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Alex Epstein’s Prescriptions for Republican Success on Energy

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Alex Epstein (author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels) has written a crucially important Forbes article titled “How Republicans Can Make Energy a Winning Issue in 2016.” This lengthy essay provides the means by which Republicans can reframe the argument on energy in an explicitly pro-human way and thus make it a winning issue for themselves and for the entire human race.

“The essential dynamic of the debate over energy policy,” writes Epstein, “is that Democrats proactively promote an overwhelming number of policy initiatives and the Republicans reactively wage a defensive battle on each one, usually unsuccessfully.”

Consider the following ongoing policy battles: the Clean Power Plan, methane regulations, fracking bans, ozone regulations, pipeline blocking, new pipeline regulations, new train regulations, renewable fuel standards, wind production tax credit, solar subsidies, CAFE standards, green building standards, energy efficiency mandates, “green jobs” schemes.

All of these policy initiatives were initiated by Democrats, and Democrats are winning on most of them. Even when they “lose,” it doesn’t change the trajectory; Democrats have an unlimited supply of new anti-development, anti-freedom initiatives to propose if the old ones fail. Witness the short-lived “victory” of blocking a particular anti-fossil fuel proposal (cap-and-trade) being followed by a host of Executive Orders and international agreements to accomplish the same goal.

Since the Democrats make all the proposals and the Republicans react, Democrats control the direction of energy policy—against development and freedom, particularly the development of our most important form of energy, fossil fuels.

This is disastrous for energy policy, which affects the well-being of every other industry and ultimately every human being on the planet. More broadly, it is disastrous for economic freedom across the board, because by controlling the energy debate Democrats make energy a winning issue for their party and its policies. When one party is proposing all the new ideas in the name of “progress” and the other side is just saying “no” to most or all of the new ideas, the proactive party seems far more appealing and gains the moral high ground—and votes.

Epstein goes on to give examples of this and to show that “So long as the Republicans’ policy positioning is reactive and overwhelmed and the Democrats’ is proactive and overwhelming, we are courting disaster with this country’s energy future and with every election—especially the Presidential election.”

The Democrats most powerful tool in maintaining the upper hand against Republicans is a technique Epstein calls “Arguing to 100.” This technique consists in naming an ideal and then positioning oneself (or one’s party) as 100 percent for the ideal and one’s opponents as 100 percent against the ideal and thus leaving everything in the middle—everything now framed as within the legitimate range of discussion—to be evaluated by reference to the stated ideal. This is political card-stacking extraordinaire. And, as Epstein shows, Democrats have perfected it.

To make crystal clear what is going on here, Epstein presents an X-axis ranging from -100 to 100, with 0 as the midpoint:

The axis refers to our moral evaluation of a policy, product, or technology. -100 means the lowest evil, 0 means neutral, and 100 means our highest ideal. In today’s debate, -100 is the ever-growing use of fossil fuels (“dirty energy”) and 100 is a society completely powered by “green” energy, usually solar and wind.

A good policy, on this scale, is one that helps us get off fossil fuels and onto green energy. With each proposal, Democrats are “arguing to 100”—arguing that a given policy is bringing us closer to the ideal and away from the evil. If anyone ever stands up for fossil fuels, Democrats will “argue to -100”—argue that the person is bringing us toward evil.

This positioning is incredibly powerful—because the ideal frames the debate. And he who frames the debate, wins the debate.

Epstein then proceeds to show that Democrats invariably frame energy debates around the “ideal” of being “green,” which means “minimizing our impact on the planet”—an ideal that “is completely contrary to human well-being.” And he shows why and how Republicans should reframe the debates around the ideal of “maximizing human well-being.”

To reach the right conclusion on what to do about energy, we need to be clear on our moral goal, our standard of value—and that the right standard of value is maximizing human well-being rather than the environmentalist standard of minimizing human impact. If we look at the big picture, both positives and negatives, of fossil fuels by the standard of maximizing human well-being, we find that short-term and long-term they improve every aspect of life by increasing mankind’s ability to use machines—including our capacity to make a naturally dirty environment far cleaner and our capacity to make a naturally dangerous climate far safer.

If we look at the risks and side-effects of fossil fuel use, we see that they are incomparably smaller than the benefits. This is also true for other forms of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy such as nuclear and hydroelectric. Thus, short-term and long-term, the energy policy ideal is energy liberation.

Toward that end, Epstein discusses several basic elements that belong in any proper energy platform, and he lays out five key principles on which such a platform is based—principles “for maximizing energy progress and protecting health and safety.”

I cannot come close to doing justice in this post to Epstein’s brilliant analysis and prescriptions. My goal here is simply to get you interested enough to read his article. I hope I have.

If you do read Epstein’s essay, and if you find it immensely valuable—as I’m sure you will—please share it far and wide. In particular, share it with your representatives in Congress and with any Republicans (or Democrats) who you think are willing to think.

Read Epstein’s piece here. And help spread the ideas that can make energy a winning issue for Republicans—and for all lovers of life—in 2016 and beyond.

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