Environmentalist Protection Racket: Sierra Club Takes the Money and Runs

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune tells the world how painful it was for his lobbying group to stop taking millions in donations from natural gas companies. And what organization wouldn't be happy to rake in $26 million in donations?

Now the Sierra Club has decided that natural gas is just another evil fossil fuel that it getting in the way of the solar, wind, geothermal future that the organization wants to impose on Americans. And that's OK. Environmentalism as an ideology is driven by the constant need to create an endless series of monsters to fear - natural gas is now one of the newer ones. The Sierra Club flip flop on natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to the low-carbon energy economy was motivated by NIMBY concerns of local chapters and the fact that cheap abundant natural gas makes the case for expensive renewable energy sources even less economically plausible. 

Fred Smith, president of the free market think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has an insightful article, Countering the Assault on Capitalism, on the puzzling fact of why corporations continue to supply millions of dollars to lobbying groups that are inimicable to their long term interests. Smith quotes economist Joseph Schumpeter's 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

‘[Rather than educating its] enemies, [business] allows itself . . . to be educated by them. It absorbs the slogans of current radicalism and seems quite willing to undergo a process of conversion to a creed hostile to its very existence. . . . This would be most astonishing and indeed very hard to explain were it not for the fact that the typical bourgeois is rapidly losing faith in his own creed.

[Business leaders] . . . talk and plead – or hire people to do it for them; they snatch at every chance of compromise; they are ever ready to give in; they never put up a fight under the flag of their own ideals and interest.’

As a result Smith explains:

Entrepreneurs doubt the morality of their own endeavours and accept political restraints. They internalise the accusations flung against them and become, as Schumpeter described, ‘state-broken’. It need not be this way; an alternative is clear to see. Businesses spend vast sums crafting and disseminating narratives to reach consumers, to persuade them that their products and services are good and worthwhile.

Why don’t businesses seek to direct their advertising narratives to gain legitimacy? They are under political attack from government regulations as well as intellectual ideologues who blame them – and capitalism – for all society’s problems. As much as they employ Vice Presidents of Environment, Community Relations, Public and Government Affairs, Employee Relations and a host of other political positions, businesses should similarly hire agents to legitimise their social role.

So what to do? Instead of participating the protection rackets faithlessly run by the ideological enemies for free markets, Smith argues that business people should seek to save capitalism by supporting classical liberal intellectuals:

Schumpeter presciently warned that capitalism would create an unholy alliance of anti-market intellectuals and rent-seeking businesses. But he did not envision challengers to that view – a holy alliance of classical liberal intellectuals and pro-market entrepreneurs. Competing on a more level playing field, integrating more effectively with like-minded classical liberals offers a promising resolution to Schumpeter’s gloomy prediction.

Business and free market intellectuals together could create robust strategies to encourage experiments in the private sphere. To do so, the business community must understand the scope and consequence of their value in the political sphere. Incremental reforms that remove the rocks from the path to the future are the most likely way to restore capitalism and ensure a prosperous tomorrow. Emerging concerns and resources must be evaluated in the market – the world of voluntary exchanges – rather than in the public sphere.

Being a classical liberal, it is not surprising that I would find Smith's analysis compelling. The Sierra Club episode is just one more example showing that industries cannot permanently buy protection from their ideological enemies. The (self-serving) take-away lesson to business leaders: Support your friends. 

Finally, why doesn't the Sierra Club give back the $26 million if it feels sullied by taking evil fossil fuel money? 

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  • BakedPenguin||

    Why don’t businesses seek to direct their advertising narratives to gain legitimacy? They are under political attack from government regulations as well as intellectual ideologues who blame them – and capitalism – for all society’s problems. As much as they employ Vice Presidents of Environment, Community Relations, Public and Government Affairs, Employee Relations and a host of other political positions, businesses should similarly hire agents to legitimise their social role.

    First, most large businesses already have to pay into the K street protection rackets. Also, I can think of a couple brothers who follow the listed strategy to a T. They've been targeted pretty heavily over the past few years.

  • Hugh Akston||

    The Sierra Club episode is just one more example showing that industries cannot permanently buy protection from their ideological enemies. The (self-serving) take-away lesson to business leaders: Support your friends.

    It worked for the Kochs.

  • Confusius Say||

    People laugh, thinking I'm doing something funny, when I insist in supporting only people and causes I approve of, or even just making the case for giving my way.

    I also get odd looks and questions from other parents from my kids' school, most recently for being able to make several kinds of solar cookers when they know my idea of "being green" means making money. None of these people ever had fun showing their kids they can cook dinner with a cardboard box and little plastic wrap?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Confused says,

    None of these people ever had fun showing their kids they can cook dinner with a cardboard box and little plastic wrap?


    And enough sun so as not to turn a dinner into a salmonella culture?

  • ||

    I'm not sure if the amount of sunshine matter when you replace the aluminum foil with plastic wrap.

  • ||

    As Komen learned:

    Once you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.

  • pmains||

    Unless you get invaded by Normans, who subsequently take care of your Dane problem, IIRC.

  • ||

    Vikings getting rid of other Vikings?

  • Brett L||

    Then you get French speaking vikings who have at best a vague understanding about the difference between serfs and prey.

  • sarcasmic||

    The were for natural gas before they were against it.

  • Old Mexican||

    Environmentalism as an ideology is driven by the constant need to create an endless series of monsters to fear - natural gas is now one of the newer ones.


    Yes, just like the Paranormal Activity franchise has shown: People like to be scared by totally invented hobgoblins, which means big bucks for those quick-witted enough to create newer and better ones.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Anchor Babies!

  • ||

    Being a classical liberal

    Hey! That's MY line!

  • ||

    Unfortunately, while a 25 year old car is a "classic" car, 25-year-old liberalism is leftism, not "classical liberalism".

  • ||

    Finally, why doesn't the Sierra Club give back the $26 million if it feels sullied by taking evil fossil fuel money?

    They can't hear anyone over their hysterical laughter all the way to the bank.

  • Confusius Say||

    Giving money back to people who now embarrass them is a largely Republican activity.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Confused Says,

    Giving money back to people who now embarrass them is a largely Republican activity.


    That's not a saying, that's an assertion.

  • Untermensch||

    This is the question I'll respond with the next time somebody asks why Ron Paul doesn't give back donations from white supremacists. I know it will only encourage liberals in their false sense of equivalence, but to the extent that it does, it might shut them up.

  • juris imprudent||

    Give it back? Hell, they expect a new round of contributions.

  • ||

    Finally, why doesn't the Sierra Club give back the $26 million if it feels sullied by taking evil fossil fuel money?

    Silly Mr. Bailey, Ron Paul already answered this question for them. Isn't it better for the Sierra Club to use those donations to take down evil fossil fuel companies rather than return them?

  • ||

    The difference is that RP doesn't feel sullied by some assholes donating money to his political campaign.

  • Muad Dib||

    Seems like such a shame. I thought that one of the major tenants of the Sierra Club was to privately purchase lands and keep them primitive. Like a private version of national parks, which I think many people would support in earnest.

  • Isaac Bartram||

    No, the Sierra Club's "preservation" activities have pretty much always been to lobby Congress to increase federal spending on public land acquizition. Very little of its spending as ever gone to land purchases. You're perhaps thinking of the Nature Conservancy.

    Anothe cute trick of the Sierra Club is to claim the money that it spends on sending out fundraising letters as part of its "educational" mission. It really helps make their adminstrative costs look low.

    So, next time you get that "OMG [villain of the day] is raping Mother Gaia" letter from the Sierra club, just remember you are being educated.

  • ||

    Finally, why doesn't the Sierra Club give back the $26 million if it feels sullied by taking evil fossil fuel money?

    Ha ha ha! Oh, Ronald Bailey, you slay me.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Schumpeter presciently warned that capitalism would create an unholy alliance of anti-market intellectuals and rent-seeking businesses. But he did not envision challengers to that view – a holy alliance of classical liberal intellectuals and pro-market entrepreneurs. Competing on a more level playing field, integrating more effectively with like-minded classical liberals offers a promising resolution to Schumpeter’s gloomy prediction."

    The problem is that established corporations are all rent-seekers. Little guys and new guys brag about being lean and mean and independent. Rich guys prefer a subsidized limo. Which is the truer wisdom? Which is the more prevalent?

  • ||

    Businesses get along to get along. If they fight for what is right, not only will shareholders be pissed to the point of suing, but other businesses will get along ahead of them and take the easy first profits.

    If I had a dry cleaning business, and the city imposed some of the usual enviro-freak controls over what chemicals I could use, I could either spend myself into bankruptcy fighting them over several years, or I could switch chemicals and equipment at a lesser cost which at least the banks would make a loan for, and raise prices, and stay in business.

    Even if I could talk most of the other dry cleaning shops into suing along with me to spread the cost, I doubt I could talk all of them into it, and the others would go ahead and get those loans and stay in business without the distractions, and even advertise their greenness. Those who stood with me would gradually give up as they saw business dwindling, the lawsuit would evaporate, and I'd end up out of business.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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