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The End, for now.

96,680 people Georgians voted for me. For comparison, that’s more than the population of Sandy Springs, Macon, or Albany. If you are one of these people, thank you.

I understand it can be frustrating and discouraging to be fighting an uphill battle, especially with people insulting you and spreading nonsensical propagandist lies at every turn. Every day leading up to the election you’d see more and more people trying to scare you and tell you it’s unacceptable to vote for any candidate from an opposition party. Now that it’s over you’ll see people saying terrible things will happen and it’s all your fault. Of course this is complete nonsense. Their arguments fall apart on simple examination of the facts, but these people don’t care about facts or about you for that matter. They only care about their team winning.

If we always vote the way the establishment duopoly wants us to vote, we’ll always get what the establishment wants us to get. If we buy into this divide and conquer nonsense we will be divided and they will conquer us. Yes, it’s discouraging that those who want to empower themselves and their neighbors are, and for the near future will be, vastly outnumbered by those who wish to use politics as a bludgeon to force their values onto their neighbors. But if change is to ever come, we must take a stand now and remain strong. Stand by truth and principle no matter what comes.

If it’s an impossible task, as some would have you believe, and the establishment, irresponsible parties will always rule us, then we’re all doomed anyhow so there’s no point in participating. Just crawl in a hole and wait to die, I suppose. No, we can and we must fight, no matter what the odds. When I look back on this campaign, no matter what anyone else said or did, at least I’ll know I stood for what’s right. So did you. No regrets.

But it is possible. There is hope. Change is on the horizon, even if it is painfully slow. In the PSC elections this year, we have a stronger rejection of the status quo than ever before. They’ve always been won by incumbent, status quo candidates. But in my election, the PSC-5 race this year, the incumbent status-quo candidate won by a smaller margin than any other ever has. Well, except one: the PSC-3 race this year. In that election the incumbent didn’t even win – it’s going into a runoff election. In the future when people look back on this and try to figure out how to navigate Georgia politics they will have to take this into account. If your vote was a part of that, you should be proud.

I know for a fact not everyone who reads this voted for me. In fact it’s entirely possible that the only thing crossing your mind right now is, “Oh no, a runoff! How will my team win?” Well, the most potent strategy is probably to convince your remaining opponent’s voters not to show up. If that’s the strategy you choose, I want no part in that – you’re on your own.

One common approach in a runoff election is to put at least some effort into trying to win over the voters who selected as their first choice a candidate who is no longer an option. Since so much effort has been put into making sure everyone ignores the Libertarian candidates, you may not know exactly how to go about campaigning to them.

PSC-3

Ryan Graham already wrote about how to appeal to his supporters, and he’s absolutely right. Not only are those some of the main issues he was campaigning on, they were resonating with voters. So all evidence points to following Ryan’s advice, if you want those votes.

SoS

The election where the Libertarian voting bloc looks to have the biggest impact on the runoff is Secretary of State. Smythe Duval was not running as a dogmatic libertarian. He was running on some specific issues that, yes, are popular with many Libertarians, but aren’t especially partisan. The support he has was among people who agreed with him on those issues. Just pick some of those issues that were resonating most with his supporters and adopt them. If you’re not sure what they are, check the issues menu on his website. I’ve definitely seen a lot of people respond positively to his advocacy for hand-marked paper ballots, same-day voter registration, non-partisan redistricting, and instant runoff voting (which would’ve saved you and the state the time and money right now).

Gov

The last I heard, some consider it still possible that the governor’s race may go to a runoff. I’m not saying it will, but let’s discuss the what-if. This one’s a little bit trickier, as the appeals available to Abrams and Kemp differ.

The strongest argument Abrams can make to Libertarians – and this isn’t just me speaking, it’s a common sentiment – is one of divided government. It’s two-parts, and goes like this:

  • The Republican legislature passes a lot of terrible laws. I will disagree with them more often than Kemp would, I’ll veto more of these bad laws than he would.
  • Sure, you dislike many of the things I want to get done. But I won’t get my way as easily as Kemp would, with all the awful things he wants to do. In fact, the legislature may want to reign me in.

This is an incredibly powerful argument, in large part because of how plausible it is. We’re all reticent to just take a politician at her word, but the idea that Republicans and a Democrat might bicker? Yeah, I can buy that.

I haven’t seen that argument made by her camp yet, though. In fact when I listened to her speech last night I heard someone almost desperate to drive me, a Metz voter, away.

Kemp obviously can’t make that argument. Luckily for him, Metz’s central message was about limiting government to the contraints of our constitutions (Georgia & US). Kemp has people around him who could teach him how to talk that talk. Unfortunately for him, many people view him as being a normal Georgia Republican, and as such he has zero credibility here.

Of course the right way to get that credibility would’ve been to nominate someone else. There’s a handful of people in the GA GOP who actually are small-government liberty lovers. You can usually spot them… losing a primary for a low-level office, by a large margin, because that’s not what their party is about.

There’s no time for that now. Nor is there time for Kemp to slowly build credibility through actions. I suppose his best bet would be to try to distance himself from well-known the big-government elements of his own party. I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath expecting him to do that.

No, when it comes to those two, they don’t care about the libertarian voters. I’d guess instead they’ll just play games trying to convince their side to show up and the other side not to. If the runoff even happens.

PSC-5

The race next-closest to a runoff is my own. I don’t believe this will happen. It looks like Ms. Pridemore has won outright. If by some fluke it turns out I’m wrong about that, I’ll certainly have more to say at that time. For now there’s no point in dwelling on something so unlikely, nor on the one that is almost as close, Commissioner of Insurance.

Strategic Voting

Usually when we hear about strategic voting it’s used as if it’s a derogatory term. But using a logical process to maximize the possible positive outcome of your vote isn’t inherently bad. Let’s talk about some of the “strategies” a voter might use.

My vote is my voice

Most people don’t realize just how thoroughly the vote totals that come out of an election are scrutinized. Politicians look at it. Political scientists look at it. Campaigns hire analysts to build models based upon it to determine strategies in the future. What you do with your vote is communicating something to these people for many years to come. What is it saying? If you’re taking this approach, that’s the only question that you really need to ask yourself.

The biggest advantage this approach to voting has is it doesn’t really depend much on what other people do. It’s very unusual for your vote to be the one vote that changes the outcome of an election, but every time you vote you change the vote total and change the math of those future analysts.

As a curious side note, some people will choose not to vote for this reason. It’s a little difficult to ascertain numerically how many people really could have voted though, as registrations are often out-of-date. So if this is what you want to do I would encourage you to show up and vote in at least one election, that way your ballot is tabulated and you’re counted in the undervote (those who skipped an election or wrote in someone not registered as a write-in). The undervote is definitely something those analysts notice and think about how they could grab those votes.

Outcome-only

Let’s make a rather naive assumption for a moment that who gets elected is what really matters in an election. It is something that matters, of course, but if we pretended there was a real person who only concerned themselves with this there’s still a few strategies worth considering.

For all of these strategies, it really boils down to what happens if your vote happens to be the deciding factor. I’m going to assume you’re in Georgia (like I am) and voting in the first round of an election (like Tuesday) other than President (we don’t do runoffs for president).

  • Do you cause someone who might otherwise be in third place to instead be in second place and therefore be included in the runoff?
  • Do you cause a particular candidate to get more than a majority and therefore win and avoid a runoff?
  • Or perhaps you cause a runoff to happen, preventing an unfavorable leading candidate from just running away with the election.

Maximax

With a maximax strategy you’re going to try to maximize the probability of the best possible outcome. Some would refer to this as an optimistic strategy.

The best possible outcome is the candidate who you believe would be best for the job winning. No matter what the scenario other voters put you in, best way to improve the probability of that candidate winning is to vote for them. Man this voting stuff is easy.

This is a perfectly valid strategy, and I certainly respect it. If we all did this we’d probably have a better system. But we don’t all do this, so let’s look at some others.

Minimax

These voters are trying to minimize the chance that their least-favorite candidate wins. In a sense they’re voting against someone. This is quite different from the last case. Let’s say your preference is A, B, C – that is your favorite is candidate A and least-favorite is C. The maximax voter will always vote for A, but the minimax voter might consider voting for B if it helps stops C.

Many states use simple plurality voting with no runoff. A minimax voter in that situation will try to figure out who the “top 2” candidates are – that is those who have the most support or the second-most – and vote for whichever of those two they prefer. In the United States our media and consciousness is at the national level, so people generally assume those top 2 are the nominees of the two largest parties (Democrat and Republican in that order), even if in their district that isn’t actually the case.

Here in Georgia we have a runoff system, and as I stated I’m making a point to talk about the first round (the second round AKA the runoff is much, much simpler since at that point it’s a 2-way election). In this case the same minimax logic causes someone to vote for their preference of either the second-place or third-place candidate in the hopes of shutting C out of the runoff.

If A (their favorite) is in second or third, that’s an easy decision. Just vote for your favorite. If A happens to be in first one may be tempted to vote for A in the hopes of preventing a runoff at all, particularly if they’re afraid the people voting with them are doing so blindly, don’t really care who wins, and won’t show up in a runoff. That (relatively) increases the odds of a C win, though, so while that is a valid strategy it’s riskier and therefore closer to maximax than minimax.

To runoff or not to run off?

Some people suggest trying to force a runoff or prevent a runoff for its own sake. Maybe they have some personal feud with a candidate and want to make them spend more of their campaign funds and sweat it out for another month. Maybe they’re really sick of the campaign ads and want them to stop. Or maybe they care about the optics of it, and what the additional media attention will mean. So they’ll either vote for whoever they think will win anyhow to stop it, or vote for whoever they think is in last place to increase the probability of a runoff.

I’m highly suspicious of people who claim they’re doing this. If you’re not personally involved in a campaign it seems unlikely to me that you really care that much about that extra month. It doesn’t really change the outcome. When people say this, particularly on mainstream media channels, honestly I suspect they’re just trying to change the votes of people who aren’t going to carefully examine the argument.

What else?

I know I haven’t hit all of the possible ways of looking at this. If I haven’t hit upon how you decide your vote, say something in the comments!

Q&A Roundup

One of the more interesting traditions of our political culture is the questionaire. They’re sent to candidates by special interest groups, newspapers, and sometimes even unaffiliated private citizens. The answers are often published, sometimes in a parallel form so that candidates can easily be compared. They can also be used to help determine endorsements, but institutions with the courage to endorse a Libertarian are few and far between so that wasn’t really my concern.

As interesting as I find this practice, most of these go unnoticed and unread by most voters. So I thought it may be interesting to share a selected question & answer from some of the questionaires I’ve received. I may add a short additional comment here or there. Many of these are not particularly pertinent to the Public Service Commission, but someone cared enough to ask I suppose.

League of Women Voters

Question:

What measures would you pursue to promote the use of renewable energy in Georgia?

Answer:

First and foremost, reject any subsidy of fossil fuels.

Secondly, we should seek fair market treatment for small scale energy producers who cannot lobby government on the level of the large protected cronies. It shouldn’t be prohibitive for someone new to the industry to create a solar farm as a passion project.

As a side note, I’d point out that being renewable doesn’t make an energy source green. Biomass is considered renewable, even if it’s a matter of burning raw slash wood, which is inefficient by any measure but especially energy per mass of carbon emission.

I point that out mostly to show how subtle and complex these issues can be. We cannot trust five very fallible people to make these decisions for us. If someone wants to be involved in a form of energy they believe in, whether as a producer, investor, or consumer, I want to enable that.

Might as well start out with some pretty standard fare.

Georgia Solar Energy Association

Question:

Do you think the current factors used to determine the resource mix for power generation (i.e. capital investment, operations and maintenance, taxes) are sufficient? What additional factors — air quality impacts, water quality and water use, and land use impacts, for example — should be included in managing Georgia’s power generation decisions?

Answer:

Some appropriate considerations would indeed include water/air quality and land/water use. Also the directly attributable loss of human life, disruption of ecosystems, and less concrete quality of life issues like altering the horizon. When quantifiable, they must all be judged on a per-unit-energy basis, so that it’ always apples-to-apples.

However, there are undoubtedly thousands of other considerations that will never occur to me. I support electric choice, because Georgia’ most trustworthy judge of these complex matters is the general public — each of us.

Sometimes it may seem like I’m just looking for an excuse to talk about increasing consumer choice, but really it’s that my inclination is always to look for systemic fix. I don’t want to play whack-a-mole, especially since I won’t be in office forever. If we have an issue that came up with the current system, that’s a good indication there’s something wrong witht he current system. And most problems are best fixed in the long term by letting everyone make their own decisions – the most robust system of all.

Atlanta Magazine

Question:

Should the Georgia General Assembly amend the Georgia Nuclear Financing Act to limit or prevent Georgia Power from profiting from subsequent project delays?

Answer:

Yes, this is a no-brainer. Perverse incentives provide terrible results. It’s worth noting that perverse incentives like this, while not usually so obvious, are quite common in centrally-planned systems.

If you’re trying to keep your answer terse, but also say a lot, it is useful to call out to a higher concept so that people can see how you’re thinking about these things and hopefully consider your point of view. As such, I like to drop in well-known terms that are highly applicable and also important broad concepts, like “perverse incentive“.

Gwinnett Forum

Question:

Why are you seeking your office?

Answer:

Like many others, I would sit on the sidelines and hope for change. We can envision the
path forward. And however difficult it may be, there’s always a next baby step to take. This
year I saw the need. I wanted to see something happen, so I stepped up to make it happen.

The peculiarities of our anti-democratic, anti-competitive ballot access laws combine with
the platform of a statewide election, the history of multiple million-vote-plus elections, and
the limited scope of the office where liberty is more palatable to the uninitiated to make the
PSC a must-run.

Our ballot access laws – some of the worst in the US – are wholly offensive. Yet many people are completely unaware. I like to shine a light there when I get the chance.

Joe

Joe is a private citizen who did not give me permission to use his full name. I didn’t think to ask.

Question:

Should the Plant Vogtle project be shut down?

Answer:

Yes, unless they could somehow find voluntary financing.

I’m very willing to give leeway to people choosing to put their own money on the line. But the ratepayers should not be paying for this, not through the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery fee or any other mechanism. And I’m certainly not on board with any sort of tax money bailout.

Realistically, though, securing funding on the private capital markets would likely to be prohibitive. I’d be glad to be wrong, but I don’t expect they’re going to find institutions willing to fund it through a deal they can practically make. So that only leaves one option: ceasing construction and winding it down by-the-book.

Ballotpedia

Question:

Is there a book, essay, film, or something else that best describes your political philosophy?

Answer:

It’s an essay: Give Me Liberty by Rose Wilder Lane.

https://fee.org/articles/give-me-liberty/

It chronicles her transition from a communist sympathizer to a hero of Libertarians (“Libertarian” wasn’t a common word in her day, she wouldn’t have used it).

Even if you ultimately don’t agree with her conclusions, you have to appreciate the compelling way she makes her case. If nothing else, it’s fascinating for the historical context. In her work as a freelance journalist she experiences Russia in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, Mussolini’s Italy, a horrifying police state in Hungary, and the mundane every-day waste of merchant regulations in France. When she writes of her mother tempering her impressions of the Westward Expansion, keep in mind that her mother is Laura Ingles Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame.

But perhaps most importantly, keep in mind as you read she’s writing these words at the height of the Great Depression. I’ve too often heard it’s easy for people to advocate personal liberty and free markets at a time of prosperity, but then people turn back to their strong-man saviors when times get rough. Yet here she is, in the most severe downturn our country has ever experienced, stating boldy “Give Me Liberty”.

I just think this is a great essay and a worthwhile read for just about anybody, but especially Americans. The astute observer will notice I reference it one other place – this is the source for the anecdote at the start of my Candidate Access spot on WSB-TV.


Zac Bolton

Question:

Do you commit to swearing off all financial backing from big businesses and corporate interests during and after your race for Public Service Commission, District 5 – Western, District 5?

Answer:

I’ve already sworn off funding from people and entities related to those the PSC regulates. Honestly that’s the only source of big money in an election like this one – the money comes from those with a direct financial interest in the outcome.

So, sure I can commit to that. I already swore off every believable source that might come up anyhow.

Georgia Equality

As far as I can tell, these answers were not published. So no link.

Question:

In your opinion, why are poor people poor?

Answer:

Poverty is the natural state — the vast majority of humans who have lived were destitute by
modern standards. The more fundamental question then is why anyone is not poor. In short,
collaboration/cooperation and innovation are the keys.

To answer your question more directly, though, a person’ benefit from the phenomenal wealth
creation of the modern era can be inhibited by an innumerable factors. Many are not of interest in
electoral politics, because government has little to no control over them. Physical isolation
through a remote location, for example, will naturally decrease opportunities. Some technologies
can partially alleviate that, but no decree of a central planner will.

The causes of poverty most solvable are the ones government caused in the first place. First
among these always has been and always will be war. Systemic discrimination, both de jura and
de facto, are often more identifiable in retrospect, so we need to be always on the lookout. Today
we should carefully watch zoning regulations and other matters justified by “ values”.
Licensing, both for entrepreneurs and occupational, directly remove opportunity from those who
need it most. And one cannot disregard the lives, families, and careers unnecessarily decimated
by our criminal justice system.

If you spend a lot of time immersed in the usual political rhetoric, you probably have some idea what sorts of answers they’re looking for. You could make some subtle attempt at looking down on poor people. You could pretend you don’t know anything about economics and try to blame rich people or corporations. You could blame our economic system, and since ours is a very mixed economy you could blame whichever label you find spookiest and claim it’s our system with some legitimacy.

But the real world just isn’t that simple. You can’t reasonably answer this question without writing a lengthy academic treatise on the human experience. So instead I made one critical point (that it’s the wrong question) and then tried to reduce the scope in a useful way. Reducing the scope of the question is one of the more important lessons young people can learn from strategy games. Instead of bogging yourself down and getting lost in the details, focus on what factors can be impacted the decision you have before you – if it can’t be impacted yet it’s out of your control and you should ignore it – and only how those factors can impact the desired result. Or as Finkel might say, “Focus on what matters.” In this context we’re speaking exclusively of government, so I tried to make my answer about the safest, most reliably productive, things a government could do. Namely stop trying to make people poor.

Georgia Arts Network

Question:

Do you support the statewide legalization of gaming at casino resorts?

Answer:

Yes. Gambling is a bad habit, but it’s not something I’m willing to use violence to stop.

When answering these I have the habit of reading all the questions first before beginning my first answer. This is usually quite useful, because there tend to be related questions, so that point you could make – you might want to hold off on it until a later question where it’s more directly applicable. In this case, however, reading ahead mostly just made me annoyed at how intentionally awful this questionaire is. If you look at the list of responses they got, you’ll see the vast majority of candidates simply did not respond. That was the correct answer. What I did was respond with short, direct answers that are not persuading anyone.

This is, however, a valid point. The difference between a suggestion and a law is that every law ends with an implicit “…or else.” For everything there is a season, and there is a time for threats of violence. Certainly a law backed up with force makes sense for something murder or arson. Convincing others not to partake in a vice that mostly hurts their own finances does not fit in that category.

Caps

Yesterday I was touring the Plant Vogtle facility with Ryan Graham and Dawn Randolph. We had Michael McCraken, a representative of Southern Nuclear, showing us the area and answering questions. Suzanne Sharkey of Georgia Power joined us for the first part of the tour.

I never understood why many people are enamored of ostentatious projects. The principle of the seen and the unseen always seemed so intuitive to me. To me those large castles of Europe, for example, represented food, housing, and infrastructure the peasants never got access to. People’s lives were worse off so that some jerk could inflate his ego.

Maybe it’s because a power plant actually does do something useful that softened my view a bit, but I began to see it. It really is quite an achievement that’s hard to appreciate from a distance, and there are a very large number of people who provide for their families working there. You could almost convince yourself that the few extra dollars here and there isn’t SO bad, right? Most people might not even notice, right? Right?

It’s true that humans can achieve great things when we cooperate and come together for a common cause. But it’s only a beautiful, great thing when people choose to do so. And we do. People can believe in a grand vision and chip in. Oftentimes people simply tolerate an organization’s expansion while doing business with them for some other reason. Either way, it’s our choice to make.

I have to keep coming back to this, but so long as a monopoly is being enforced by the state and we don’t have the choice to opt in or out, we must be sensitive to the interests of consumers not able to stick up for themselves. We cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by concentrated benefits while ignoring diffuse costs.

And what exactly will that cost end up being?

How much can you be expected to pay for something you may not even want? That issue was taken up at testimony before the PSC, where capping the cost or timeline was laughed off. When the PSC approved the most recent cost overrun, there would be no more overruns. That was supposed to be achieved by the owners absorbing any additional costs, according to Georgia Power.

Now, a group of a couple dozen legislators have expressed concern that owners absorbing costs would be “unfair and anti-competitive” because EMCs and municipal utilities don’t have “shareholders to absorb these additional costs”.

Now, no one really expects the burdens to be “absorbed” by the shareholders in the long run. You’ve added a major asset to a company while also “…insisting that the commission assure Georgia Power… pass its entire investment and financing costs to customers in retail rates.” But in the short run they have somewhat of a point in how it will disparately impact the different regions. Another complication that comes from this bizarre corporate-regulator ‘market’. If consumers had choices, of course, the rate in your local area would be limited by what the competition was going to charge.

What fix are these legislators looking for? They are asking the Vogtle owners to agree on a cap on the price of the project.

What a concept! The idea that a project might have a budget it would have to fit in? There’s no way a private business would ever consider following such a stringent rule. How do they come up with these things?

In all seriousness, they’re right on target with this point. Yes of course the project needs a cap on the final price. And a deadline. It seems almost everyone involved has fallen into the sunk cost fallacy. Perhaps most egregiously when Echols said it was too big to fail. No, it isn’t. At some point you have to stop throwing good money after bad, cut your losses and live to fight another day. We may disagree on what that point is, but obviously there must be a point.

So yes, we do need a cap. And not one of these that everyone expects to be waived once reached. It should be specified in writing, and consequences of hitting it called out. But, you know, I wouldn’t worry so much about it if it was some private investors. I’m very willing to trust people not to throw their own money away without oversight. What I’m concerned with is utilities, with the blessing of the PSC, throwing your money away. And so of course we need to keep pushing for an end to the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery Fee. The three incumbents who will still be seated in 2019 no matter what will still have a majority on the 5-member commission, and they won’t let it happen. But let’s make it abundantly clear those who support this sort of thing are wearing out their welcome.

“No change… needed.”

First, a couple of things you may have missed this past week.
The Thursday edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had an interesting article on Georgia’s Libertarian candidates on the front page. I was mentioned near the end, but it has some good coverage of some other candidates, particularly Jay Strickland and J. Smythe Duval. I’d encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already. The electronic version of the AJC article can be found here.
I joined the other Libertarian candidate for Georgia’s Public Service Commission, Ryan Graham, on Georgia Libertycast. If you prefer video that’s available, too. Remember you can vote for both Ryan and myself. The seats (3 & 5) are separate statewide elections.

There was also an article that came out this past week that had a little fun with numbers. The main point I want to point out here is this: when people hear about the Commission it’s usually because Commissioners are bragging about something. So we should have a very rose-colored picture of the PSC. If the things they go out of their way to brag about are disappointing, and may even require redefining terms, that should tell you just how bad the things they’re not talking about are. So let’s take them on their own perceived strengths and see what we see.

It’s important not to compare ourselves to other states. Just because they also have burdensome, meddling central planners isn’t an excuse for us to do the same. The proper comparison is the counter factual – what would be the case if our regulators weren’t getting in the way.

So let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine we had a free market for electricity. People get to choose whatever electricity they want – and they pay whatever someone is willing to sell it for. And it would all be on a level playing field – you wouldn’t necessarily have to enter into bizarre agreements (more on this later) to make a particular choice.

How much of our electricity would come from solar power?

Surely, a lot of people would choose whatever energy source is the cheapest, and in the United States right now that likely wouldn’t be solar (not yet). It’s probably a fair guess that less than half of our electricity would come from solar while the R&D continues.

But it is becoming increasingly competitive, especially large-scale installations. So we would only have to pay slightly more for it. How many people would take that deal and want all their power coming from solar panels? I’d guess at least 2%.

How many would take some combination of wind and solar? 2%? Let’s say that mix is something like 50/50, so there’s another 1% of our electricity that would have to come from solar (and 1% from wind).

How many would insist on “renewable”, but not specify or particularly care what that really means? Maybe 5% ? That would mostly be biofuels, because entrenched interests seem to have an affinity there, so let’s say that’s another 1% of our power that would have to come from solar.

How many would want their power to come from some mixture of environmentally friendly sources? 24% of Georgians, maybe? Presumably that would be at least half nuclear, but let’s say the remaining half would be an even mix of hydro, wind, solar, and other. So there’s another 3% of electricity demanded of the photovoltaic cells.

So I’m estimating here, and I think this is pretty conservative, that at market equilibrium (at current technology – so ignoring the market incentives for innovation) … at least 7% of our electricity would be expected to come from solar currently, with the demand climbing with the cost effectiveness and social normalization.

And of course if that demand wasn’t being met all the incentives would align for a solid business model. If the established players didn’t respond someone else would. You know as well as I do some Georgian would love to invest in a solar farm and make their living that way.

OK, so 7%, just for argument’s sake. What do you think it is today? In this article the commissioners are so proud of how they pushed solar all the way to “less than 2 percent of the state’s electricity generation mix”. And by the way that’s measuring peak capacity – a theoretical number that has almost nothing to do with the question “where does my power come from”. In terms of actual generation it’s about 1%.

And in case you think you can simply vote for solar advocates and force the monopolies to do what you want through government, well that they thought you might do that, and with help from the PSC they’re ready! The friendly-named Community Solar program is how you theoretically could choose to buy solar today, but it’s a commitment – they designed the agreement so you take on the risk and cost and still buy whatever mix they feel like (at the going rate) when production is low in addition. You take all the downside. Georgia Power gets any the upside. But wait, it gets worse! If State or Federal laws are instituted requiring Georgia Power to provide renewable resources, the Company reserves the right to cancel all contracts and sales through this tariff without penalty.

That’s right, folks, this regulatory apparatus exists to excuse their monopoly power but if you actually try to use it, the people you hurt first are not the shareholders or investors but the most environmentally conscious members of your community.

But the article wants me to be happy about all this, because it was done without any official mandate. It was done in secret dealings behind closed doors. Now, to be clear, I have no problem with the Southern Company trying to do the right thing without being forced. But that’s not what’s happening.

What’s definitely not happening here is market forces. The article quotes Bubba saying: “It’s market driven.” Oh, really? Then you can’t take any credit. If it’s a market-driven solution then you had no role to play, because THAT’S WHAT MARKET-DRIVEN MEANS. And obviously it’s nonsense, because there’s no market for consumers to express their preferences in. “Market driven” actually has a meaning, it’s not just some stamp you throw onto anything you want to sound better.

And if you want to see just how ridiculous hubris can be, follow Commissioner Echols on Twitter. His feed is where up is down and down is up, and whenever he says things are going fine you better pay even closer attention.



No change needed, indeed.

via GIPHY

Belated Thanks

Thanks to everyone who came to the campaign event this past weekend.

To those who did not attend, there’s new T-shirts! You missed out on your chance to be the first on your block to have one, and on a much more lovely Turpish, my wife Catherine, modelling one.

But you can still get one! I’m giving one to everyone who donates $50 or more (so make sure the address you enter on the form is one you can actually receive packages at).

There’s also stickers with a design very similar to the front of the T-shirt. If you’re not donating at T-shirt level, give $10 or more and you can decorate your laptop like mine.

Of course the best part of the event is spending time with people, mingling, and meeting new people. There’s a couple photos of that. But there were speakers, too, and for that part at least, you can reclaim much of the experience through the videos which have their own channel on PeerTube. If you really only want to hear what I had to say, I’ll embed that video below.

We’ll be looking to do another event along these lines later on in the year, but maybe it shouldn’t be in Atlanta. This is a state-wide election, afterall, and lots of people outside of the metro area deserve to participate. The planning on that hasn’t begun, so feel free to send me a note about why your neck of the woods is the most liberty-loving.

Who Votes?

Voters go to the polls today. While it’s not a real election, it’s an internal matter of some private clubs, it brings to mind something that’s been sticking with me. As I go to various festivals and community events and meet a Georgians of all walks of life, one of the most common responses I get is: “I can’t vote.”

Now, if that’s you, please don’t let it hold you back. Your vote is not the only way you can participate, and if you do the math you can see that’s not what I’m really after when I go out to meet people face-to-face, anyhow.

But the fact that it’s so common has made me stop to think about this. Why can’t they vote? I generally won’t ask that, but most offer up elaboration. From most common to least:

  • I have a felony record.
  • I’m not a US Citizen.
  • My official residence is in another state.
  • I’m too young.

Now, these things are all connected in one way or another to voting restriction that makes sense.

If someone is convicted of stuffing ballot boxes by all means ban that person from polling stations for the rest of their life. And more generally if someone commited a real crime – victimizing someone and violating their rights – it’s reasonable for the punishment to include curtailing the perpetrator’s rights. But if they’ve finished paying their debt to society, how much longer before we can consider them full adults again? If someone was convicted of selling a substance to people who voluntarily bought it a decade ago, would letting that person vote mean we’d be overrun by tyrants?

No doubt, we certainly wouldn’t want to invite Kim Jong-un to vote in our elections. Those voting in American elections should have a vested interest in America flourishing, and be very concerned about the dangers that lie ahead for America. So perhaps it makes sense to restrict the vote to citizens. But if someone has chosen to be here for many years working, participating in the community, putting down roots, raising a family, and making America their home… why is it still so hard for that person to legally become American?

It certainly doesn’t seem reasonable for someone to have a full vote in more than one place, letting them count as two people. But think about how many people cross a political boundary as they travel from home to work. I cross a county line, for example, and the municipality I’m entering is governed quite differently. Do I have no interest at all in the political regime that I’m living under for most of my waking hours most days?

As a father, I understand why we’d be reluctant to hand the reigns of power over to a young child. But consider who is a mere 13 years old right now. They will not be allowed to vote for or against me this fall, and that seems like it makes sense. But whoever is elected commissioner this fall will still be in office and impacting the life of that young person when they’ve moved into a place of their own, paying their bills, and struggling to make ends meet. They must accept living under the “authority” of someone they never had any say in.

I’m not necessarily proposing a specific change in any of these things. But as the percentage of the population of our state who cannot vote keeps getting higher and higher, we need to recognize that at some point we will have to stop pretending it’s a democracy.

Even if we did do a better job of this, it will never be perfect. Laws are a blunt instrument. They will always get something wrong and unjustly disenfranchise someone. If you want to fully respect the preferences of each individual, nothing can approximate that better than a free market. Let’s put more of the choices in the hands of each of us rather than the all of us.

Plant Vogtle

People on the right oppose Plant Vogtle.

People on the left oppose Plant Vogtle.

Religious people oppose Plant Vogtle.

Environmentalists oppose Plant Vogtle.

Other Libertarians oppose Plant Vogtle.

And yet construction continues. And you continue paying for it, without any say in the matter and without getting anything in return. Because those who profit from it, notably including Georgia Power, support it. And the Commissioners they donate to support it.

This sort of issue is nothing new. When one combines concentrated benefit and diffuse cost it’s not hard to predict which side the lobbying will come from and whose side it is in governing bodies’ self interest to choose.

What is remarkable, though, is the hubris involved. Last week the Public Service Commission held hearings to get a progress report from Georgia Power. And, surprising no one, apparently they think everything is moving along just swimmingly, despite being so far over budget and past deadline that it’s no longer economic to bother finishing.

To me the whole process was summarized when I watched the witness appear to chuckle as he pretended not to understand the word “cap”. As in a limit. As in a forseeable end to their abuse of Georgians. It was initially in response to a question that was intended to be friendly, which had come from Commissioner Bubba who had otherwise spent most of his energies preventing questions from others. He was merely prompting for an assuagement of fears about the final total cost and completion date. But the witness was unwilling to commit to any limitation, presumably since he knows additional extensions will be granted by friendly commissioners whenever requested. Another questioner got a similar response when asking about a “cap” to the amount of money that could be extracted from you.

The solution is obvious, and should apply not just to nuclear any kind of power plant. Force them to seek funding on the capital markets – from voluntary investors. Not only is that more just and proper, it comes with accountability. When the money is coming from the same people who are making the decision, you better believe they’re not going to just throw it down a hole of endless construction. The excuse we sometimes hear from commissioners – that it isn’t common practice in other states – is completely invalid. It’s like when TSA agents tell you what they’re doing is “standard procedure”: that you abuse everyone is supposed to make it better somehow?

Phase 2

We’re hosting a social event to look at the next phase of the campaign, and we hope to see you there! This event/party is for everybody who’s interested or who might just enjoy our company.

When: Sat, June 2, 2018 6:00PM
Where: Whitehall Tavern
2391 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30305
Who: You!

EventBrite

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Electric Choice

TL;DR

Right now if you look up your zip code on a site like powertochoose.org, chooseenergy.com, or electricchoice.com you’ll likely see something like this:

I’d like to change that.

Quiz!

What do the following states have in common: Connecticut; Delaware; Illinois; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; Ohio; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Texas; and Virginia?

In what way do all those states put Georgia to shame?

They all have some form of electric choice. The programs differ and none of them are 100%. But they’re all much closer to a free market and more accountable to consumers to that of Georgia.

All those states prove by their actions that something practical is very achievable.

In case you’re unfamiliar, electric choice is the general concept that consumers of electricity should have some choice in where their electricity comes from. Usually it means making a separation between utilities, who are in charge of the infrastructure and actually hook wires to your home, and providers who generate electricity (or obtain it from someone who does) and then sell it to you. The closest thing Georgia has is if you are a major industrial electric consumer (like a factory) you get one shot to pick your electric provider from a short list, up-front. And then if you ever want to change you need permission from the company you’re trying to drop! And if you’re a normal person? You get no choice whatsoever at any point.

In most of those other states I listed above it’s similar to the way we used to do long-distance telephone service before we were all talking on mobile phones. One company is in charge of servicing the basic hardware and getting your phone to work again after a storm, while another company provides another service connected to by that first company.

Why does this matter? There’s a few reasons.

Just as a matter of principle: it’s your money, you’re the one buying something, so whenever practical we should allow you to choose from whom you buy it.

It’s one fewer industry under state-granted monopoly. One fewer opportunity for the people of Georgia to be exploited.

It allows decisions to be spread out over 10 million people throughout, instead of 5 commissioners in Atlanta. It’s harder for that many people to make a stupid mistake. It’s much harder for that many people to be bribed (or whatever they want to call the legal version of bribery).

There’s a lot of complicated decisions involved in energy. Economics, both long- and short-term. The environment – wise use of our resources. Sustainability. Impact on employees in the industry. Relations with other states on the same grid. Some say this is cause for trusting experts, but the “experts” we’ve elected have proven themselves no better than anyone else. I say we put those with skin in the game in the drivers seat – you, the person paying the bill.

Transparency. Any such system will involve making lots of information available to the public that otherwise tends to get swept under the rug of small print.

With the added degree of freedom in the system, future improvements become more practical and achievable. In particular electric choice often lends itself to divestment along this natural boundary between utility and provider. This is an important step in the right direction.

So why wouldn’t we do it?

Those who want to protect the vested interests of the monopolists will try to claim there’s added efficiencies gained from vertical integration. In theory there may actually be a point there, but we can’t adequately assess that because we can’t trust any numbers generated internally by the likes of Georgia Power. And, of course, even if it were more efficient that doesn’t necessarily mean lower cost to customers. They could simply absorb those efficiencies through higher profits. Which do you think would happen?

If you believe in this vertical integration argument, I ask you why we have federal, state, local, and special-district governing bodies. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to abolish all that lower stuff and have those in Washington D.C. simply control everything? Maybe. But I know I wouldn’t trust them to do that, and I hope you’d eye such a suggestion with just as much suspicion. You get better stability, more choice in your community, and less disastrous effects from mistakes when you have checks on power and decentralization.

Now it’s true that one commissioner cannot force such a program to exist. This is normally done through the legislature. Or a power company could institute a program of some form of their own accord. I would actually prefer the latter, because voluntary action is preferable even at that level if we can make it work. My promise is not that you’ll certainly have this program in place if you elect me. My commitment is to work with the other commissioners, the power companies, and willing legislators to move in this direction.