November 24, 2012

NICK KRISTOF WRITES A LOT ABOUT FOREIGN COUNTRIES. But given this dogs-breakfast of a column about America, I’m beginning to doubt the reliability of his observations from anywhere.

People want generators because the power goes out in storms. The reason power goes out in storms isn’t because marginal income tax rates aren’t high enough. The reason power goes out in storms in general is that ratepayers — who, not taxpayers, are the ones who pay for electrical-utility infrastructure — balk at paying the higher rates it would take to harden up the infrastructure, and the political bodies that oversee utility rates tend to agree.

The reason that power went out on Long Island is that Andrew Cuomo did a lousy job of overseeing the incompetent Long Island Power Authority. And the reason why people buy generators is because they’ve gotten better and cheaper thanks to technology, while we’ve gotten less willing to live without electricity for an extended period.

The larger phenomenon that Kristof identifies — people buying their way out of “public” (that is, government-supplied) services — is real, but the chief reason is that government has become more concerned with redistribution and cronyism, so that the quality of services has generally fallen. Increasing the amount of money available for redistribution and cronyism won’t fix that.

Related: LIPA customers who spent weeks without power got zapped with their normal electric bills — as if the outages never happened.

Also: Dear generator-owning homeowners, do not invite Nick Kristof over next time there is a hurricane. “Completely ignored is that government spending is going through the roof, including on police and schools, yet we have little to show for it. The answer for Kristof, more of the same.”

Plus, from the comments: “Kristof is losing his touch! I fully expected him to suggest that we have a progressive electric rating scheme in this country like we do our taxes. The couple with the $50k shack get their electric for free, while those with the Manhattan condos and $5m Hamptons mansions pay the highest electric rates in the nation. Slipping I tell you!”

UPDATE: Speaking of government and money: Exclusive: New Jersey railway put trains in Sandy flood zone despite warnings. “The Garden State’s commuter railway parked critical equipment – including much of its newest and most expensive stock – at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy’s expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.”

Oh, and by the way, if you’re looking for a generator. . . .

UPDATE: A couple of more gems from Prof. Jacobson’s comments:

Didn’t Kristof (twice) favor the candidate who proposed an energy plan in which “electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket” and who thinks that’s a good thing? Therefore, Kristof believes that only the wealthy should have an adequate power supply. Q.E.D.

And:

The way things are progressing, in 20 years “only the rich can afford electricity” will be a common utterance, and an established fact.

Indeed.