Tag Archives: Plunder and Deceit

Plunder and Deceit, again

In my last post I mentioned reading, Plunder and Deceit, by Mark R. Levin, and said that I was trying to find common ground with a writer who’s views differ quite a bit from mine. Let me show you what I mean.

Levin writes:

“Consistent with the ideological aims of the degrowth movement, the EPA has dedicated itself to gutting the production of carbon-based resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas as supplies of relatively cheap and abundant electricity and fuel. In recent years, the EPA has tenaciously ramped up its regulatory efforts to cripple the production of energy from these courses.”

 

I have to admit, gutting and crippling America’s vital sources of energy sounds pretty bad.  My first thought was to go and fill up my Mustang while it is still possible. My second thought was, “Hey, wait a minute. Gasoline is cheaper than its been in years.”

I looked up the trend in US oil production and found that it is higher under president Obama than it has been in years:

 

[Source: Forbes]

The federal Energy Information Administration has the data up to 2014 for every state that produces oil. In nearly all of them, production is up, up, up. There is less offshore drilling, less on Alaska’s North Slope, and less in Louisiana. But nationwide, oil production is up from 1.9 billion barrels in 2009 to 3.2 billion barrels last year.

Setting aside for now all questions of how much energy we ought to be using, and what sources we ought to be relying on, I want to just focus on Levin’s comment and the government data. How does one reconcile his assertion that the EPA (under Obama) has been trying to cripple US production of carbon-based energy with the evidence that oil production has risen steadily under Obama?

Here are the explanations that come to mind:

  1. Levin might be a lying scoundrel.
  2. The charts and links I found might be wrong.
  3. The EPA might be determined to destroy domestic oil production but just not very effective.
  4. The EPA’s efforts to destroy domestic oil might just not have taken effect yet.

Other explanations might emerge if we were to parse Levin’s statement or the data sources more carefully. But the mere existence of the four possible explanations sort of puts us under an obligation to inquire further and not immediately conclude that explanation 1 is the right one.

One way to make progress on the truth is to recognize that Levin talks not just about oil (which is definitely going up, up, up, but also about coal, which going down in a big way.

“The war on coal is not just political rhetoric, or a paranoid fantasy concocted by rapacious polluters. It’s real and it’s relentless. Over the past five years, it has killed a coal-fired power plant every 10 days.”

 

That’s from a long and very worthwhile report on Politico about the “war on coal.” The writers explain that the main driver of the war on coal is not the Obama administration but Sierra Club lawyers arguing in state utility commission hearings.

[T]he big question now is how rapidly [coal’s] decline will continue. Almost every watt of new generating capacity is coming from natural gas, wind or solar; the coal industry now employs fewer workers than the solar industry, which barely existed in 2010. Utilities no longer even bother to propose new coal plants to replace the old ones they retire. Coal industry stocks are tanking, and analysts are predicting a new wave of coal bankruptcies.

 

The following map give an impression of how big a change has occurred with coal. The green markers indicate coal plants that were “defeated” by the Beyond Coal movement, either by denying permits for a new plant or refusing to reauthorize an existing one. There are a lot of them!

Coal Plants Defeated by Sierra Club
Coal Plants Defeated by Sierra Club

 

Levin’s rhetoric, which seemed so extreme and out of touch with the facts where oil was concerned, turns out to be more reasonable regarding coal. His choice of the words “gutting” and “cripple” are a fair characterization of what is happening to the coal industry.

There are still plenty of important questions concerning energy policy and every other complicated issue. Since Levin claims to be writing in the interest of the rising millennial generation, I’d like to hear his explanation for how gobbling up fossil fuels today would help the future. If you worry about climate change, current efforts to curb use of coal and oil (if any) seem to be urgently needed. But if you don’t worry about the environment, you’d still want to slow the rate of fossil fuel depletion so some of the stuff will be left for the rising generation.

Levin is just a stand-in here for all the people we encounter who seems to be out of bounds with their thinking. I’m not always as patient and methodical in my reaction.

But I know a good banjo tune when I hear one.

 

 

 

Conflicting Goals & Common Fate

In the 1958 movie, The Defiant Ones, Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis are prisoners on a southern chain gang. They escape, but can’t break the chain that holds them together. Two men who hate each other and have conflicting goals suddenly learn they share a common fate.

 

 

The two men learn to cooperate, and even to respect each other. And even for those of us who never expect to be running from bloodhounds through a Georgia swamp, there may be a lesson here.

I’m reading Plunder and Deceit, by Mark R. Levin. The book argues that the “ruling generation,” meaning the Boomers, is mismanaging America’s resources in a way that diminishes the future to the detriment of the rising generation, meaning the millennials. He says:

The rising generation must question, confront, and civilly resist the real authoritarianism that endangers its future and the quality of life of those not yet born, whether preached in the classroom, popularized through entertainment, or idealized by demagogic politicians.

 

I completely agree with Levin’s premise.

But like the two escaping prisoners in the movie, I find it hard to move in step with Levin. He’s a hardline conservative and he uses the rhetoric that appeals to today’s wingnuts. Every page — almost every paragraph — pokes, pokes, pokes at government as the cause of every problem.

In a few places, he plays fast and loose with his data and his explanations. In the chapter on education, Levin harps on the rising cost of college, noting correctly that tuition has risen faster than inflation for many years. But he fails to acknowledge that the main reason for this is state governments failing for many of those years to support public universities as well as they did in the past.

(Yes, its true that many universities have lavish residence halls. They are there for the students who want that and can afford it. But those universities — at least Purdue University where I work — also offer cheaper  residences with smaller rooms and no air conditioning. Yes it is true that many universities have built climbing wall in their recreation centers. So what? Climbing walls are cheap and durable. Find something else to fuss about, critics! And yes, it is true that university employment has grown, and that faculty account for a smaller share of all campus jobs than they did decades ago. some of those jobs are genuine fluff and ought to be eliminated. But most of the added higher education workers are serious people working hard a meaningful jobs.)

Levin has a lot of footnotes in his book. But the source that he cites the most is Mark R. Levin and his own earlier books and articles. He cites two other kinds of courses. On one hand, he cites government sources such as the Census Bureau and Congressional Budget Office for detailed facts. On the other, he cites the libertarian Cato Institute and conservative Heritage Foundation for interpretation. From the CBO he gets a dollar amount being spent on something. From  Cato and Heritage, he gets the opinion that the amount spent is too much. This creates an illusion that credible, neutral sources are supporting his claims of out of control government spending.

This is a problem because most Americans have no idea how much we should be spending on anything. Quick: what is the population of the US? what is the Gross Domestic Product? What is our current trade balance with Canada? What share of total private wealth is held by the richest 50 people, and by the poorest 50 percent of the population? What is the poverty rate? Do the people in the state where you live pay more in federal taxes than they receive in federal benefits, or the reverse?

How can you even begin to form an opinion on spending when you don’t know these answers? (Yes, I know the answer. Numbers in the billion, or tens of billions, or hundreds of billions always sound scary big, regardless of context.) But many of those scary big numbers are just the right size when you think about the number of people affected. To me, “big” is never going to be a persuasive argument against the federal government. I think the government ought to do big things. There are a lot of things the federal government oughtn’t to meddle with at all. But the things it does, it ought to do well.

I’ve got a few bones to pick with Levin. But my point is that I think he’s an ally. He’s right about his major premise and he’s right about many of his details. I like that he begins his book with a quote from Edmund Burke, the original and true conservative thinker, before going on to quote many lesser, latter-day, erzatz, so-called, soi-disant, bogus conservatives.

I want to learn to be better at finding common ground with everyone who thinks even partly what I think. I want to learn to be better about learning from people who know thinks I don’t know — without giving up my ability to recognize stupid when I hear it.

So carry on, Mr. Levin. I’m with you.