability to improve their standard of living, if that is the explicit intent of any legal action. Environmental disasters can only be defined as disasters if it actually impacted real people and real property, not some imagined future peoples to some imagined future property all dependant on changing weather patterns predicted by a special interests group with an agenda.

          • Silas Barta says:

            Got it: if a problem isn’t amenable to your narrow conception of what property rights can be, it must not be a problem. Not much else to talk about here.

          • Dan says:


            I understand that you believe we have a serious problem that needs to be dealt with now, but do you honestly believe politicians are going to solve this problem? It’s not as if Al Gore is studying property rights to determine how to handle global warming.

            I personally don’t think there is a problem but even if you are right I don’t think politicians will solve it.

            • bobmurphy says:

              Uh uh uh, not so fast. Silas doesn’t necessarily “believe we have a serious problem that needs to be dealt with now.” I spent a good year thinking he did, myself. But it turns out that he is (mostly) just mad at how easily I jettison my libertarian principles when it comes to this issue.

              (Right Silas? I’m truly not trying to put words in your mouth here, but I don’t want Dan to draw the wrong inference like I did.)

          • Silas Barta says:

            It doesn’t matter, Bob. You should focus on correcting your horrendous analysis of the what should be done *conditional* on AGW harms being probable, and your ability to talk about scarcity, rather than

            And to both of you: do you think that government firefighters, in the middle of putting out a fire, should say, “Hey, you know what? It’s wrong that we get our funding from taxes. Let’s quit right now. Sorry, grandma, hope someone else makes it here in time” ?

          • Silas Barta says:

            sorry, second paragraph should end “… rather than on whether I really believe this or that about climate.”

            (Seriously, when did libertarianism require you to win arguments about *weather patterns*??? And no, Bob, the analogy to ADHD doesn’t work because you’re not stupid enough to make the claim that “Juvenile cognitive capacity isn’t scarce”, which is basically what you do on climate.)

          • RS says:

            @ Silas,

            That the rub isn’t it. There is apparently vast disagreement not only on whether or not a problem exists but also on the degree of its potential effects. Everyone with an opinion asserts his or her judgment on these issues and makes an estimation on the various solutions, including solutions that would force others to accept such judgments and estimations that they do not agree with e.g. government regulations.

            You say there is “probable” danger from AGM. I do not. On what grounds does your judgment trump my own or anyone else’s? How does your choice to value cleaner air trump another’s choice to value for cheaper food? If peace, justice and equality before the law are to have any meaning then it could not but that is exactly what gets sacrificed when government is used to supplant one persons judgment for another’s in the name of any alleged public good or social utility. Take any issue you want, the principle is the same.

            whether its “probable” that AGM or asteroids destroying property, or “probable” that pot use destroys initiative or “probable” that entitlements destroy motivation or “probable” that gay marriage destroys family values or “probable” that the fed destroys wealth, all of these things are claimed to be primary causes that have some kind of effect, good or bad, on society in general and while everyone disagrees vastly on these things the only general principle uniting all is the fact that people have to be free to make such choices in the first place, a fact that gets lost when ANY special interest groups use political power to achieve an type of collectivist end.

      • Xon says:

        I sound more confrontational than I intend to. Sorry ’bout that.

  4. Kevin Freeheart says:

    Cut subsidies to fossil fuels? Sweet, I’m ALL for that.

    Let’s start with the “unseen” subsidy of having American Military presence around oil wells and pipelines.

  5. Yancey Ward says:

    Didn’t Tokyo Tom drown somewhere in a freak storm?