- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

The controversy over Vice President Dick Cheney's secret energy-policy consultation list is amusing. Government should certainly err on the side of disclosing such things, but that's not the point here.
Those most vocal in demanding the list seem to be saying they can't judge the Bush administration's energy policy until they know who lobbied for it. But why can't they? You have to wonder about anyone who is so insecure about his ability to judge a policy that he can't make up his mind before he finds out who the players are.
Are Mr. Cheney's critics afraid they might endorse a particular policy only then to learn that Enron favored it too? Is this ruckus all about avoiding embarrassment?
Enron favored the Kyoto antiglobal-warming treaty, anticipating profits in the contrived market for pollution permits. But I don't see any greenhouse alarmists forsaking Kyoto for that reason. (They should give it up because it's a terrible treaty aimed at a nonexistent problem.) So why is it necessary to know whether Enron, or any other energy firm, endorsed a given policy in the Bush energy plan? A policy is either good or bad, regardless of who favors and opposes it.
It so happens that the Bush plan is full of subsidies and tax incentives. Subsidies are bad because the government takes money from the taxpayers and gives it to companies to carry out politically favored projects. Tax incentives, while different from subsidies, similarly substitute political judgments for market-based decisions. Both are as anti-free market as it gets. It's legal plunder. Thus they should be opposed no matter who lobbied for or against them. (By the way, Enron was steeped to its ears in government subsidies some free-market advocate.)
On the other hand, real deregulation (not the counterfeit that occurred in California and elsewhere) is good. It frees people to engage in voluntary exchange, which is both morally benign and economically beneficial. Again, it doesn't matter who's for it or against it. It's good period. ( By the way, Enron's record on deregulation is highly suspect. The company favored it only where it was advantageous again, some free-market advocate.)
Come to think of it, it may not be a bad idea to oppose policies supported by Enron. It was almost always on the wrong side of the market-vs.-socialism debate. Besides supporting Kyoto, it was a major recipient of corporate welfare for years. The Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) ladled out $600 million and more than $1 billion, respectively, to this alleged paragon of wild free markets.
I would like to see how much more it would have looted the taxpayers had it been an advocate of socialism.
Those two programs, supposed examples of enlightened government, are explicitly intended to countermand the verdicts of investors. Unworthy projects that cannot attract private capital may still be pursued, thanks to these taxpayer-fleecing interventions. Enron lived by such violations of free-market principles. One of its Ex-Im Bank subsidies was for a failed power-plant venture in India. It lost more than $600 million in 2001. In the Clinton years, Enron was always represented on those Commerce Department junkets designed to whip up business for American firms with foreign governments.
So why aren't Enron's critics calling for an end to the Ex-Im Bank, OPIC, and Commerce Department? As U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, writes: "The point is that Enron was intimately involved with the federal government. While most in Washington are busy devising ways to 'save' investors with more government, we should be viewing the Enron mess as an argument for less government."
Precisely. But it would not serve the agenda of the political establishment to emphasize Enron's dependence on the government. So it must instead be portrayed as an advocate of free markets. What a laugh.
The Bush-Cheney energy plan is bad on its face, not because Enron, that creature of the state, supported it.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at the Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of "Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State," and editor of Ideas on Liberty magazine.


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