Friday, March 21, 2003
Deregulation Blues

Last night, I went to my local professional society meeting. Normally, the speaker is someone from the electrical/computer engineering world, and ostensibly so was last night's speaker. The topic was supposed to be deregulation of the power utilities. I expected discussion of framework and of details: like, how do you deal with there only being one physical set of wires for distributing power to the consumer from various power generating companies and the like.

Instead, what I got was a right-wing diatribe where the speaker seem to think (or seemed to act, at least in my opinion) like he was preaching to the choir. There was the wink-wink nudge-nudge "at least the Unabomber did less damage than Ted Kennedy joke" and the Uzi law joke: "The law would require two things: that if you had to comensate someone else for damage done to their property, and you had to shoot someone coming on your property if they were from the government." And several other similar very hostile almost, to my tastes at least, borderline hateful comments about everyone who's not lined up with "them" against the government, in their move towards zero regulation of power utilities.

(Just remember: there's always regulation. Sometimes it's in the form of a legislatively-created commission, and sometimes it's the legislature itself, but there's always some level of government deciding what the rules of business are. The discussion is about where the level of government involvement is and/or how deep is it, not whether there's any government involvement or not. It may be that the power companies think it's cheaper to lobby, to buy off the legislature than to lobby, to buy off some public-utilities board, but a framework for lobbying, for buying off is still there. When someone starts talking that their approach means zero government involvement, it's time to put your hand on your wallet.)

I know that someone should explain to these folks that they're the same folks currently running the governments in Washington, D.C., and in Tallahassee, but that's like explaining to their fellow travellers that welfare reform has been the law for five or so years now, so you can't complain about "welfare queens cashing their government checks" like you used to. After political successes, you have to change your message to reflect those successes. You can't play outsider when you're not the outsider anymore, or not with any degree of credibility.

I do believe that in due time reality will catch up with those who try to wrap their agenda in libertarian cloth while promoting their own big government agenda that moves money into their own already big pocketbooks. Eric Hoffer used to talk about Hollywood liberals with "left-wing principles and right-wing bank accounts". I think what I saw last night was libertarian principles mouthed by someone with very much of a traditional big-business attitude. And the imagery of death to the domestic enemies (wink wink, nudge nudge) was unwelcome, rude, senseless, and not consistent with good citizenship, regardless of political agenda.