April 30, 2010

EXCEPT THAT GOVERNMENT CAN PLAY A FAR MORE PASSIVE ROLE:

American Power Act (DAVID BROOKS, 4/30/10, NY Times)

In 1860, Samuel Curtis, a Republican congressman of Iowa, sponsored a bill to create a transcontinental railroad. The debate over that public-private partnership was long and messy. Democrats said the proposal was unconstitutional. Others rightly argued that it meant huge giveaways to the rich.

But the railroad effort, backed by Abraham Lincoln, swept forward. “Nations are never stationary,” Representative James Campbell told the House. “They advance or recede. We cannot remain inactive ... without the loss of trade, of commerce, and power.”

After the legislation was approved in 1862, there were continual setbacks. The Union Pacific Railroad languished. Scandals mounted. Yet despite it all, the final spike was hammered into place at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, linking the nation and heralding a new burst of prosperity.

When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things.

Energy innovation is the railroad legislation of today.


Developing the railway system was obviously an area where competition didn't make sense--after all, multiple companies laying parallel lines would have been a fiasco. But as regards alternative energy sources government can foster innovation and competition simply by making the energy cources we want to leave behind more expensive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2010 6:34 AM
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