power lines energy

Scott Shepard: What a Real, Fully Capitalist Energy Transition Would Look Like

You don’t really need me to tell you this, but the usual-suspect, woke-capital CEOs and activist groups are lying when they claim that their wholly political campaign to kill off reliable energy is somehow capitalism in action. For replete and redundant proof, look around you for modern-day evidence of the once-thriving horse-and-buggy industry.

Scott Shepard

Scott Shepard

I’ve long said that you can tell what the left is up to by what it accuses its opponents of, and that the more the accusations are trumpeted by left-allied organizations, the greater the attempted deception. The Durham investigation’s demonstration that the Clinton campaign falsely accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russian intelligence agencies while the Clinton campaign itself colluded with American intelligence agencies, and the reverberation of that lie through years of state-adjacent media hysteria, illustrate the point. But examples abound.

Consider the rant with which Andrew Behar, the CEO of the left-wing ESG-activist As You Sow coalition, led off his organization’s annual Proxy Preview webinar at the beginning of this year’s shareholder-meeting season. He accused center/right shareholders – who are trying to get corporations out of politics for any side and back to their fiduciary duties of running their companies in neutral ways – of thwarting capitalism, of censorship, of ruining the economy, and in short of everything that the ESG activists themselves so desperately pursue.

The stealth outlets of left-wing activism – disguised as consultants (e.g. McKinsey & Co.), investment houses (BlackRock, State Street), trade associations (the American Bankers Association and its affiliates) and in many other garbs – carried forward this pernicious nonsense so that the word rang out: the public/private conspiracy to choke off reliable energy, censor non-leftist speech and share private customer information with federal authorities only in the aid of Biden Administration narrative enhancement – all of that is the real capitalism.

Well, no. No, it isn’t.

Public/private conspiracies to strip away citizens’ fundamental rights to enhance the power and grandeur of heads of government and industry do have a name: it’s fascism, pure and simple. (Google it, as disgraced former CNN dimwit – and now unemployed dimwit – Don Lemon so elegantly put it.) But as it’s best to skirt around Godwin’s Law if possible, instead consider an example from yesteryear, when the American polity contained fewer “experts” and a hell of a lot more sense.

A little before the turn of the 20th Century, some fancy fellows got a notion that internal combustion engines might provide a better mode of transport than the old horse and buggy. It would be faster, more efficient and vastly cleaner. As while the new autos did create exhaust, they mercifully did not emit a single aromatic excrescence of the equine variety. A new day of clean parlors and drawing rooms and plummeting rates of cholera and the like lay just around the corner.

Not everyone was thrilled by the sweet scent of technological progress. To avoid frightening the horses (both literally and metaphorically), activists urged legislation on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that would have required drivers to pull their cars off the road and cover them with blankets upon the approach of any such shy-able creatures. Other unsuccessful proposals included requiring that drivers set flares off every so often when driving at night.

Well, the Luddites lost the day, and cars slowly began to carry a greater minority of the traffic, then a significant majority, and eventually the noble horse found itself dismissed from traffic service and retired to riding schools and racing stables.

In the course of this process, many industries faded into sepia-toned obsolescence. As car factories sprang up, and especially as Henry Ford’s and emulators’ assembly lines began producing cars for the masses, the buggy, carriage, broom, buggy whip, feedbag and many other manufacturing concerns either converted or shut down. The horse-emission hauliers had to find other work. Likewise, industries and occupations necessary to automotion arose, including gas-station builders and their concomitants attendants.

All of this happened without anything in the way of government subsidy, incentive, order or, for the most part, hindrance. No one got left in the lurch; some people drove cars while most others used horsepower, and then the balance slowly shifted. Eventually horse conveyance largely disappeared, but as a native of middle Pennsylvania can tell you, even a quarter of the way through the 21st Century it still hasn’t completely passed.

And while there were some “stranded assets” in the sense that some buggy or buggy whip makers surely held on too long and found themselves having to close for lack of customers, while others had some costs to retool to perform other tasks, these expenses weren’t in any way novel: they were just the costs of responding to change and innovation. They can’t be helped.

Now that is capitalism. The glorious invisible hand doing its thing and funneling capital to the highest-and-best purpose without interference either from government or from self-appointed Titans of Industry “forcing behaviors” on lesser capitalists to “defund” the dirty, smelly, disease-causing horse-powered industries. J.P. Morgan (the real one, not the falsehood factory that now abuses his name) didn’t organize a trust to cut off investment capital to hugely viable carriage-makers to “accelerate the transition.” And as a result, there were no dire warnings that the world would need to spend 10 percent of global wealth to get to horse-zero by some politically manufactured date certain, or that this progress would make everyone (except the very Titans of Industry who are forcing it, of course) much poorer and endowed with much less liberty.

What would real capitalism look like in this breathless age of “energy transition?” It would look exactly the same as it did during the rise of the auto. No one would be forcing anybody’s behavior. No one would be violating fiduciary duties to starve flourishing and necessary industries of other peoples’ capital. There would be no pious intonations about the need for other people to sacrifice to achieve any set of impossible millenarian goals. If a wholly viable replacement for carbon-based energy – one that produces a unit of energy more cheaply than carbon-based energy in at least the same quantities and with at least the same convenience – were available, then it would start to be adopted, and because of its superiority would eventually push out carbon-based energy in most places.

That’s capitalism. This whole vast conspiracy (Look, Hillary, I finally found one! Shocker: it’s not right-wing.) to thwart market processes and to force wholly political results of an entirely partisan nature – well, we’ve already identified what that’s called.


Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Director of its Free Enterprise Project. This first appeared at RealClearMarkets.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.