What we didn't get
September 22, 2020 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Politics is an American industry - "Industries like technology, finance, health care, higher education, and media dominate our collective lives, and yet they are not regulated by anything recognizable as open competition for the custom of decentralized consumers. These industries share some things in common."
...workers in politics cannot completely insulate themselves from the predatory and plutocratic incentives that come with how the money works. Compromises must be made. Just as an aspiring politician can do no good if she cannot get elected (and then re-elected), a research institute can do no good if it has no funding. The people in the industry know this, concede it. For those (not all!) whose political attachments are in conflict with the financial incentives, they lament it. But they also “know” that outsiders underestimate the degree to which their choices are right on the merits, even though they are tarred as betrayals or corrupt concessions. If we were in their shoes, we would understand and feel the same way.

Politics is an American industry, just like all the others. It is awful in some ways, but it is also essential. I think we should wish to reform it, dramatically, but it won’t be reformed alone. It is of a piece with peer industries. It won’t be repaired without also repairing the political economy that surrounds it.
  • @emollick: "An innovation trap: Large companies are motivated to produce defensive, small innovations to keep their product lines alive. Startups go for breakthroughs, but mostly so they can sell off to big companies. And at least 6% of pharma acquisitions are designed to kill competition."
  • @Noahpinion: "The Chinese government is introducing a raft of measures to increase state control over the private sector."
  • @interfluidity: "challengers built an external organization as a substitute for traditional party infrastructure and focused on basic issues that impact voters directly [in Rhode Island]."[1]
  • @interfluidity: "antitrust can amount to union-busting in the context of a 1099 economy."[2]
How a productivity phenomenon explains the unraveling of America - "Agatha Christie once remarked that she never thought she'd be so rich that she could afford a motor car, nor so poor that she couldn't afford servants... In a very real sense, the increasing affordability of automobiles is what made it more and more expensive to keep servants. In our own day, though, that combination — machines getting more powerful and in-person services getting more expensive — is less likely to be reflected in greater social mobility, and less likely to feel like progress. The mysterious cause is the same as it was for the changes Agatha Christie observed: Baumol's Cost Disease."

How the 1970s Changed the U.S. Economy (thread) - "It's all about energy costs, which tells us something about the future."[3,4,5,6]
I think the story of the 70s has to be first and foremost about oil. The end of the age of Cheap Oil, the end of centuries of energy tech improvements, and the resulting disruptions to an economy based on cheap energy.

BUT...here's the good news...We're in the middle of another energy technology revolution! We didn't get nuclear power, but we are finally getting something that could be better than oil: CHEAP SOLAR AND BATTERIES.


With a solar-powered (battery-storage-supported) electrical grid, this could finally bring back the age of Cheap Energy. So we might finally be on the verge of innovating our way out of the hole that we fell into in the early 1970s. That would be good news for the environment, but also potentially for wages, living standards, and human flourishing.
  • Florida utilities want to gut solar. Here's why - "Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to sell the electricity they aren't using back into the grid. That saves money on electric bills. But electric companies perceive that they make less money as a result, and they're not so keen on that. So in Florida, utilities want to roll net metering back..."
  • The Solar-Powered Future Is Being Assembled in China - "The solar supply chain is punishingly cheap, and Longi dominates it like no one else."
  • China's 40-Year, Billion-Tree Project Is a Lesson for the World - Its successes and failures provide an invaluable model for today's reforestation efforts."
  • Time Is Running Out to Save the Last of the World's Rainforest - "The rainforests are vanishing at a rate of one acre every two seconds. Here's what it will take to stop the destruction before they're all gone."
  • Discovery of a new mass extinction - "The warming was associated with increased rainfall, and this had been detected back in the 1980s by geologists Mike Simms and Alastair Ruffell as a humid episode lasting about 1 million years in all. The climate change caused major biodiversity loss in the ocean and on land, but just after the extinction event new groups took over, forming more modern-like ecosystems. The shifts in climate encouraged growth of plant life, and the expansion of modern conifer forests."[7,8,9]
  • The God of Silence Speaks Up - "Hempton, an award-winning acoustic ecologist, has spent more than 30 years trying to preserve the world's quiet places."
  • @interfluidity: "an effective polity depends upon a pervasive willingness by citizens at every level to altruistically punish those who deviate from the norms that render the polity effective."
Oceans rise, empires fall: political climate change - "On the historical power of culture"
For an empire, “falling” means the loss of the critical state capacities needed to maintain territorial integrity and provide basic public services. When those capacities fail, the empire either fractures into polities which are capable of maintaining a functional state or is carved up by external agents who either take over the job in exchange for tribute or just sack and plunder. The state capacities needed to prevent falling depend on two things: functional institutions (like armies, tax-collection systems, administrative bureaucracies, and similar) and a public which sees the work of these institutions as legitimate enough to justify their cooperation (perhaps reluctant and incomplete but sufficient to sustain the empire).

These might seem like easy enough things to build and maintain, but they aren’t. Each is rife with collective action problems. As a taxpayer, for instance, it is clearly good for you if marauding foreign armies aren’t rampaging across your land, burning your fields and murdering your field hands. It’s good for you to have well maintained roads and ports, dense and prosperous urban markets, and trade routes unthreatened by bandits and pirates. It’s also good for you to keep your tax burden as low as possible. If one landowner manages through whatever scheme to pay almost nothing in tax, but most of the other folks with tax burdens pay an adequate amount, then the individual tax-dodger gets the benefit of the public goods provided by the state while paying almost nothing of the cost. If everyone tries to do the same thing, though, then the state can no longer provide valuable public goods and everyone ends up massively worse off.

Or suppose you’re a bureaucrat. In that case, it’s clearly to your advantage to work for a large, powerful, effective state which commands lots of resources. Your work, in that case, is more impactful, more secure, and quite probably more lucrative. Of course, it would also be nice to be able to use one’s position of power to do a bit of personal enrichment on the side. One corrupt official in a generally well-functioning bureaucracy can have his kickbacks and still enjoy the benefits associated with working in a well-funded government job. But if everyone in the bureaucracy is corrupt then everyone loses: because others get their chunks of the bribe money too, because a less effective bureaucracy contributes to a less productive state which generates less money to be paid out over and under the table, and because in the worst case the state falls and there is no longer any cushy bureaucratic job.

Economics gives us ways to think about how to address these problems... Economics doesn’t spend all that much time discussing the import of culture in these scenarios, but in practice that is how societies, in the past and today, manage many of these sorts of collective-action problems. Instead of relying solely on an expensive (and potentially compromizable) force of monitors who keep an eye on the public and/or those working for the state, a polity could cultivate certain cultural rules which serve to align everyone’s incentives...

Though it need not, culture often includes behavioral rules which nudge a member of that culture to disregard self-interest on behalf of some larger principle. Maybe it attaches status to those who make particular sacrifices: by being openly self-critical or working long hours, for instance. Or maybe it imposes social costs on those who try to get ahead by flouting rules (by poaching a colleague’s client, perhaps). Whatever the specifics of the culture, its effect is to push its members to internalize a broader set of interests—to take into account the welfare of others and the collective and not simply oneself—and to turn every member of the culture into monitors and enforcers of its rules. Individuals do this willingly, because the culture’s rules have been fused into their own sense of identity. At some level, we all understand this. Any social group has unwritten rules which influence its members’ behavior and thus shape the group’s collective activity.

What does that mean in the context of empire? Well, suppose you have an environment in which many states are competing against each other: perhaps militarily or perhaps not, but in some way pitted against each other in a struggle for scarce resources. Competition will be affected by all sorts of things: initial advantages, patterns of alliances, pure chance. But it will also depend on how effectively each state makes use of its own resources. A polity which is able to cultivate a high degree of collective sacrifice at low cost, which can rely on a cooperatively minded and highly motivated population, will enjoy significant advantages over its rivals. Competition between states will therefore tend to favor societies in which strong cultures encourage actions which advance the greater good. That won’t always be the critical factor. A society which discovers a powerful new technology could best its competitors however strong their internal cultures (but might struggle to translate victories into lasting dominance). But other things equal, culture will matter, and the largest states will tend to be those whose cultures most effectively harness a society’s collective potential.

Culture isn’t static, though... If some people feel they have been given permission to do a bit more looking out for themselves and a bit less worrying about what’s expected of them as upstanding members of society, that may well be enough to start to work on the cultural equilibrium. Remember that what sustains a cultural norm is public respect for that norm: people doing what the norm says they should, and others responding to actions with the laudatory or critical reaction the norm demands. If a few people start dodging taxes, then dodging taxes seems less taboo. If enough people dodge taxes, then those still paying come to feel like suckers. The norm flips.

It’s not hard to see how flipping the norm could severely affect an empire’s fortunes... Can’t people just see what’s happening, recognize the danger and respond? Some will. They might become prominent cultural critics, who campaign for a revival of a public-minded spirit. But their task is a nearly impossible one. The evolution of norms takes place slowly, often generationally, which means that it is difficult for people to see that the present is much different from the past. Anyway, there are always some stories of bad behavior from long ago, so how can anyone know that norms have changed on the whole and the effectiveness of the state with them? At any rate, many people will look skeptically on calls to abandon behavior that benefits them. Powerful people might work aggressively to discredit or persecute the critics. And even those who accept the critique may feel that there is little to be gained from changing how they behave, given that everyone else is doing something different. It would take some very extraordinary circumstances to flip the equilibrium back. And so the empire rises, and then the empire falls.
'We Weren't Alarmist Enough': Experts Warn Trump And GOP Could Destroy Democracy - "That has turned the Trump era into a case study on how modern democracies fall apart: not through a violent and sudden rupture, but by the chipping away at institutions until a full democracy doesn't exist anymore."[10,11,12,13,14] (via)

The Great Certainty Purge - "We've been gently pulling on threads around our newly subcritical society."
The world isn't becoming less certain, despite that claim funding so many books, conferences, and futurists’ careers. It's just that we're indirectly noticing that it's always been uncertain, which is making us less certain about certainty itself. We are, in short, losing faith in certainty, even if going from here to there is a dislocating change, like small birds falling out of a comfortable nest from twenty feet up.

We are like Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,”: “Did I do anything wrong today, or has the world always been like this and I've been too wrapped up in myself to notice?” No, the world has always been this way, to a greater or lesser degree, and we are only now noticing. The switch to subcritical forced us to notice. It's about time.
Is America in Decline? - "The only argument that America is not in decline is that other countries have worse problems. That may well be true. But that strikes me as too low a bar."

Yes, America Could Split Apart - "It's time to discover transcendent moral purpose in pluralism." (via)

Adam Tooze: American Power in the Long 20th Century - "The history of American power, as it is commonly written, is a weighty subject, a matter of military and economic heft, of 'throw-weight', of resource mobilisation and material culture, of 'boots on the ground'. In his lecture, Adam Tooze examines an alternative, counterintuitive vision of America, as a power defying gravity. This image gives us a less materialistic, more fantastical and more unstable vision of America's role in the world."[15]

When the Republican Party Was Sane - "President Eisenhower inherited a GOP that looked much like today's—but he tamed the extremists and led as a moderate conservative." (via)

Social democracy in one corner of the world - "[The left] has to support globalisation, try to limit its nefarious effects and harness its undoubted potential eventually to equalise incomes across the globe." (via)

Inside the Libertarian Movement to Take Over the Legal System - "A small band of determined academics have set out to persuade the Supreme Court to undo the New Deal—and have almost won."
  • @brianbeutler: "It's not an exaggeration to suggest that awaits us without reform is another Lochner era, only more radical. And that was true long before we were looking at a 6-3 court."[16]
  • @robbysoave: "It's striking that the Supreme Court has essentially become the legislative branch of the federal government. They do vote-trading, coalition-building, etc. It's collegial and philosophical. Congress, meanwhile, is a bad reality TV show."
  • @ZaidJilani: "Imagine instead of voting in a district -- where most elections are non-competitive and gerrymandering is common -- everyone just goes to the polls and votes for any party they want. You take the national total and whatever % each party gets is how many seats they get."[17]
Represent - "It has become a cliché to say that this election is not about electing a President, but preserving democracy in America. That's much less because of Donald Trump than because of the 'doom loops' (in Lee Drutman's term) between the two political parties. It's bad enough that we have only two parties that leave most of us poorly represented. But as the parties increasingly differentiate themselves across issues of identity and culture, the 'winner-take-all' nature of our electoral and political institutions can no longer tempered by the horsetrading and difference-splitting."[18,19,20] (via)
Our horrible party system, a politics industry that caters to plutocrats, and insiders’ incentives to secure incumbency, have caused us to reconstruct ourselves in this way, yin to one another’s miserable yang...

Representation is the ideal to which our political institutions should aspire, not “majority rules”. But representation must not be merely formal. Having “representatives” in a legislative body where they are always outvoted is not really representation at all. A democratic polity requires institutions that ensure the entire public is represented in outcomes, not merely in deliberations that become perfunctory or, even worse, performative, so the routinely outvoted become recklessly extreme, as compensation for impotence and in competition for press. Obviously, contending factions sometimes have mutually exclusive preferences, so that one faction must win and others must lose. But then you should win some and lose some, in proportion to your support among the general public. When possible, compromises should be crafted that attend in degrees to all of the public’s interests, and then passed with a high degree of legislative consensus. And such compromises usually are possible, when politics properly orients itself around conflicts in the material world, where differences can be split and priorities traded, rather than around questions of identity, morality, and status, questions on which contending factions must win or lose with nothing in between. Where compromises are not possible, we should have to take turns. Turn-taking should occur much more frequently than multiyear election cycles. Even within a single legislature, the majority should win only sometimes, and lose sometimes, in rough proportion to its dominance. There should be no possibility, none at all, of any faction dominating eternally, winning so big they need never fear reprisal for whatever they do to others. The golden rule must be a norm upheld and always enforceable between political factions. Our politics creates its public much more than the public creates our politics. We should seek a politics that constructs a public respectful of difference, that wields persuasion as its core implement of change...

These are real issues, but they are (imperfectly) resolvable issues. Representation is the heart of democracy.
posted by kliuless (16 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
As with so very many of your amazing posts, kliuless, I am looking forward to fully digging into lots of these links ("When the Republican Party Was Sane" reminds me of the Kung Fu Monkey/John Rogers columns I Miss Republicans and I Still Miss Republicans, from 2004 and 2006), but I am most captivated by the quote from the last article: "A democratic polity requires institutions that ensure the entire public is represented in outcomes". I hadn't quite reached that clarity on my own, and I really appreciate thinkers who do follow those thoughts and articulate the essential conclusions.

Thank you so much for this excellent food for thought, kliuless. You are a MetaFilter treasure.
posted by kristi at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Honestly, kliuless, your posts are almost like poetry the way they flow from topic to topic. Bravo!
posted by wittgenstein at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

What is this post about?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

How the political systems in the US are failing, Artifice_Eternity.
posted by clew at 9:52 AM on September 22, 2020

If you say so. I see a bunch of stuff in there about solar power, rain forests, etc. Seems kind of like a link dump, without a clear connecting thread. *shrug*
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:23 AM on September 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Energy (especially petroleum) has been the driving force of American politics and world economic hegemony for decades. Solar has a place in that conversation.
posted by Reyturner at 10:34 AM on September 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

When everything is so interconnected that it becomes a big mess, any attempt to explain anything will, by necessity, appear to be a big mess.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:01 AM on September 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

its kliuless updating the front page
posted by infini at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2020

. And such compromises usually are possible, when politics properly orients itself around conflicts in the material world, where differences can be split and priorities traded, rather than around questions of identity, morality, and status, questions on which contending factions must win or lose with nothing in between. Where compromises are not possible, we should have to take turns.

Hey thanks for excerpting so much of the article, so I don't have to read it.

(JOKE - I will read it.)
posted by subdee at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2020


What it's dancing around is the hypothesis that cultural failure and state failure are deeply related -- that, failing cultural correction, the state collapses.

This is not crazy by any means. One of the comments I remember, after that whole "Reality Winner" debacle, was the intel community grumbling about how were they supposed to operate without people who could be trusted?

It's a culture issue, in the way the post describes.

I say dancing, though, because culture is not a thing that is necessarily defined within the state. We didn't win the Cold War with taniks...the *previous* Cold War, that is. We are arguably losing *this* Cold War, and they aren't using tanks either.
posted by effugas at 12:27 PM on September 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

the hypothesis that cultural failure and state failure are deeply related

...as are cultural and ecological failures.
posted by flabdablet at 10:48 PM on September 22, 2020


Ever wonder where the word vandalism comes from? It comes from the Vandals -- yes, a proper name. They were a tribe of barbarians, back in Roman times. It was expected that barbarians would sack populated areas from time to time, but what the Vandals did, was destroy an aqueduct.

They broke the water supply.

Obvious military strategy, perhaps, but it was the thing You Did Not Do. Thousands of years later, we still refer to low class, low quality, dishonorable destroyers of basic ecological needs, vandals.

I wonder what they'll call us.
posted by effugas at 11:39 PM on September 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

This time around they're destroying their own lifelines and infrastructure in an orgy of chaos and mayhem.

posted by infini at 3:41 AM on September 23, 2020

That Baumol's Cost Disease thing was pretty fascinating... Might must be me but... I think capitalism isn't working.
posted by latkes at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2020

What is socialism? And what do socialists really want in 2020? - "For Jabari Brisport, a New York teacher and state senate candidate, 'What [socialism] means is that energy, housing, health care, education, finance, and transportation ... shall be controlled publicly and not run by, for profit motive.'"

Degrowth and MMT: A thought experiment - "The first step is to harness the power of the government's role as the issuer of currency to do three urgent things:"
  1. Develop generous, high-quality universal public services. Not just healthcare and education, but also public transportation, affordable housing, etc. Over and over again, the evidence is clear that universal public services (not perpetual GDP growth) are the key to a happy, healthy, flourishing society.
  2. Roll out renewable energy infrastructure to completely replace fossil fuels in a short period of time – a matter of years, not decades – while regenerating ecosystems. Thus far we have not done this because we are told “it’s too expensive”. That is a lie. The best news of the 21st century is that every single government that controls its own currency can fund a rapid transition to renewables without even thinking twice about cost.
  3. Introduce a public job guarantee, so that anyone who wants to work can get a job doing socially useful things that communities actually need (including working in public services, building renewable energy infrastructure, and regenerating ecosystems), with a living wage, at 30 hours a week. This has the additional effect of raising wages and reducing working hours across the economy, effectively shifting income from capital to labour.
This approach reduces inequality, decommodifies key parts of the economy, and ensures that everyone has access to meaningful, well-paid work and high-quality public services. In other words, it reorganizes the economy around use-value rather than exchange value...

If governments can create and spend money so easily, then why have they so long told us otherwise? Well, according to MMT economists, the narrative of “fiscal responsibility” is a ruse that’s intended in large part to prevent people from demanding that governments provide job guarantees and universal public services (remember, governments are happy to create money when it comes to financing wars and pumping up asset values, but when it comes to paying for public services, they say it’s not possible). Why would governments do such a thing? Because if people have access to a public job guarantee doing socially useful work, and if they have access to high-quality universal services, then why on earth would they ever agree to do socially unnecessary, meaningless or degrading labour for private firms, if the goal of such firms is primarily to accumulate profit for the holders of capital?
Young people are the new corps of engineers the US has been waiting for - "We have more than enough work to go around for the next generation if we address one of our nation’s biggest problems: infrastructure."
The path to a decent life is more and more out of reach. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the market determines everything — including human value — and that’s infected everything, from our public policy to our culture. It’s easy to get student loans, because the market says college must be valuable since it’s expensive. But it’s impossible to discharge these loans, because bankruptcy is bad and defaulting on loans is irresponsible. We’ve driven metrics such as GDP and the stock market to the edge of a cliff, and then handed our children the wheel...

But we can tackle them all with the same solution — rebuilding our economy and country with a massive and ongoing public works program. To do it, we must build a human-centered economy, making sure it works for our children by ensuring that it stops working exclusively for those at the top...

It’s no wonder that nearly half of those who came of age after the financial crisis don’t have a positive opinion of capitalism — they have experienced its failures directly and personally. Capitalism has led to some of the greatest advances of modernity, including the technology we use every day. But it is not designed to maximize our well-being; it is designed to maximize investor returns and capital efficiency. It is crystal clear now that what is good for capital is no longer good for many Americans...

A more human-centered economy wields the positives of capitalism to maximize human well-being and flourishing, instead of solely investment returns. I like to say human-centered capitalism has three basic principles: Humans are more important than money; markets exist to serve our common goals and values; we should be using human-based metrics to determine success, not money-based ones.

It sounds silly to need to say these things, and yet here we are, in 2020, still chasing stock market returns and gross domestic product growth as our mental health and opportunities evaporate. The nation adopted GDP more than 75 years ago, and even then, its creator, Simon Kuznets, said it was a terrible measurement of national well-being. A century later, it is even more true.

If we were looking at the right measurements, we would see life expectancy that has stagnated or decreased over the past several years; “deaths of despair” — suicides, as well as drug- and alcohol-related deaths, particularly among less educated white Americans — that have skyrocketed this century; and anxiety and depression at record levels. Labor force participation, a measure of how many working-age people are actually working or seeking work, is also unacceptably low — less than 64 percent before the current crisis.

At the same time, our infrastructure requires a $4.6 trillion investment to reach modern standards. With an investment in the next generations through a massive, ongoing public works program that addresses those infrastructure failings, we can help our children build a future they want for themselves and their country...

What if we as a nation instead showed these job-seekers the list of human-centered stats that we’re looking to fix and asked them, “What problem do you want to solve?” The federal government can collect and collate this data, and then it can provide work for anyone who has a plan to address it. Whether that’s through the direct creation of federal jobs, grants to the states for projects they administer, or through public-private partnerships, the nation needs to address these problems.

If someone is worried about the state of our environment, let’s put them to work on sustainable infrastructure projects. Our grid can be modernized. Solar panels can be manufactured and installed. Turbines can be built, and urban planning can be used to minimize the carbon footprint of our biggest cities. The amount of work that can be done here to improve our way of life and the planet is staggering, and the various areas and levels of work that need to be done means an appropriate and exciting job can be found for tens of millions of people.

Do they find it disheartening that 21 million Americans don’t have access to reliable broadband? They can be a part of the solution, working on projects that expand access to rural areas and increase affordability in urban ones.

Our water system is aging, poisoning our kids to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in economic costs, on top of the human costs. I’m certain we’d see tens of thousands sign up to help address that.

There’s no shortage of work to be done that will provide the next generations with the meaningful jobs they desire. While infrastructure is one of the most obvious areas, there are so many more problem areas in this country that the passion and innovation of the next generation can solve.

There are 7.8 million job openings for in-home health aides, a number that will only increase as time goes on. The private sector values this work at $10 an hour, which is far too low for a physically and emotionally taxing job. The federal government can subsidize some and hire others to do this work, covering any gap left by the market.

More than 20 percent of newspapers in the US have closed, resulting in more and more people living in local news deserts. Imagine a world where recent graduates can fill that gap. Journalism majors could cut their teeth covering local politics, while business majors could explore new sources of income.

Is it unacceptable to them that more than 37,000 veterans are homeless and that millions lack affordable housing? We can use that passion to start a vastly scaled-up Veterans Community Project, building houses for those who need them.

The environment isn’t just about building for sustainability — there’s a lot of existing damage that we have to address. Let’s get young people working to build floodgates and move communities that are soon going to be (or already are) underwater. Wildfires in the US are costing us billions of dollars each year; surely, a large number of individuals would be willing to work clearing forests to lower that risk if given the opportunity and funding to do so.

There are tens of millions of jobs out there that would allow for meaningful contributions to this country. We can provide work to help get these underemployed generations back on track and ensure that future generations don’t get similarly left behind, all while engaging in one of the largest public works and modernization projects in history...

We need to start measuring the right things in order to make sure our economy is geared toward maximizing our health and well-being. Instead of stock market prices, we should be maximizing our quality of life, health, mental health, childhood success rates, and environmental sustainability...

We don’t exist to serve the economy. It’s the other way around. It’s time to rebuild our country and stop failing both ourselves and the next generation. We must put ourselves to work, improving our way of life and investing in our people on a historic scale — only if we do can we begin to right the imbalances we built for decades.
Late Stage Disney | Renegade Cut - "This decade's live action Disney remakes and sequels have been awful but not only for the reasons you might think. Let's talk Late Stage Capitalism." (via)
posted by kliuless at 10:26 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

A lot of interesting stuff here but I did want to comment on that Florida solar link. It's about as ill-informed as electrek articles usually are (which is to say, very).

Obviously people should be installing rooftop solar, especially in sunny states where peak loads are correlated with sunny days. It is also obvious that people should be able to export excess energy onto the local distribution grid.

Furthermore, it's definitely the case that we are collectively underpricing / not pricing carbon emissions to a preposterous and dangerous degree.

However whether the most efficient and fairest way to integrate grid solar is to use net metering on a single flat export rate is a very different question to which the answer is probably, "no".

It was an easy way to provide a solar subsidy to get the industry off the ground but as we move from stimulating renewables as a promising future technology to seriously integrating them into our energy production systems for the long term, we need charging arrangements that are cost reflective (including the cost of carbon).

When you look at the cost stack for power supplied to your house, the distribution company is paying

Wholesale power costs for that settlement period for traded power
Wholesale power costs as contracted with independent power producers
Wholesale power costs for the local network's own producers (if your market integrates vertically. US does, EU countries separate)
Wholesale capacity in some markets
Hedging costs if they have hedged commodity inputs / input price volatility if they haven't
Transmission use of system if applicable
Distribution use of system to cover the network costs which you can further split into:
-Cost recovery of existing network capital
-Maintenance of existing network
-Contribution towards the time/locational element of future reinforcement costs incurred because of your network activity [n.b. very complicated subtopic with a lot of different options]
Balancing costs in some markets

Then there's the administration and metering costs (and finally the company profits.)

With single tariff net metering, you're getting the full whack for supplying solar power as and when you are producing it for the same level single tariff that you import all your power at. This is a deal that is not available to utility scale producers who are paid per half hourly or quarter hourly settlement period and depending on local charging rules may pay distribution and transmission use of system as well if they are on a generation dominated segment of the network. If not, they may actually receive distribution use of system payments instead for supporting the upstream network by reducing average demand.

One reason that you want cost reflective tariffs, which is where tariffs reflect all the costs you impose on the network, is to incentivise storage. Storage can get paid for absorbing excess power from the network when wholesale prices go negative which they now often do in some markets when its sunny/windy and load is low and then get paid again by releasing it when prices are high which is usually when all the expensive and polluting OCGTs have come on line to supply peaking on a day with little renewable production.

Historically, people are insulated from all this complexity and they pay a single fixed charge and a per power cost based on typical customer behaviour but if we want smarter networks that can handle substantial variable output renewables, demand side response, and storage then we also need to unbundle pricing to expose that underlying complexity.

If we decide that it is right to subsidise solar (because we haven't gotten it together to tax the carbon which is a much more efficient way of doing it) then we should do that explicitly and not through net metering arrangements which end up as generous giveaways to people who own houses with large roofs and have the access to capital to buy the panels.
posted by atrazine at 6:43 AM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

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