Sierra Club president wants Washington to listen to corporate-welfare queens more 

You could tell by the name of the conference what was going on. Eco:nomics.

Sure enough (at least according to Sierra Club honcho Carl Pope) this Wall Street Journal-organized conference was a parade of CEOs calling for more taxes, regulation, mandates, and handouts that would pad their bottom lines -- but, oh, of course, it's all in the name of saving the planet.

Pope writes at Huffington Post:

While the "Eco:nomics -- Creating Environmental Capital" -- conference is hosted by The Wall Street Journal, the anti-government bias that dominates the Journal's editorial page was slammed by speaker after speaker

Again, the speakers were largely investors and business executives. If I wrote in terms of "class" like Matt Yglesias, I might suggest that much of the executive and investment "class" is antagonistic to the free market. I've written two books about why this is so, but it's interesting to watch the head of the Sierra Club celebrate this fact. It's also interesting to check out his examples. Here's his first:

[V]enture capitalist Vinod Khosla ... went after what he called "incumbent capitalism," in which government policy and incentives are designed not to encourage competition and innovation, but to protect entrenched incumbent interests, with coal, oil, nuclear, and utility monopolies being the most spectacular beneficiaries of this bias against innovation.

First, let's talk about Khosla. Khosla is one of the most blatant public policy profiteers in America. Khosla a few years back poured a ton of money into California's Prop 87, which would have funnelled taxpayer money into the ethanol industry in which he is heavily invested. (Next year, I'm thinking of putting something on California's ballot to subsidize the purchase of my books.) I recently wrote about a Khosla-backed ethanol plant that got subsidies from USDA, DOE, and the state of Georgia -- and then closed down without ever producing a gallon of ethanol.

Second, Khosla seems to have it almost completely backwards when he uses the term "incumbent capitalism," to describe the free market (Pope borrows this term for headline). Yes, government-granted utility monopolies are anti-competitive, but what do Pope and Khosla think are protecting the incumbents in the oil and coal industries?

The problem is not the free market, or "pro-oil" legislation, but the sort of regulations Pope is always calling for. Here are the words of refiner Tom O'Malley to the LA Times:

"My view for the industry was: Why in the world would you fight clean fuels? That's what the consumer wants," O'Malley, now the chairman of Connecticut refiner Premcor Inc., said in an interview. Make no mistake about it, the more stringent you make specifications, those become barriers to entry…. Strong companies would have an advantage."

That's "incumbent capitalism," if you ask me.

In fact, Pope's own reporting reinforced the notion that Big Government tends to protect incuments:

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, who would seem to represent a well-entrenched incumbent company, then piled on....

Liveris is not the only incumbent CEO here calling for massive restructuring of the American economy based on government support for innovation. Dupont's Ellen Kullman warns skeptics that customer interest in the sustainability and greenness of products soared from 2005-2008, and surprisingly did not fall back with the economic crisis. William Clay Ford envisions a very different automobile market driven by electric vehicles.

The whole piece is worth reading, because it confirms so clearly how Obama's growth in government is embraced by the incumbent businesses that stand to profit off it. Here's the heart of the argument from Sierra Club's Pope:

It would have been most instructive for the new members of Congress to spend the day here, listening -- because it is very clear that the mainstream business community and clean tech innovators alike are terrified that the Tea Party's hostility towards the national government constitutes a serious threat to the American economy and the American future.

Got that, Republicans? The Sierra Club thinks you should listen to Big Business more.

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Timothy P. Carney

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