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Argument: Government has been involved in energy industry for decades

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James Surowiecki. "A waste of energy?" The New Yorker. October 10th, 2011: "the government is already hopelessly entangled in the energy market. As a new study by Nancy Pfund and Ben Healey shows, government subsidies have played a key role in the energy industry since the nineteenth century. The nuclear-power industry was effectively created by the government in the nineteen-fifties, and probably could not exist today without government guarantees. The coal industry was heavily subsidized during the nineteenth century. And the oil-and-gas industry has received tax breaks and allowances worth billions of dollars a year for more than half a century—to say nothing of the implicit, but incredibly costly, subsidy that oil producers have received in the form of the Fifth and Sixth Fleets. On top of this, fossil-fuel producers are subsidized because the prices of their products don’t include the social costs they inflict on the environment—pollution and greenhouse emissions. We already have an industrial policy on energy—it’s just that it’s an industrial policy designed to subsidize and encourage the use of fossil fuels. An economist’s ideal solution to all this might be to repeal the oil industry’s tax breaks, tax carbon to reflect its social costs, and let the market work its magic. But that seems to be, at least for now, a political impossibility. Putting money into alternative energy is as close as we can get to levelling the playing field. Solyndra was a big bet that happened to go bad. But we probably need to be making more bets like it."

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