Sunday, January 9, 2011

Robert Bradley, Jr., and the future of energy

I am interested in the intellectual interpretation of energy issues. Robert Bradley, Jr., offers a "libertarian" interpretation of climate and energy issues, in two energy related web sites, masterresources.org, and the Institute for Energy Research. Bradley's libertarian ideology intrudes into postings on both web sites, but far more heavily on masterresources, than on the IER pages. Neither site focuses heavily on nuclear power, and Bradley does not usually receive attention from nuclear bloggers. Whether or not he should receive more attention is another issue. Libertarians are potential allies of a nuclear approach to global energy issues, but Bradleyis far more interested in fossil fuels, and in particular intellectual issues related to the governmental regulation of fossil fuels than he is in alternative energy sources.

A brief biography of Bradley stated,
Robert Bradley worked at Enron for 16 years. As director of public policy analysis for his last seven years there, he wrote speeches for the late Ken Lay, Enron’s CEO, who was convicted in 2005 of fraud and conspiracy. Dr. Bradley is also founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research of Houston, Texas, and Washington, D.C. He frequently writes and lectures on energy, political economy, and corporate governance. He is currently completing his seventh book, Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies, the second volume of a trilogy on political capitalism inspired by the rise and fall of Enron.
16 years with Enron, coupled with subsequent research on the failure of Enron may not have have provided Dr. Bradley a deep understanding of the role of nuclear power in future energy systems. Bradley is not interested in technology. His view of the energy future is based on a sort of hero worship of capitolists, preached by Ayn Rand. Bradley wrote,
Readers of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which so notably portrayed the American businessman as a hero, may well be wondering what to say about it all. They should say: Ayn Rand was right. She comprehended business in its highest and lowest forms. . . .
Thus Bradley offers a form of Libertarianism that is heavily influenced by Ayn Rand's thought. There are other forms of Libertarian which Rand appeared to have criticized. Rand stated that she would prefer voting for comedians Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers or Jerry Lewis than for the 1972 American Libertarian Party. She described
Libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose, and they denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication, when that fits their purpose. They are lower than any pragmatists, and what they hold against Objectivism is morality. They’d like to have an amoral political program.
And while Rand regarded some businesses people as heros, many received her scorn:
In my new book, I glorify the real kind of productive, free-enterprise businessman in a way that he has never been glorified before. I present him as the most heroic type of human being, more so, in a way, than Howard Roark. But I make mincemeat out of the kind of businessman who calls himself a “middle-of- the-roader” and talks about a “mixed economy”—the kind that runs to government for assistance, subsidies, legislation, and regulation (Michael Berliner, Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 441–42).
Needless to say, Ken Lay of Enron was the sort of businessman who talked
about a “mixed economy”—the kind that runs to government for assistance, subsidies, legislation, and regulation . . .
At least in Bradley's world view.

Liberalism is not an ideology the term refers to a complex set of ideas that are not entirely coherent. There is no clear boundary between liberalism and libertarianism. Liberalism focuses both on human freedom and on the creation of an environment of personal opportunity. A few Libertarians understand the kinship between libertarians and liberals, but most often Libertarians view Libertarianism as a form of conservative ideology. The followers of Ayn Rand for the most part should not be considered quasi liberals. Real Liberals, and liberal leaning libertarians are supporters of science, but Rand's ideology, which stresses hyper individualism, is not sympathetic too or supportive of science.

Bradley has found his capitalist hero in the person of Charles Koch, a successful businessman who heads a $100 billion a year private business. Koch, his brother David Koch, and Bradley are all bitter opponents of climate science, with the Koches bank rolling much of the right wing attack on science. Thus we have the Koches who are in the energy business in total denial concerning the challenges and opportunities of the future energy business. Charles Koch controls the Libertarian Cato which through Cato "scholar" Jerry Taylor is in the anti-nuclear propaganda business along with Greenpeace and the Serra Club. Taylor claims,
Why is it risky to build nuclear power plants? Because new nuclear projects tie up more capital for longer periods of time than its main competitor, natural-gas fired generation. Nuclear power makes economic sense only if natural gas prices are very high. Then, over time, the high initial costs of nuclear power would be offset by nuclear power’s lower fuel costs. Moreover, as noted by Moody’s in an analysis published in July of last year, there is uncertainty associated with construction costs, regulatory oversight, technological developments that might reduce the cost of rival facilities, and the ability of utilities to recover costs and make a profit over the lifetime of the plant – a risk tied up in the economic prospects of the region being served by the plant. And those risks have been increasing, not decreasing, as time has gone on.

Taylor also stated,
Nuclear energy is to the Right what solar energy is to the Left: Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact (some crossovers on both sides notwithstanding). When the day comes that the electricity from solar or nuclear power plants is worth more than the costs associated with generating it, I will be as happy as the next Greenpeace member (in the case of the former) or MIT graduate (in the case of the latter) to support either technology. But that day is not on the horizon and government policies can't accelerate the economic clock.

Many free market advocates support nuclear because it costs less to generate nuclear power than it does to generate electricity from any other source (save, perhaps, hydroelectric power), thanks to nuclear's low operation and maintenance costs. However, someone has to first pay for - and build - these plants and the rub is that nuclear has very high, upfront construction costs ranging from $6-9 billion. By contrast, gas plants cost only a few hundred million dollars to build and coal a couple of billion depending upon the capacity and type of plant.
Fortunately the Koches are not going to be running the business that carries their name for much longer. Charles is 75 and David is 70. How much longer they can stay at the helm of a $100 billion a year business is open to question. As it is they are potentially causing enormous damage to the future of society by their sponsorship of the climate change denial industry, and efforts to ignore the potential benefits of nuclear power.

9 comments:

DocForesight said...

Charles, I am trying to square your assertion that Taylor or Bradley are "anti-nuclear" when, by your own snippets, their main concern is cost of building the 1 GWe-sized power plants. I don't read that as "anti-nuclear" per se.

I frequent their site like I do yours and appreciate the information. They take as hard a stand on solar and wind as being mostly nuisance (at least for developed countries' grids) as do you. And rightly so.

To the extent that the Koch brothers support CATO, how is that different from Soros supporting MoveOn.org? or NPR? or Media Matters?

I don't know what it will take to get Bradley or any other contributor to masterresource.org to investigate LFTR, but I hope you have already made that attempt to engage in that conversation. Their skeptical approach to AGW ought not infringe on that sharing of information.

Best wishes in 2011.

Charles Barton said...

Doc, I cannot find evidence that the Cato Institute is interested if finding a route to the development of Nuclear Power Plants that is consistent with what it takes to be "Libertarian principles."

The Koch Brothers do more that support Cato, they have virtual control over it.

Kent Hawkins said...

I post frequently at MasterResource in a technical frame, and I am definitely not anti-nuclear. Bradley has always encouraged me in my views. Although your post is aimed at Bradley, MasterResource is more balanced than you indicate - at least from my point of view.

Kent Hawkins

Charles Barton said...

Kent, I admire you writing on ind/renewable energy. My complaint about Bradley is that he seems committed to fossil fuel solutions to the extent of virtually ignoring consideration of nuclear power. I do not view Bradley as an active critic of nuclear power, but he does not offer support for nuclear power from the criticisms of its left wing critics either. Nor does he criticize the Koch brothers anti-nuclear hit man Jerry Taylor.

David said...

Charles,

How do you know that the Koch brothers control the Cato institute? I am only loosely familiar with Cato, having heard people quote it. I am only recently hearing about the Koch Brothers. I am interested in the statement that they are bankrolling opposition to AWG. Where is that idea coming from? Are there donor statements or something to back this up?

David said...

Charles,

I went and read the whole article by Taylor. He makes several interesting claims. Feed in tarrifs of 1.8 cents / kwh for nuclear? The Industry wants to have the current set of regulatory rules and regulations?

I would question if the whole nuclear industry is in favor of the current set of regulations, but I find myself in some agreement with him because he is focused on the 1GW+ plants that require such a huge resource. I would criticize that article by saying he limits his focus unfairly to the economics of these 1GW+ plants and ignores the potential (which was not as obvious in 2008) of the smaller designs.

Charles Barton said...

David Gordon http://www.lewrockwell.com/gordon/gordon37.html
wrote: "It was not widely known, but stockholders, who had the power to dismiss the Board of Directors, controlled the Cato Institute. The original stockholders were Charles Koch, Rothbard, an employee of Koch, and Edward Crane, whom Koch hired to run the day-to-day operations of the Institute. Koch, by his control of the majority of the stock, had absolute control of the newly formed group. Of course, he would have possessed a large measure of influence anyway, because he was by far the largest donor; but he wanted to ensure complete dominance. . . .

Rothbard's differences with Crane and Koch went beyond this one political campaign. He thought that Cato's primary mission should be scholarship rather than political campaigns and attempts to secure audiences with the high and mighty in Washington. His antagonists emphatically disagreed.

Crane and Koch could not tolerate what they deemed blatant disloyalty. Even though Rothbard was the leading theorist of libertarianism and the Cato Institute had been established to promote his views, they expected him to obey the orders sent down from on high. No one at all acquainted with Rothbard could have reasonably expected him to do so. He was always his own man and would agree with Dante: "Follow your own course, and let the people say what they will."

Rothbard was removed from his position at Cato, and he was no longer invited to lecture at the summer conferences of the Institute for Humane Studies, another organization under Koch's patronage. Rothbard did not go quietly. He was, it will be recalled, a stockholder in the Cato Institute; and he intended to make clear his opposition to current policy at stockholders' meetings. In addition, his public criticisms would draw attention to a fact that Koch preferred to keep hidden, i.e., that the stockholders, principally Koch himself, and not the Board of Directors, held final control."

LarryD said...

OT, FYI - Public Demo of 10KW Nickel-Hydrogen reactor, as part of a press conference by Sergio Focardi and Andrea Rossi, Jan 15th.

Adqueen said...

From what I understand, the four original stockholders were Koch, an employee of Koch's, Crane and Rothbard.

after both the employee and Rothbard were sacked, where did those shares go? split between Koch and Crane? Thanks

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