Is this a surprise to anyone? When I first saw the T. Boone Pickens “plan” advertisement, I promptly ignored it. A billionaire oilman finds religion and is now promoting green energy? That narrative certainly has a heartwarming appeal doesn’t it? (Btw, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a billionaire or an oilman; it’s just good to consider where a message is coming from.) Now we learn that T. Boone is set up to make a killing if his “plan” is implemented. Nothing wrong with making money or catering to the demand for greener energy. However, T. Boone’s plan requires massive use of eminent domain. That is, instead of buying all of the land between his farm and Dallas to put his wind farm on and exploit his water rights as well as his natural gas investments, ol” T. Boone just figured he’d get the gubmint to take all that land and give him some sweet kickbacks in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies (but I repeat myself) to boot. It seems that this “plan” to end the energy “crisis” is going to cost a lot more than T. Boone lets on and that he will be the primary beneficiary.
Though the red flags should’ve gone up in everyone’s mind when this “plan” first started circulating, I’ve been amazed to see the comment wars going on between skeptics and true believers in several different online outlets. One commenter, who shall remain unidentified, said something to the effect of: “It might not be perfect, but at least it’s a plan. Where’s your plan?” Now I’m no fan of making the perfect the enemy of the good, but I’ve seen similar arguments in many different policy discussion from both the left and the right and they all strike me as hollow. It would be wonderful if every critique could propose a better solution, criticize by creating as John Mackey, channeling Michaelangelo, likes to say. That is certainly the ideal and the best way to advance a discussion. However, sometimes criticism is all you can offer because there is no problem (I’m not saying that’s the case here) or the offered plan is premature or so boneheaded that it will result in a waste of time, money and other resources and may in fact accomplish more of the harm you’re trying to prevent. That certainly could be the case here, where T. Boone benefits by receiving some of the inputs to his new energy business at well below market rates, thereby increasing his profit, but also resulting in a massive investment of resources into a plan that is a best a boondoggle and at worst might actually harm the environment and result in tying up that massive amount of resources which might be better spent on other more efficient green technologies. For really complex problems, sometimes the best short-term solution is to wait until the problem is better understood or better technology exists to address it.
In other words, merely having a plan to address a particular doesn’t mean anything. Each plan must be evaluated on its merits, that is, whether it efficiently addresses the problem thereby making the situation better. Some plans must be implemented to find out if they work. Others are workable or unworkable on their face. Usually, the marketplace will sort the good ideas from the bad ideas. However, folks like T. Boone convince their politically powerful friends (and many of the rest of us) that their plan is good that the market needs to be bypassed through subsidization of their ideas. In such a case, it’s perfectly correct to offer a critique even if you don’t have a plan to replace it with. I’m a little leery of anyone with plans that require mandatory support. If it’s such a good plan, actually sell us on it, not our “representatives.” To paraphrase Laocoön, “Beware of oilmen bearing gifts.”
End of rant.