Clemson University and Mercatus Institute economist Bruce Yandle is the inventor of a wonderful illustration of a key aspect of public choice theory which he calls “bootleggers and Baptists.” There are scholarly articles and videos with great case studies, and it even has its own Wikipedia entry. The idea is simple: both bootleggers and Baptists have a common interest in seeing liquor remain illegal on Sundays–the Baptists for religious reasons, and the bootleggers for self-interested financial reasons. So what do the bootleggers do? Why, support Baptist politicians, of course.
It happened again this way in Georgia just this week, where the legislature turned back a bill that would have legalized liquor sales on Sundays. The Wall Street Journal news story on it this morning said the bill’s defeat “handed a surprise victory to religious groups that opposed Sunday alcohol sales and led a grassroots campaign to defeat the legislation. It also represents a win for small liquor stores that didn’t want to staff their businesses on Sundays.” But it’s a win for backwoods bootleggers.
The other area where the bootleggers and Baptist coalition reigns supreme is in environmental policy, where environmentalists, seeking moral purity in energy and other aspects of our lives, will line up with big business interests (think GE and wind mills) to promote bad policies. Last week in the Washington Examiner I warned about the latest such coalition, between environmentalists who want to do to coal-fired electricity what they did to nuclear power 30 years ago (kill it, that is), and natural gas interests, who would like to see the market for their newly abundant product expanded, with government mandates for fuel-switching from coal to gas if possible. Environmentalists have been supporting gas industry lobbyists in several states, such as Colorado and Texas. The conclusion:
The green-gas coalition is another example of the short-sightedness of industry. Climate orthodoxy requires about a 50 percent reduction in natural gas use if its ambitious target for the year 2050 is to be met. Natural gas interests are likely to find that in the fullness of time they will become the next target of environmentalist opposition once coal is interred next to nuclear power. The “bridge” of natural gas will turn out to be a drawbridge, which environmental opposition will seek to draw up and close off, strangling or stranding many investments.
Well, as I noted at NRO’s Corner, I didn’t even have to wait 48 hours for this prediction to start coming true. Behold this headline from Thursday’s Politico: “Greens Sour on Natural Gas.” The copy could have come straight from my prediction:
Whatever happened to the romance between the environmental lobby and natural gas? After years of basking in a green glow as the cleanest fossil fuel and a favorite short-term choice to replace cheap-but-dirty coal, gas now finds itself under attack from environmentalists, filmmakers and congressional Democrats — and even from some scientists who raise doubts about whether its total emissions are as climate-friendly as commonly believed. Case in point: the Sierra Club, whose former executive director, Carl Pope, has spoken warmly in recent years about gas as an alternative to coal in power plants. Now, the group is considering calling for natural gas to be phased out by 2050 — about 20 years after it wants coal eliminated.
Question for the class: Has there ever been an issue about which environmentalists won’t lie or double-cross?