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Why Alternative Energy, Part Two

Published at: Jan 12, 2012
source: Forbes

published by

Sometime between 2008 and 2009, or perhaps before then, I got it in my head that the best poetry was political in nature, and the best fiction was psychological or sociological in nature, and the best non-fiction, well, was non-fiction!


It was sometime around then that I got on board the alternative energy train, or perhaps hopped on the caboose that’s being dragged by the engine. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about writing about the subject. I was only interested in understanding why the drumbeat of news on the subject was getting louder. I convinced myself of the benefits of alternative energy not for the reasons I mentioned in an earlier blog post, “Why Alternative Energy.”

Back then, I could only see the subject from an international economist’s point-of-view. Economic policymakers typically argue that the US current account deficit, the fact that the nation imports more than it exports, is sustainable because it has a large internal market. If it had to, the country could enjoy life without exporting or importing. But it seemed clear to me that America needed to prove to itself as a nation that it didn’t have a balance of payments issue, that our current account deficit was sustainable, or else not on a one-way track to nowhere, and that changing our energy mix would go a long way towards that.

Back then I decided in my head, for I didn’t talk about it with anyone, what many policymakers were talking about, but largely talking around, really had to do with our balance of payments and how money gets recirculated into who owns what assets within our country. To me, the alternative energy story had at its roots surprising similarities to the fervor in the US around Japan before it’s housing bubble popped. It was an international political economy story.

Recently, however, I read a commentary on the US alternative energy market written by Matt Bruenig. It’s brilliant.

Afterward I thought: Ah, I see. The best journalism on what economist’s call “externalities” or financial transactions involving the basics such as clean air, fertile land and clear water – and alternative energy is largely about air pollution – are national political economy stories. In fact, perhaps all alternative energy stories now should have a national political bent.

The majority of Americans are likely to live in an area rich in one of these resources, if not all. Therefore, there will be a strong sense of entitlement associated with the resources and any discussion about them. And that may partially explain why there is such fervor around the warmist debates that I see here on the Forbes website, which I have found baffling, having convinced myself of the macro-economic benefits of alternative energy prior to writing about it.

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