Thermostats, Economy, and State


Fans of electricity policy, sorry if you've felt neglected here of late. Take a look at this interesting post by Lynne Kiesling (with many useful links to continue your edification) on the dilemma market-loving electricity policy mavens feel toward recent moves on California's part to mandate the installation of "programmable communicating themostats." Which are?

a fully-enabled two-way digital communication device. It can receive data, be programmed to respond to data, and send data back about its actions. For example, a PCT can receive a price signal, be programmed with a set point and trigger prices at which to change the set point, and then it can change its settings on your behalf depending on how you've programmed it.

Lynne Kiesling, formerly with the Reason Foundation, sums up the conundrum that these devices present to those who love the idea of a more resposive market in energy, but hate government mandates:

In the current regulatory environment, we are stuck in a chicken-and-egg limbo. If we do not mandate the installation of PCTs to accelarate "fleet turnover" in building thermostats, the distribution utilities have no incentive to install them or offer them to customers. But if there are no PCTs, the demand for innovative retail products and services is less likely to develop. We can't have the retail innovation without the technology, but the parties who currently have the retail relationship have little incentive to engage in retail innovation, and they therefore do not value the technology. From a liberty and coercion perspective it's an imperfect policy in an imperfect world, but it's one that is likely to break the chicken-and-egg cycle and let the camel's nose of retail competition under the tent.

One part of California's thermostat proposal has already gotten some strongly negative press…the part where they say, hey, the government should be able to set your thermostat for you (Jimmy Carter, thou shouldst be living at this hour! Wait, you are? Never Mind.) Anyway, back to electricity policy, from Kiesling:

…..I find one specific piece of language in section 112(c) extremely troubling (and the links above indicate that I am not alone):

Emergency Events. Upon receiving an emergency signal, the PCT shall respond to commands contained in the emergency signal, including changing the setpoint by any number of degrees or to a specific temperature setpoint. The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events.

…..An emergency means a Stage 2 alert or worse; a Stage 2 alert occurs when supply reserves available to the system in an are only 5 percent larger than the anticipated demand in that hour (called an operating reserve shortfall). If the authors of the document were sensitive to the public's knowledge and interests they would have bothered to define the conditions under which a customer would receive an emergency signal.

Note also, though, that the California ISO annual report for 2006 indicates that even in the record-breaking heat wave in July 2006, there was only one Stage 2 alert (and no Stage 3 alerts). So these "emergency signals" are extremely infrequent, and are more likely to become even more infrequent as the price-responsive demand capabilities and retail choice enabled by the PCT reduce the strains on the system in peak hours.

That said, however, I disagree with this provision requiring mandatory, automated emergency response of all customers.

Read the whole thing, and all the links contained therein, for an electrifying morning.

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  1. I can just hear the governator now:”All deez wusses in this state need to sock it up and live in a cooler house during the winter. Set all da thermostats for 55 degrees.”

  2. So these “emergency signals” are extremely infrequent

    Until they change the standard of what constitutes a smog alert or emergency.

    The Jimmy Carter crack is a thread-winner (you may not be eligible however)

  3. I yearn for the day when I can be all revolutionitized by refusing to install, or actively disabling, one of these devices. And don’t you fret, I have several old mercury based rotating thermostats in the man cave – I keep forgetting to bring them to the local hazardous waste drop off event (along with my non-functional CFLs).

  4. Interesting.

    I for one am in favor of energy meters that allow consumers to puchase energy at different rates during periods of differing usage rates.

    I don’t understand this though. A thermostat that responds due to energy prices? Do they all have electric heat?
    I just don’t get it.

  5. If we do not mandate the installation of PCTs to accelarate “fleet turnover” in building thermostats, the distribution utilities have no incentive to install them or offer them to customers.

    I didn’t RTFA, but I have personally installed programmable thermostats in my last three houses (maybe four) simply because of the cost savings. Why is she talking about how no one has any incentive to install these things?

    And how do we make the leap from a programmable thermostat to one that the state controls? Why can’t you have one without the other?

  6. I wonder what he penalty will be for ripping one of these things off the wall with your bare hands (in your own home of course) and smashing it to bits with any available blunt and heavy instrument?

  7. I don’t think libertarians would have a (philosophical) problem with a private electric company mandating that its customers install these things, even if control of them can be commandeered by the electric company in an emergency. However, since we don’t have real competition in electricity delivery, we’re dealing with a situation where the state has to act as a reasonable private owner would.

    It’s a similar situation to traffic laws. Blowing a stop sign is hardly a coercive act, yet I know few libertarians who oppose laws against this. If the roads were privately owned, the owners would have to implement some type of traffic control at intersections, so the state making the same rules that a reasonable private owner would is justified.

  8. Privatize the grid.

  9. I have personally installed programmable thermostats…..

    RC, in that regard, when I replaced the heating and a/c three years ago, the company GAVE me a brand spanking new, top drawer, state-of-the-art programmable thermostat for free. It works pretty well, except we keep over-riding it manually. Hey! it’s too hot in here. Hey, it’s too cold in here.

    Secondarily, in So Cal, SCE is run by eco-fascist refugees who dreamed up the concept of NEGAWATTS, which in English means they are more interested in conserving energy than generating energy. SCE is constantly offering incentives to install energy efficient stuff in your house. From whole-house fans to efficient appliances o programmable thermostats, SCE is constantly sending out glossy four-color brochures printed on non-renewable heavy stock paper begging and cajoling use to conserve.

  10. I think that’s the right angle on this, crimethink.

  11. Reinmoose,

    Thanks. I was (and indeed still am) expecting the “drunk driving is a constitutional right” crowd to accost me.

  12. Will the thermostat call in the SWATters if you exceed permissible heating or cooling paramters?

  13. The Invisible Hand keeps changing the temperature!

  14. drunk driving is a constitutional right

    If you can get from Point A to Point B with a Point One Five without incident have you then, in fact, committed an aggression against anyone?


    There, how’s that?

    BTW, I see your point on the stop sign but I don’t agree that it translates to a license to control energy use remotely.

  15. The Invisible Hand keeps changing the temperature!

    Nicely done. Thread Winner sez I.

    Now, much as I love hanging around here instead of working, I’m going for something even more fun. A root canal at 10:15.

    Send drugs!

  16. The difference between these and the regular programmable thermostats is that these take the price of energy into account. If these types of devices were installed everywhere, as energy prices rose, devices would gradually turn themselves off according to how expensive electricity became. For this to make sense, it also requires real-time billing for electricity use, instead of an averaged rate for the month, like Reinmoose said.

    Yes, most of us in Califronia have electric heat (if we have heat at all; most places I have lived have had no heat or AC).

    And Brian, I’m not sure if you live in California, but every summer we have the constant threat of rolling blackouts. Having people’s thermostats cranked by a few degrees a few hours once or twice a year is much less coercive than the current system. It is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  17. Absent outright privatization, if you want to encourage conservation, then you have to implement a pricing strategy that in some way rewards thrift and conservation.

    Because we live in the sticks we use propane for heat. It used to be cheaper than natural gas, now it’s not. In fact, it’s expensive as all get out but probably cheaper than electric heat.

    My incentive to conserve is the huge frikkin’ gas bill that comes every month. Even with the thermostat set at 60 degrees at night, and never setting it above 68 degrees during the day, our propane bill is still between $200.00 to $250.00 a month. And it doesn’t get that cold here (today was a cold morning and it was 38).

    Point is, I don’t need a remote computer to turn off my heat for me. The got dam bill is enough incentive for me to turn off the heat.

    jbk, most places I’ve lived in So Cal from the beach to the desert have had natural gas heat. The one house I lived in with an electric heat pump was useless.

  18. Or maybe they could build a couple nuke plants instead????

  19. Yes, most of us in Califronia have electric heat

    See, now this makes more sense. In the northeast most of us have oil heat.

  20. Maybe us NYers can have thermostats dialed in to the real-time oil prices on the NYSE. (I’m actually lucky enough to have natural gas heat — heating oil is teh Pain)

  21. TWC, wouldn’t it be nice if the thermostat just did it for you? And if you weren’t paying an averaged rate, your bill would be less if you used less energy during peak demand times, even if you used more energy overall.

    Most places have had natural gas? I’ve lived in San Diego for about fifteen years, and I don’t think I’ve lived anywhere that had anything but electric or nothing. Besides, it’s not the heating system that is important for this, it is AC, because the summer is when we run out of juice. I’ve never seen a natural gas AC system…

  22. Maybe us NYers can have thermostats dialed in to the real-time oil prices on the NYSE.

    Actually, crimethink, I believe I’ve heard talk of National Grid (and maybe other power companies) requesting PERMISSION from the NY government to install variable-pricing electricity meters. Unlike California, where the government is mandating it.

    Whatever. Spitzer or bruno or someone will probably write a bill mandating the meters that the electric companies are asking to use (so they can meet their green targets) so that they can take credit for the resulting energy savings.

  23. We have one of those useless gas wall heaters that does a great job of heating all of two rooms. For the rest we have to use electric.

    Which brings to mind- is the emergency restriction (or eventual mandatory energy saving that will no doubt be implemented down the road) going to have any relation to square footage, or number of rooms? If I can keep my 690 sq. ft. house (or just the rooms I choose to use at any given moment) a toasty 80 degrees for less energy use than it takes for Tom Cruise to keep his mansion at 68, shouldn’t I be allowed?

  24. If we do not mandate the installation of PCTs to accelarate “fleet turnover” in building thermostats, the distribution utilities have no incentive to install them or offer them to customers.

    Bullshit. There’s already instances where (for example) people or companies will get lower electric rates in exchange for being on the “brownout list” or whatever you call it; you volunteer to have your power temporarily cut off if there’s trouble meeting demand. One afternoon last summer my workplace switched to generator power for a couple of hours, for exactly that reason. So if these things are so important and useful and vital, let the electric company offers price deals to people willing to have them in their property. Otherwise fuck off, and don’t give me shit about the lifetime supply of soon-to-be-banned incandescent bulbs I have stored in my closet, either.

  25. Predicted unintended consequence: a higher use of non-central AC and space heaters, which are less efficient. If my thermostat is killing the AC* and I’m still hot, just crank up a window unit that isn’t attached and I’m set.

  26. constantly sending out glossy four-color brochures printed on non-renewable heavy stock paper begging and cajoling use to conserve

    Indeed, can you think of any other product whose creator begs you not to use it?*

    *Tobacco companies don’t count. They are forced to.

  27. Point is, I don’t need a remote computer to turn off my heat for me. The got dam bill is enough incentive for me to turn off the heat.

    There’s gold in them thar obsessive-compulsives.

  28. “Yes, most of us in Califronia have electric heat.”

    This is completely wrong. Most homes are heated by natural gas. Electricity merely controls the thermostat (and runs the fan to distribute hot air). But in fact the PCTs are envisioned as a solution to rolling blackouts when electricity demand exceeds capacity, which is in the summer when people are cranking the AC…which is powered by electricity.

  29. However, since we don’t have real competition in electricity delivery, we’re dealing with a situation where the state has to act as a reasonable private owner would.

    Ah, see, but that’s impossible. Christ, we can’t even get the eminently reasonable people in my office to agree on the thermostat setting, because reasonableness is a range.

    Not to mention that its reasonable for a private owner to balance his personal preferences for climate control against their budgets.

  30. Having people’s thermostats cranked by a few degrees a few hours once or twice a year is much less coercive than the current system.

    First, you rather charitably assume that Your Masters in California will use their newfound power sparingly.

    Second, rolling blackouts are only the product of coercion to the degree that they occur because Your Masters in California won’t let new plants be built. The spike in demand by your neighbors isn’t coercive. The lack of supply to meet that demand isn’t, viewed in isolation, coercive. The reason there is a shortage on the supply end, now, there’s your coercion.

  31. The Jimmy Carter crack is a thread-winner (you may not be eligible however)

    [checking the fine print]

    Employees of the Reason Foundation, Reason Magazine, and reasononline, and their families, are ineligible to receive threadwinner recognition.

    Nope, he’s not.

  32. So if these things are so important and useful and vital, let the electric company offers price deals to people willing to have them in their property. Otherwise fuck off,…

    Hear, hear!

  33. Jeff S.

    I’ve lived in three differen homes in San Digo county. Every one had electric radiant heat. No natural gas or oil in the whole dwelling. The all-electric house, you’ve may have heard of that, is a reality. At least it is in San Diego. I suspect LA and Orange counties are the same.

  34. RC,

    First, I of course assume no such thing. I was responding to the what the article said, which is that this would only kick in a Stage 2 emergency. Since I work in industrial manufacturing, stage 2 emergencies are a big deal to me and we need better ways to handle them than just watching the meter tick up inexorably to Rolling Blackout. Raising the thermostat a few degrees across the state once in a while is much better than bringing down the grid in certain areas, the way we do it now. Would the governator change the implementation and make it so that they could set anyone’s thermostat to any thing at any time? Maybe. Right now they could just send in a SWAT team to everyone’s house and change the thermostat to whatever they want and post a guard. Gladly, that proposal is not on the table.

    As to the second point, another way to look at is that new plants are not built because the ROI does not justify the capital investment.

    Real-time charging for electricity is the way to go. It is insane that I pay the same for a kW-hr at 10:00 pm as I do at 1:00 pm. Making smarter devices that let us more efficiently charge for and distribute existing electricity is much easier than building new power plants.

  35. but it’s one that is likely to break the chicken-and-egg cycle and let the camel’s nose of retail competition under the tent.

    All this serious discussion and not one bit of snark at this lovely mixed up chain metaphor?

    I am disappointed.

  36. Why Reason Magazine turned on Ron Paul:

    How does the Ron Paul candidacy threaten the journalists, think tankers, and academics who live and work along the Orange Line in Washington, D.C.? The answer is straightforward analysis of economic incentives, with some common cultural patterns thrown in.
    Familiarize yourself with the main economic plank of Paul’s platform: eliminating the income tax with no replacement. If it succeeded, most of the friends, fellow partiers, sources, and sex partners of the Orange Line journalists and think tankers would be out of work. Even partial success (for example influencing other candidates into advocating deeper tax cuts to win Paul supporters, or motivating more Congressional candidates to run on an anti-tax and anti-war platform and thus creating a libertarian base in Congress) would harm economic interests in their social circles. Furthermore, there would be far fewer spoils for the lobbyists to lobby over, and fewer important articles for the journalists to write about D.C. politics, so they’d suffer personally as well as socially.
    There are also “economic preferences” in politics not reflected in money – desires for power, desires to “change the world”, etc. (These two motivations are easily interchangeable near the Orange Line). D.C. attracts people from all over the country with strong preferences along these lines. These, too, would be hurt by a growing success of anti-tax libertarianism. To the extent Ron Paul succeeded, they would be less able to shut down the madrassas and save Muslim women from the dastardly Muslim male. They’d have less control over oil. They couldn’t provide all Americans with health insurance. And (keeping in mind this is only one of many motivations) they couldn’t provide as much protection for Israel. Generally speaking, practically everybody who came D.C. did so to get the federal government to solve various problems they are passionate about. They feel very strongly about these: much more strongly on average than people who do not live near the Orange Line. Success by Ron Paul or his acolytes would start stripping away from them the power they believe they need to solve these problems.
    Remember, Paul ranks right up there with McCain, Huckabee and Romney for the 18-29 year old vote. Paul has come very close to winning a plurality of that vote in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan, ranking far ahead of Thompson and Giuliani for the young vote in all three. Paul ranks ahead of _all_ the other Republican candidates in Internet searches and search results. Contrary to myth this represents not “spam” but just the high concentration of Paul supporters on the Internet, comparable to the high concentration of Democrats in the mainstream media (MSM). Both the Internet and MSM are unrepresentative slices of American political opinion.
    But the Internet is growing at the expense of the MSM and Paul represents a large chunk of the future of Republican politics. The MSM, including its political bureaus along the Orange Line, finds the Internet threatening. Orange Line bureaucrats think of “radical” libertarians (i.e. those who would eliminate the income tax with no replacement) as maniacs out to destroy their jobs. Ron Paul brings these two fears together.
    Moving beyond economic incentives and to human cultural patterns, the Orange Line crowd are a tribe, a monoculture defending itself from an alien tribe that is hostile to them, namely libertarians who don’t like how the federal tribe makes it’s living (via skimming off their paychecks). It’s tribal warfare.
    All in all, it would be extremely surprising if the Orange Line did _not_ try to attack Paul. The only surprising thing for me has been to observe how much Orange Line “libertarians” are culturally aligned with the Orange Line rather than with anti-government libertarians.
    This analysis has been a straightforward matter of economic incentives with some common human cultural patterns thrown into the mix. This economic analysis gets obscured because, on the one hand, those not privy to the workings of D.C. can only describe it metaphorically in terms of conspiracy theories. The Orange Liners laugh them off the stage. But the economic analyses in their rough form sound a bit like the conspiracy theories, so they too are shouted down by the bullhorns of the Oranger Liners and those who parrot their authoritative opinions. They are laughed off as “conspiracy theory” before the analysis can even start to begin. Most of the MSM when it comes to political issues, and even much of the “alternative media” like Reason Magazine and the Orange Line bloggers, are part of the Orange Line culture. Using these Orange Line bullhorns to make fun of or smear independent thought and independent sources of political power is one of the main levers of federal power.

    Here is an anatomy of the spread of the smear campaign against Ron Paul just prior to and on the crucial “king-making” New Hampshire primary day, January 8th (all times are EDT; the polls closed at 8 pm EDT):
    January 7th, 7:33 pm – Matt Welch (Reason Magazine) discusses the plan to smear Ron Paul on New Hampshire primary day. In a later edit, Welch strikes out the actual TNR/Reason plan (to post the piece at midnight, the exact time the New Hampshire polls opened, and not post the actual newsletters until the afternoon of the primary) and substitutes “tommorrow afternoon”. But he failed to strike out Reason’s part in the plan: “More to come from here after the gong strikes midnight.”
    January 8th, 12:01 AM – Jamie Kirchick’s anti-Paul hit piece, many weeks in preparation at the request of his boss Marty Peretz at The New Republic, and featuring featuring many out-of-context quotes from Paul’s old newsletter (which have long been public knowledge and which Paul long ago denied writing) and descriptions of Paul and his associates as “bigoted”, “racist”, “homophobic”, and “anti-Semitic”, etc. is posted at The New Republic.

    featuring featuring many out-of-context quotes from Paul’s old newsletter (which have long been public knowledge and which Paul long ago denied writing) and descriptions of Paul and his associates as “bigoted”, “racist”, “homophobic”, and “anti-Semitic”, etc. is posted at The New Republic.
    11:03 AM – Daniel Koffler (Pajamas Media, formerly at Reason)
    “A damning New Republic expose on Ron Paul shows the “libertarian” Republican candidate to be a racist, a homophobe and an anti-Semite. Will his diehard supporters continue to defend a man who called Martin Luther King a gay pedophile? Daniel Koffler, a former Paul sympathizer, has a compendium of the Texas congressman’s creepiest hits, pulled straight from his decades-old newsletter.”
    3:30 pm – Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic, formerly editor of The New Republic) – “They are a repellent series of tracts, full of truly appalling bigotry.”
    3:46 pm – David Wiegel (Reason) Wiegel praises Kirchick’s piece as “explosive” and after a brief converstation with a harried Paul, grossly mischaracterizes Ron Paul’s position as “Paul’s position is basically that he wrote the newsletters he stands by and someone else wrote the stuff he has disowned.”
    3:48 pm – Nick Gillespie (Reason) “I’ve got to say that The New Republic article detailing tons of racist and homophobic comments from Paul newsletters is really stunning. As former reason intern Dan Koffler documents here, there is no shortage of truly odious material that is simply jaw-dropping.”
    4:43 pm – David Bernstein (Volokh Conspiracy/George Mason University) “’s disturbing in and of itself that the kind of people who write such things would want to associate themselves with Paul’s name, and the kind of people who enjoy reading such things would subscribe to these newsletters because they admire Paul.” Here’s David’s web page at GMU.
    (before 5 pm) – Arnold Kling (Econglog/George Mason University) – Repeats the worst quotes out of context and without explanation.
    5:17 pm – Dale Carpenter (Volokh Conspiracy/University of Minnesota) – “A damning indictment of Ron Paul.”
    Oddly enough, all these people with the exception of the tardiest, Dale Carpenter, live or work near the Orange Line subway (Metro) west of the capitol building in Washington, D.C. On the Orange Line, with occasional short side trips on some other lines, you can get to The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, Reason Magazine, George Mason University, The Federal Triangle, Cato Institute, Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle (Red Line), and a number of other homes and work sites of beltway media, politicians, bureaucrats, and “libertarians.” I don’t know how many of these people actually ride the D.C. Metro, but for fun and convenience let’s call this group of smear artists the “Orange Line Mafia”. This group of media pundits and bloggers has developed a large following among actual libertarians because they are an integral part of D.C. social circles and darlings of the mainstream media, who often “link” to the blogs of these “libertarians” from their various media formats. Libertarians who watch or read MSM thus often first discover “libertarianism” on the net in the writings of The Atlantic, Reason, Cato, Volokh Conspiracy, and other Orange Line Mafia outlets, and think that they are representative of people who actually value liberty.

    If a person cared about liberty, why would they be eager to mindlessly repeat smears about the most popular libertarian candidate in decades on the very day of the most crucial “king-making” primary in the United States? Yet that is exactly what a number of popular “libertarian” bloggers did that day. The Ron Paul Newsletters are voluminous and even a small fraction of them could not possibly be read in the very few hours that passed between the posting of the actual newsletters (the afternoon of the 8th) and the smear campaigners’ posts (also the afternoon of the 8th). All of these “hit and run” blog posts, except Kirchick’s original, must then be based on Kirchik’s piece rather than on actual reading and analysis of the newsletters. Clearly the purpose of these posts was not to initiate a thoughtful discussion of the newsletters, it was to spin libertarian voters on the most crucial election day short of the November general elections.

    Beltway libertarians use Congressman’s old newsletters as excuse for dumping on him. Some perspective.

    by Phil Manger
    I guess we should have expected it.
    The Beltway libertarians, those polished public intellectuals at Cato and Reason, have been falling all over themselves the past few days in an effort to distance themselves from Ron Paul following the “outing” of his old newsletters last week by The New Republic. Not that they were ever that close to begin with. The Cato gang never liked Dr. Paul, and the folks at Reason only warmed up to him after his campaign began to catch fire on the internet. Now, their blogs are full of I-told-you-sos, denunciations, and warnings of dire consequences for libertarianism.
    Typical of these was David Boaz, Cato’s executive vice-president, who told the world that “…over the past few months a lot of people have been asking why writers at the Cato Institute seemed to display a lack of interest in or enthusiasm for the Paul campaign. Well, now you know.” Even Radley Balko, a Reason editor and former Cato policy analyst whose research on police misconduct made him one of the few shining lights among the Beltway libertarians in recent years, has joined the lynch mob. You can find links to dozens of other similar comments here.
    Interestingly, all of them say they don’t believe Dr. Paul is really a racist, and most of them say they believe him when he says he didn’t write the articles in question. In fact, their real target seems to be something they call paleolibertarianism, a branch of libertarianism that has its center of gravity at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. And the man they really seem to loathe is the institute’s president, Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Ron Paul is merely collateral damage.
    I should point out at this point that I really have no firsthand knowledge of any of the details of the mutual animosity that exists between the Beltway libertarians and the paleos. I only know that it exists and that it runs deep. I was a libertarian activist from the mid-’60s until the early ’80s. I then decided to get a life and, except for an occasional blog post or attendance at a meeting, I was pretty much out of it for the next quarter century. It was my son who urged me to support Ron Paul in his run for President. (I didn’t deliberately raise him to be a libertarian. Do you suppose it’s genetic?) I did a lot of Googling of Ron Paul’s name, and…well, here I am.
    So, what about those newsletters? According to The New Republic article, the newsletters reveal “decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays”. Actually, that’s a gross overstatement. It’s more like a careless phrase or choice of words here and there – sometimes very careless, and sometimes even mean.
    What the newsletters remind me of is the “gold bug” marketing in the early ’70s. The “gold bugs” – those who believed that the dollar was destined to continue to lose value – were a mixed bag: conspiracists, libertarians, John Birchers, survivalists (of both the Left and the Right), racialists, and some who just wanted to turn a quick profit. Following the dollar’s devaluation in 1971 a number of businesses and newsletters appeared on the market to capitalize on the uncertainty of the times. They sold their wares, whether precious metals or newsletter subscriptions, by instilling fear and serving up red meat to the gold bugs. I remember attending one precious metals “seminar” in 1974. A black couple was sitting near me. When the speaker got to the part about riots in the cities and a breakdown of civil authority, I could see that the couple were extremely uncomfortable. They left before the end of the presentation.
    For whatever reason, Ron Paul has a very bankable name in that market. The International Harry Schultz Letter, the granddaddy of all the gold bug newsletters, prominently features a plug from Dr. Paul on its webpage. So it would make sense that a newsletter bearing Paul’s name, aimed at gold bugs or their like, would be profitable.
    So, did Ron Paul write that awful stuff posted on TNR’s website? I’m a former writer and editor and also a former college professor who got to be pretty good at sniffing out plagiarism in student papers, and I have to say I very much doubt it. It isn’t at all like Ron Paul’s style of writing (you can go to the Mises Institute website, where there is an extensive archive of Dr. Paul’s writings, if you don’t believe me), and there’s nothing in his voting record over 10 terms in Congress to suggest those are his views. I don’t find it at all implausible that someone would use his name to sell subscriptions to a newsletter written and edited by others.
    But I agree with Alex Wallenwein and Bill Westmiller that we need to know who did write that objectionable material so that we can move on. Otherwise, this stuff will come up again and again.
    However, I am not so naive as to think that this will mollify the Beltway libertarians. In their writings on this controversy, I’ve detected a barely suppressed undercurrent of glee, as if they’re trying to keep from shouting “Aha! Gotcha now!” They say they are concerned about what all this is doing to the reputation of libertarianism – although, it seems to me they’re more concerned about what it’s doing to their own standing in Georgetown – but I think they doth protest too much.
    If the Beltway libertarians are really concerned about the reputation of libertarianism, let them take a look at what they’re saying about Ron Paul over on the Left. Although they like his antiwar, pro-freedom message, a lot of the bloggers over there don’t care for the fact that he’s a libertarian. You see, they equate libertarianism with the Cato Institute. And to them, Cato is just another D. C. think tank laboring in the service of the corporate elites.
    Topic: Political Correctness
    Playing the racism card

    It all depends on whose ox is being gored.

    by Phil Manger
    Try, for just a minute, to imagine the following scenario. The New Republic, or some other stronghold of neocondom, has just discovered the website of the church Ron Paul has been attending for the last 20 years. At the very top of the site’s home page is the following statement:
    We are a congregation which is Unashamedly White and Unapologetically Christian…Our roots in the White religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are a European people, and remain “true to our native land”, the mother continent, the cradle of civilization…We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a White worship service and ministries which address the White Community.
    It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess what would follow. The story would be on all the evening newscasts, the neocon and Beltway libertarian talking heads would be all over the cable news channels expressing their disgust, and even the paleolibertarians would jump ship. No explanation he could offer would be acceptable. Ron Paul’s campaign would be dead.
    But if you just change “White” to “Black” and “European” to “African” you’ll have the exact words that appear at the top of the home page of the website of the Trinity United Church of Christ, the Chicago church that Barack Obama has been attending faithfully for the past 20 years. Yet, so far the media – with the exception of a few conservative columnists – have given Obama a pass on his connection with this church.
    The terms “racism” and “racist” are thrown around so much these days that they have effectively lost all meaning. Well, not all meaning. In fact it’s very simple if you just remember that racism is what lies at the root of one’s opponents’ thoughts and actions, while one’s own thoughts and actions arise from only the purest of motives.
    The charge of “racism” is most often made by the Left against the Right. However, increasingly – and distressingly – conservatives are hurling the “racist” epithet at their opponents on the Left. There are so many examples of this, it is not necessary to provide links to them. Just Google “Alberto Gonzales” and “racist” to find some examples. Or go look up what some neocons have said about Ron Paul.
    When Wolf Blitzer was questioning him about his old newsletters on CNN last week, Dr. Paul said “Libertarians are incapable of being racists, because racism is a collectivist idea”. I don’t know that I agree with the first part of that statement, but Dr. Paul should be forgiven because he was being ambushed with a question and had only a few minutes to answer it. (A much better exposition of his views on racism can be found on his campaign website.)
    I think a libertarian can be a racist because I think anybody can be a racist. I don’t mean a hooded, cross-burning, night-riding racist; just someone for whom race is a factor, however minor, in his or her personal decision calculus. Most people naturally prefer the company of people who are like themselves in most ways. They might not require the exclusive company of others like themselves, but they also don’t want to associate exclusively with people who are very different.
    Thomas Schelling, a Nobel laureate in economics, once proposed a game. Get a roll of pennies, a roll of dimes and a large sheet of paper divided into one-inch squares. Distribute the coins one per square on the sheet of paper, leaving about a third of the spaces empty. Adopt a rule: assume each coin wants at least some proportion – say, a third – of its neighbors to be of the same kind. Now find a coin for which the rule is not satisfied – i.e. less than a third of its neighbors are of the same kind – and move it to a square where it is. Repeat this step until all coins are on squares that satisfy the rule. When you get to this point, you’ll find that the pennies have tended to cluster with other pennies, while the dimes are clustered with other dimes.
    Under the rule adopted, these coins are very open minded – each is willing to live where up to two-thirds of its neighbors are of another “race”. Nevertheless, the end result of this “invisible hand” process is that most end up living where all of their neighbors are the same.
    The point of the game is to demonstrate how a pattern of racial segregation can result from the individual decisions of people whom hardly anyone would accuse of being racist. Which is one of the reasons the charge of “racism” is one that is almost impossible to defend against.
    A person accused of being a racist can usually clear his or her name with the accuser only by agreeing with the accuser. Last week on The Huffington Post Earl Ofari Hutchinson demanded that Ron Paul issue “a clear and direct public statement…that says I fully support all civil rights laws, will work hard against racial and gender profiling, and will push government economic support initiatives to boost minorities and the poor” as the price for being absolved of the charge of racism.
    In other words, the only way the libertarian Dr. Paul can prove he’s not a racist is to abandon libertarianism and adopt Hutchinson’s statist policy prescriptions. That’s like telling a Christian televangelist whose assistant had swindled viewers that repentance and restitution are not enough – he has to renounce Christianity if he wants to be forgiven.
    The significant point about libertarians and racism is not that a libertarian can’t be a racist; it’s that, in a true libertarian society, racism is irrelevant. A libertarian government would not have the authority to enact legislation that favors one racial or ethnic group at the expense of another because it would not have the authority to enact legislation that favors anybody at the expense of another.
    Nor would the government have the authority to enact legislation to correct the results of “invisible hand” processes like Schelling’s game. In fact, the mere attempt to do so would be not only racist, but futile as well.
    An example of the futility and racism inherent in using the police power of the state to correct racial discrimination – intended or otherwise – resulting from individual decisions are laws prohibiting racial discrimination in employment. Since the hiring decision is multidimensional, a racist manager could claim any number of reasons for rejecting an applicant of the “wrong” race. Hence the need for affirmative action if the law is to achieve its desired effect. But, since affirmative action requires basing the hiring decision on race, it is itself racist (and most probably in violation of the law it is meant to enforce).
    One of the silliest things a politician or pundit can say is that she/he opposes affirmative action, but supports laws prohibiting racial discrimination in employment. You can’t have one without the other. If you don’t believe it, consider this: age discrimination is against the law, too, yet it’s rampant in the workforce. Just ask any computer programmer over 40. The difference is, there’s no affirmative action based on age. Ron Paul is probably the only Presidential candidate in either party who understands this.
    There are, of course, people whose attitudes about race go far beyond just feeling more comfortable around people who are like themselves. But is that necessarily something to get alarmed about? As long as they’re not harming or threatening anyone else, why should we care? If they choose to act out their hatred by harming people of another race, then the government can act. Otherwise the government is trying to read minds.
    Racism and racist are words that, through overuse, have lost their sting. They are what you say when you have nothing else to say. Probably the best thing for all of us would be to banish them from the language. Certainly, they add nothing constructive to political discourse.

  37. From whole-house fans

    Ever used one of these when it gets really hot? Shyeah, I thought so. Next suggestion…

  38. One afternoon last summer my workplace switched to generator power for a couple of hours, for exactly that reason.

    And you further contributed to global warming. How many gallons of precious diesel did you burn during that power outage? I’m shocked…SHOCKED that this form of cheating is occurring.

  39. My whole house fan completely eliminates my need for air conditioning during times of low humidity. Just bring in the cool air at night, and it never gets above 80 until the outside air is back into the 70s.

    Unfortunately, there are only about 15 days a year in Illinois where this works because of the humidity. I hope to move to the mountains where I can use my fan all summer long.

  40. Joe Allen, nice essays. I especially liked the one about Schelling’s experiment.

  41. My last house had a wjole-house fan. It was great for sucking out the hot air after the house roasted all day while we were out at work, but it was just too damn noisy to have on for more than a few minutes. It sounded like a small airplane taking off.

  42. This is a big money-maker for the utilities because they won’t have to pay for peaking power plants – super expensive. They are passing that savings on to larger customers by implementing programs like this on a larger scale.
    But it’s optional, the customers get a big check, and … it’s Optional.

    I would rather see time of use billing in residential areas so that we can individually decide that it’s cheaper to turn on the fan than the AC for a few hours. That would be way better than forcing people to shut off the official AC, while dead elvis is running the window unit and killing the grid.

  43. Joe Allen, get a life.

  44. jbk, so, you’re stuck with SD Gas & Electric? Bummer. Those guys are awful.

    I’ve not lived in San Diego except at MCRD for a while.

    The OC, LA, IE, the deserts, OTOH, seem to all cooking with gas. 🙂 So Cal Gas Co, Glad To Be of Service.

    There was a period of time I recall when all electric homes were the rage. Medallion Homes I think they were called. The benefit was that electricity was clean in the home as opposed to dirty gas and dirtier heating oil. Having a natural gas furnace is like living with a part time smoker, the walls turn yella after a while. Course compared to oil or coal……

    Gas A/C, indeed! But you said that most of us in California have electric heat. To which I responded, not everybody. Smirks.

  45. But it’s optional, the customers get a big check, and … it’s Optional.

    Is it? I first read of this a few days ago on another site, and seem to recall it being mandatory in new construction and renovation.

  46. Joe Allen, I probably agree with a lot you have to say, but don’t come onto this thread with a spam post that has nothing to do with thermostats. That’s rude. If I were king, I’d delete the post.

  47. I suspect LA and Orange counties are the same.

    They aren’t. I’ve lived in at least 20 different apartments and homes in So Cal and only one didn’t have gas heating.

    Southern California Gas Company is the largest gas utility in the US and has over FIVE MILLION gas customers.

    It should be noted that San Diego is served by a different utility. San Diego Gas & Electric, which also offers natural gas service to a number of homes in San Diego.

  48. As to the second point, another way to look at is that new plants are not built because the ROI does not justify the capital investment.

    I find it difficult to believe that electric plants have been going up all over the country except CA, and electricity demand has gone up in CA, but its uneconomic to build plants in CA for reasons that have nothing to do with government interference.

  49. Joe Allen, get a life.

    Clearly, he’s got one. Not one I would choose, but it appears he keeps quite busy. I on the other hand…

  50. TWC,

    You are right. I checked the census data and gas heat is actually more common in California than the nation, and electric heat is less common. But I have lived in many different places in San Diego, and all of them had electric or nothing.

    But it is still the AC that kills us. You don’t know what an electric crunch is like unless you’ve spent a whole day watching, hoping that the California Independent System Operator doesn’t decide to kill your million-dollar product run so that a million housewives can feel cool as cucumbers in the middle of summer.

  51. the ROI does not justify the capital investment.

    So what you’re saying is, there’s a large, insatiable demand for a thing– a demand so insatiable, that the entire state is thinking of putting high-tech, remote controlled thermostats in every structure so as to choke that demand, but no one can find it economically feasible to provide that thing.

  52. TWC, thanks.

  53. jbk, you’re right, of course, it is the a/c in the summer. And, although San Diego is pretty mild I’ve been there for the Over The Line contest when it was blistering hot.

    You’re also right, it would nice to have real-time billing and rates that fluctuated based upon demand and cost to produce. I think that is possible.

    SCE has a variable rate based on a completely arbitrary baseline that bears no relationship to anything that I can determine, except that it bumps you into incrementally higher rates as you use more electricity.

    But, the incentive doesn’t work because the rate on my house is so low that we exceeded it last summer even when we were out of town for three weeks of the billing cycle. Aside from that there are probably 20 different charges at different rates for different things on every bill. I’d sooner calculate Alternative Minimum Tax by hand than try to figure out a So Cal Edison bill.

  54. RC,

    What I am saying is that the whole project is unjustified. Now in some other world, with different laws, regulations and consumers maybe it would be. So what.

    The fact is, we have plenty of electricity about 360 days a year. Of the other 5, about four of them we don’t have big problems. One day a year (usually), we are biting our nails.

    My contention is that the government is so intertwined with sale of electricity that it is hopeless to sort out. Instead, the place to start is by making people pay for the cost of their electricity, and the only way to do that is real-time pricing, which these thermostats are designed to encourage. Then our supply issue disappears without me, as a ratepayer, being on the hook for any multi-billion dollar boondoggle gas-fired plant that will run for a total of 500 hours a year.

  55. jbk–I think we’re all good with the dynamic response to price information. What I and others object to is the mandatory nature of it and the “emergency” conditions where the state will take over your thermostat, no matter what your needs or wants are.

    They say it’s only “Stage 2” emergencies now. I’ll place a nice wager with you that either the definition of “Stage 2” will change within the next 3 years or the CA legiscritters will alter the terms of the law to allow for greater state control of your thermostat.

    I sincerely hope this initiative fails as I live in Cali-East: Maryland. This state falls over itself to ape anything that CA does.

    But as already said, create more supply to meet demand? A sensible reposnse by any business, but Crazy Talk? to politicians.

  56. JW,

    You still aren’t seeing what the options are as they actually exist. The choice is between people losing some control over their thermostats, or the current condition, where occaisionally whole sections of the state are denied any electricity at all for a few hours until the emergency ends. And these are not fake emergencies, they really do represent a lack of supply at the time they are occuring.

    I’m not really sure why you are assuming that just because there are a few hours a year where demand outstrips supply, there is automatically an ROI that justifies major capital improvements, and that these capital improvements are being prevented by the state. That may well be true, but just saying it doesn’t make it so.

    Here’s another possibility for why everybody else builds more power plants than we do: other states are oversubsidizing the production and distribution of electricity. Asserted without evidence, for your enjoyment.

  57. A naive thought on this —
    what if it were perfectly legal to dismantle your price-sensitive thermostat and get a normal one? (I haven’t read all the laws — maybe this is already the case.) If so, it’s somewhat less coercive, but I’d bet that few would make the effort to tinker with wiring.

  58. What I am saying is that the whole project is unjustified. Now in some other world, with different laws, regulations and consumers maybe it would be. So what.

    Way to blow off the whole point, jbk.

    Having created an artificial scarcity with their laws and regulations, these clowns are now attacking it from the demand side by going into houses and resetting their thermostats, rather than fixing what they broke on the supply side.

    The choice is between people losing some control over their thermostats, or the current condition, where occaisionally whole sections of the state are denied any electricity at all for a few hours until the emergency ends.

    Again, you miss the third option: BUILD MORE GENERATORS.

    [apologies for caps, but it seems justified]

  59. Yes, it would be nice if the utilities would focus on providing enough electricity to meet the demand.

  60. I’m not really sure why you are assuming that just because there are a few hours a year where demand outstrips supply, there is automatically an ROI that justifies major capital improvements,


    It’s a perfectly fair and reasonable assumption to make. After all, just because there are a few hours a year where demand outstrips supply, the regulators are considering a statewide mandate requiring “programmable communicating thermostats” in every structure built. For such a small problem (as you imply it is), that seems a pretty significant and unprecedented step to take, wouldn’t you think?

    Let’s put it this way, if it’s only a few hours a year, you’d think they could just boost capacity of each power generating facility by a few micro-percentage points. There probably wouldn’t be a need to build any new facilities at all. Right?

  61. And these are not fake emergencies, they really do represent a lack of supply at the time they are occuring.

    No one is denying that these emergencies are real and actual events. But it’s clear that California has bungled it’s management of the state’s electrical grid by not planning and/or arranging for adequate power generation to meet demand. It’s incompetence in this area was writ large by their electrical “deregulation” folly.

    What I am saying is that I have no doubt whatsoever that this new power to control thermostats will ultimately be perverted by poltical interests to achieve other measures, less politically viable at birth, never even mentioned in the bill.

  62. As of today, they’ve dropped the requirement of mandatory programmable communicating thermostats in every new structure built.

  63. Jennifer –
    Sorry I wandered off and forgot to check on this…

    The optional programs are for the big users, like colleges and industrial sites. For being available to shut things down, they get a capacity payment, which is big money, but still a huge savings for the utility over having to pay for MW from a peaking power plant. It’s a great deal for the utility, because they only have to pay for the bodies to make the calls on those days and manage a $ program, vs having to build and operate a peaking power plant. It’s a great deal for the large customer who gets a check for the capacity to curtail, even if they are rarely asked to do so. Plus, the customer gets some notice that the gridshit is about to hit the gridfan, so they can opt to shut down some of their more sensitive processes just in case there is a full blown nasty blackout.

    What isn’t optional is this new stupid residential program, apparently. It sucks balls. No incentive besides a mid-afternoon heat stroke. Woo!

    Sorry for any confusion.

  64. I have solved the problem (sorta) for my California condo.

    My AC stopped working a couple years ago!

    (didn’t really need it anyway, I just keep the windows open at night)

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