Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

Why didn’t the heat wave cause power failures?

Jul 28, 2011 19:38 UTC

Last week a record-setting heat wave afflicted much of the United States — yet there were no brownouts.

Electricity shortages during heat waves long have been common. We tend to miss what doesn’t happen, and what didn’t happen last week was electric power scarcity.

Two factors are at play, one positive and one vexing.

The positive factor is gradual decline in electricity demand. From 1996 to 2007, U.S. power consumption rose 23 percent. Since then, consumption has declined 16 percent. Taking population growth into account, per capita demand decline since 2007 is even greater. Details are in this fun report — every day must be a party at the Energy Information Administration.

The recession is not the root cause — electricity consumption began to moderate before the economy cooled. Homeowners, and businesses, finally are getting religious about high-efficiency lights, programmable thermostats and other power-saving technology. If the United States could achieve, in petroleum use, the same demand-curve moderation observed with electricity, America’s dependence on Persian Gulf dictatorships would decline, along with U.S. greenhouse gas output.

Now the vexing factor. When George W. Bush took office in 2001, he declared a looming electricity crisis that would require a national crash program to build generating stations and power lines. This political wolf-cry was forgotten when 9/11 happened. Forgotten, that is, by pundits and national candidates for office. But not by the permanent bureaucracy: last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission published rules, years in the making, intended to trigger a major initiative to build power lines.

Facing down the debt

Jul 20, 2011 18:07 UTC

Over the past three generations, America’s leaders have faced down the Depression, won World War II, won the Cold War, created Social Security and Medicare, passed the Civil Rights Act and dramatically expanded environmental protection. The record is one of boldness and triumph.

Today, America’s leaders face the challenge of reducing giveaways to special-interest groups. That is what the national debt issue boils down to — do Congress and the White House have what it takes to say “no” to interest groups that want to be showered with borrowed money?

Anybody can agree to a giveaway. In politics, nothing is easier than handing out bags of candy while making empty promises about fiscal discipline in the future. No mettle is required endlessly to say that this year everybody gets everything they want but look out, next year we get serious.

from MediaFile:

The Journal’s twisted self-defense

Jul 18, 2011 21:22 UTC

By Gregg Easterbrook
The views expressed are his own.

Today’s Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial declares Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation all but saints walking on Earth, claiming “politicians and competitors are using the phone-hacking years ago at a British corner of News Corporation to assail the Journal and perhaps injure press freedom.”

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, press freedom is the last refuge of tabloid gutter-dwellers. But note two corruptions in that single sentence of the Journal’s embarrassing editorial.

First, casually the Journal acknowledges the scandal’s initial charge is true, referring to “the phone-hacking years ago at a British corner of News Corp.” Just last week, Murdoch was vehemently saying in the Journal’s pages that some of the accusations were “total lies."

Twilight of the WASPs?

Jul 14, 2011 19:23 UTC

White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) men are supposed to hold the reins of power in the United States. All but two presidents have been WASP males; almost all Supreme Court justices; most leaders of the House and Senate.

Today everyone knows America has a black president for the first time. It’s also the first time in American history that neither the president nor the vice president are WASPs. Of the six apparent frontrunners for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination to oppose Barack Obama, just one is a WASP. Of the four leaders of Congress, only one is a WASP. The Supreme Court not only has no WASP, it has no Protestant.

Is this the twilight of the WASPs?

Consider the absence of WASP males at the top of public life. The president is African American, the vice president is Catholic. Current favorites to top the Republican 2012 ticket are Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Mormons; Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, women; Newt Gingrich, a Catholic and Tim Pawlenty, a Baptist.

How nations go bankrupt, one sliver at a time

Jul 7, 2011 16:08 UTC

Governments in Greece, Portugal, the United States and elsewhere are borrowing, and often wasting, money at a reckless pace. Why do banks and financial markets cooperate? Because there’s something in it for them.

They keep a little slice of the public money being borrowed or wasted. Only a sliver. But the more that is borrowed, the larger the sliver becomes.

This is the Sliver Strategy, and it underlies the ways many of the Western world’s wealthy institutions relate to government.

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